Do You Know God’s Address?

dilapidated house
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/untitlism/22800371/">Bradley Gordon</a>

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

When the king had settled into his palace and God had given him a break from fighting his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the truth-teller, “It doesn’t seem right that I’m living in this palace built of cedar while God’s stuff remains outside in a tent.”

Nathan said, “I know what you’re thinking. God approves your plan, so go ahead.”

But that same night God spoke to Nathan:

Go back and tell David that God says, “Don’t build me a temple to live in. I’ve never lived in a temple. Not when I brought the Israelites out of Egypt. And not now. I’m always on the move. stopping off in a tent, or in a lean-to. I never criticized any of Israel’s leaders before for not building me a cedar temple.”

So, tell David God says, “I chose you from your lot as an insignificant shepherd and made you the prince to rule over my people. I’ve been with you wherever you’ve gone. I’ve cleared away your enemies as you’ve advanced. And I will make you world-famous. You’ll be in the Who’s-Who of World Leaders. I’ll make sure that my people can settle into a place where they can live in peace, and where the barbarians won’t harass them as they have all during the reign of the Arbitrators. I’ll relieve you from having to deal with all your enemies.

“I’ll make sure your dynasty and empire last forever. Your government will be eternal.”

So, Nathan told David every word he had heard in this vision.

Had David proposed to give up his royal palace and move back out into a tent, the answer might have been different. But as it is, David’s proposal is to make God in his own image.

David is a king in a palace. And he’s started to think like… a king in a palace.

Wouldn’t it be nice, and wouldn’t it be reassuring, to have a God who is just like me living in palace next door, instead of that ragged old tent in the next lot lowering the property values.

Wouldn’t it be nice, and wouldn’t it be reassuring, to know that there is a place, a really nice, pleasant place to visit nearby, where you can go when you need to ask for a divine favor when you need an imperial egg or a cup of imperial flour. A place where you know God will be when you need God, and where God won’t be getting in the way when you’d rather not have God around.

Wouldn’t it be a nice way to do something charitable for the community, to build another albatross of a building with my name on a memorial plaque that will need to be supported by assessments on the common people, so that I won’t feel quite as guilty for being so well-off while the common people struggle to get by.

But God will have none of it, even if the ragged old tent is lowering property values. God doesn’t live in Temples (or church buildings). Never has. Never asked for them. God won’t endorse the building projects. And God won’t be pinned down to any particular zip code. God is much more interested in making sure the people, who have had to put up with being plundered by enemies all around, can finally live in peace.

In this Biblical view of government, there is no call for theocracy. Instead, there is a call for someone who will lay aside the building of national monuments to focus on the well-being and prosperity of the people.

[Bonus: You know that house on your block that everyone in the neighborhood wishes they could get rid of because it’s such an eyesore and it’s lowering property values. That’s the one God is living in.]

But What About Us?

House in a bubble
Image credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/2864168894/in/photostream/">Hartwig Kopp Delaney</a>

Mark 10:28-31

Peter began telling him, “Look, we’ve left everything to follow you.”

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who leaves home, or siblings, or parents or children, or gives up their business to follow me and to engage in this great cause will get a hundred times as much back right now. You’ll have homes, siblings, parents and children, and businesses – and plenty of trouble. And you will be immortal. But many folks who are used to being first will be last, and the last will get their turn first.”

The question is one we all ask ourselves now and again. Is what I’m striving for worth what it’s going to cost me to achieve it? That’s great, Jesus, that you’re helping all these people, but what about us?

I’ve noted before that the disciples have signed on for being in the inner circle when Jesus takes over. Jesus’ repudiation of the quest for wealth and power has finally sunk in. And he wants to know: if that’s not what we’re getting out of this, then what are we doing here?

Jesus never did promise them they’d be in the inner circle, or rich, or powerful. He promised them he’d teach them “how to capture people’s hearts.” And, if they can finally learn to do that, they will never lack a home, or close fellowship. And they will always have plenty to do.

But to have these things, to really be related to the hundred-fold abundance of humanity, you have to really care. You really do have to put them first. And that’s the paradox. You can’t “care” for people if you’re all the while expecting them to care for you. You can’t capture their hearts if you see them as a means to your own ends.

As it turns out, the only way to gain the rewards Jesus offers is to be the first to divest yourself of whatever privilege you have of going first. Put another way: it’s not about helping yourself. It’s about helping someone else get their turn.