Tag Archives: N.T. Wright

From the Mountain to the Sea

IMG_3784It’s inescapable.

Living with an N.T. Wright student in a small university town, I am surrounded with discussions about temple language and imagery. Mountaintop meetings. Glory clouds. Cosmic elements. Sacred spaces. It seems my whole world is filled with words and symbols that point to God’s holy place.

And that’s just the point. It is.

The more I look around me, the more I have eyes to see that this world is in the process of becoming God’s temple.

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food… A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.
Genesis 2:8-10

In the beginning God planted a mountaintop garden, watering it with fresh water springs that then flowed downhill to the lands below. He made it a beautiful place where He would enjoy sharing life with the people He had created. And God made sure they had plenty of good food to enjoy while they hung out at His house.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. …Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. …The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.
Exodus 19:16-20

OK, so that place didn’t last too long. But that doesn’t mean that God quit finding mountaintops where He could get together with His people. He communed with Noah on the top of Mount Ararat and with Moses on the top of Mount Sinai. He even invited the elders of Israel up for a mountaintop feast there, eating and drinking with them as guests in His house.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings… And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
Isaiah 6:1-4

Though He didn’t need anyone to build a permanent structure for Him, God eventually allowed Solomon to build Him a palace on top of Mount Zion. Golden beams. Blue curtains. Glassy sea. Everything about this place was designed to match His heavenly house, with one exception. People could dwell there, too. And they did. Priests bustled about cooking up offerings day and night. People came and went, eating and drinking with God and chatting with Him about their failures and their needs, their past and their dreams.

When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. …When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD.
2 Chronicles 7:1-3

They never had to wonder if God was in His house. The same massive, fiery cloud that they had witnessed descending on Mt. Sinai had also come down to fill the Jerusalem temple at its inauguration. That glory cloud now stayed slightly hidden behind a curtain in God’s private chamber within His house, but everyone knew it was there. And once a year, a priest had the terrifying privilege of going in to the Holy of Holies to see it.

I looked, and I saw the likeness of a throne of sapphire above the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim. …Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD.
The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.
Ezekiel 10:1, 4; 11:23

But even that impressive structure was temporary. It went through several cycles of decline and renovation, death and resurrection. By the time Jesus showed up at the temple, God’s glory cloud had moved out and had stayed away for several centuries. But that didn’t bother Jesus. He knew it was time for God to come down off His mountain and claim more real estate on the earth.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light…. While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Matthew 17:1-5

In His days on earth Jesus still preferred camping out in mountain gardens, especially when He felt the need to be closer to His heavenly home. The Mount of Olives. The Garden of Gethsemane. He also invited thousands of people to sit and eat with Him on the mountainsides. And He let His disciples see God’s glory cloud descend on Him on a mountaintop. They recognized the significance of what they were seeing—the glory cloud entering a Temple–and immediately wanted to build something to capture it there.

But that wasn’t the point. Jesus’ body was only an interim temple, one which was about to be destroyed and rebuilt in a totally new form. He tried to explain this as they ate and drank together the night before His death. His bodily temple would be broken, suspended between heaven and earth on a barren hilltop outside Jerusalem.

Wooden beams. Torn curtains. Bloody rivers flowing downhill to water the earth below.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. –Habakkuk 2:14

God was in the process of building a new temple, one which would fill the whole earth with His glory.

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
Acts 2:2-3

And it has. Those life-giving streams reach me each time I eat the bread and drink the cup. That glory cloud has descended to fill my fleshy temple, God’s Spirit alighting on me in an invisible flame that transforms my lowly body into His holy dwelling.

As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:21-22

But God doesn’t stop there, either. He has made me a part of a holy nation, a royal priesthood of believers from every tribe, tongue and nation. We are the Church, the massive, worldwide temple that God is building out of living stones. This sacred dwelling spans time and space, growing into a structure that will eventually fill both heaven and earth. God’s new temple is loftier than the heavens, and at the same time it is grounded in my daily reality.

Whoa. It is inescapable, and I love it.

St. Andrews, Scotland: My little corner of God's temple.
St. Andrews, Scotland:
My little corner of God’s temple.
The earth is as full of the presence of God as the sea is of water. Each cloud in the sky is a reminder of His presence. Each meal we eat is an act of communion. Each step I take is on holy ground.

God’s dwelling place has spread from the lofty mountaintop to my little town by the sea.


How lovely is your dwelling place, O Yahweh Almighty!
Psalm 84:1

Fleshy Theology

"Christ Child" St. Martins-in-the-Fields Trafalgar Square, London
“Christ Child”
St. Martins-in-the-Fields
Trafalgar Square, London
What’s the point of having a body?

As a college student, I remember finding my body an inconvenient obstruction to being in all the places I wanted to be at the same time. I had a hard time accepting that it wouldn’t allow me to work through the hours of the night and then stay awake in class the next day. Somehow physical limitations didn’t register as a valid reason to lower my ambitions. After all, wasn’t my body simply a temporary vehicle for my soul?

Years of motherhood, physical challenges, and the inevitable experience of aging have forced me to listen to my body (at least with one ear). But only recently have I encountered a compelling argument for why I should value it.

Sitting in an N.T. Wright lecture a few weeks ago, I was introduced to an entirely new perspective (no pun intended) on the physical realm. Far from being the messed-up, spiritually devoid location where our souls are temporarily housed as they await their true home in heaven, Tom Wright challenged me to think of the earth and everything in it as an integral, ongoing part of God’s redemptive plan. The imagery of a delighted God walking through His garden in Eden and the promise of new creation have sparked my imagination to see how infused this physical earth is with the presence of God. What’s more, taking seriously the fact that God manifested His glorious image in fleshy, human bodies has caused me to reconsider my former assumptions about the significance of my own body.

Is it merely a temporary shelter to be minimally maintained? Is it a side-point to my spirituality, a distracting, limiting necessity along my journey to Christ-likeness, or is it, in fact, an integral part of my being re-created in and conformed to His image?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ…
Colossians 1:15; 2:9–10

I suppose the starting point in answering these questions is to consider the significance of Christ’s body. It was the dwelling place of God, the physical space where God’s Spirit was located. But more than that, it was the visible manifestation of the invisible God. Looking at the face of Jesus was the same as looking at the face of God.

Looking at the face of Jesus was the same as looking at the face of God.

I admit I have to take a moment to let that sink in. I am accustomed to conceptualizing this in a spiritual sense but missing its physical reality. But if I have no trouble believing that God really was born of a woman and took a fleshly form, why do I get hung up on thinking of Jesus as a physical replica of God? Perhaps this is where I get caught with my dualist, Neoplatonic slip showing. Has my Western worldview really kept me from appreciating the full meaning of Christ’s incarnation?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay…We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6–10

And yet there it is. Not only is Christ’s body a physical manifestation of God’s image—mine is too! My body is a visible representation of God, the eating, sleeping, moving, breathing, touching, seeing image of its Creator. But more than that, it has become a sacred space in which His Spirit lives. The eyes that I would prefer to be bluer and the wrinkles that are setting in despite my best effort are part of a face that is being transformed to look more and more like His.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
2 Corinthians 4:16

True, the image I see in the mirror is a far cry from the Original. Ugly expressions, dark circles, and sagging cells betray the fact that this face has been cursed. But there is hope! My body is going through the same process that Jesus’ body did. I can see its weakness, decay and eventual death setting in, but at the same time I experience a renewing force bringing light to my eyes and a smile to my lips. I treasure the fact that my mortal body is the place where Jesus’ life is being currently revealed. Better than that, I look forward to the day when this very body will be raised up from the dead, a new improved version of the same old me.

Our faces are being transformed to look more and more like His.

It may sound silly, but I think that is the beginnings of a theology of beauty, a little extra motivation to care for my body and make it as true an image of its glorious Lord as is possible this side of the new creation.

Godly makeup. Fleshy theology.