Wednesday, February 17, 2016

God is personal, not local

Today being the forty-eighth day of the year, it is time for a meditation upon Ps 48, specifically these verses:

Walk about Zion, go all around it,
  count its towers,
consider well its ramparts;
  go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
  that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
  He will be our guide forever (Ps 48:12-14).

I am sure at the time of the writing of these verses, confidence in the permanence of God's residence in the Temple at Jerusalem was at an all-time high. But looking back now, this attitude seems so simple and naive. The sinfulness of the people led to the destruction of the Temple, not once but twice, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. And now there is no more Temple in Jerusalem, but rather mosques and temples -- a bitter irony if ever there were one.

What can we gather from this? What is the significance of the fact that the Temple did not last as long as the people were hoping? In the words of Joseph Ratzinger, we learn a fundamental and important lesson: God is a numen personale, not a numen locale. In other words, God is a God of personal relationships, not one restricted to particular locations or places in the world. This has important consequences for the way we deal with God and relate with him:

He is not the god of a place but the god of men: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is therefore not bound to one spot but is present and powerful wherever man is. In this fashion one arrives at a completely different way of thinking about God. God is seen on the plane of I and You, not on the lane of the spatial. He thus moves away into the transcendence of the illimitable and by this very fact shows himself to be he who is always (not just at one point) near, whose power is boundless (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, p. 123).

We do not relate to God on the spatial plane. To be near to God or to have fellowship with him, we do not need to be in any particular point in space and time. We don't have to be in Jerusalem to relate to God, because fellowship with God is not had in that way. Rather, fellowship with God is personal, it is an I-Thou relationship. It is precisely the fact that God is not bound to any particular location that makes him available to every human person whatsoever, as Ratzinger notes.

What is so important about this? The fact that God is not bound to Jerusalem means that he is a God for every person everywhere. You need not be a Jew to have fellowship with God; you need not be in Jerusalem or in the Holy Land more generally to have access to him. Rather, God is available to every person everywhere, and he can have dealings with and call people from anywhere on the globe, if he should so wish.

We should not think that God can only be found in particular place. Of course, this is not to deny the evidently real and ubiquitous experience of particular "thin places," as they are called, where it seems that the veil between this dimension and the spiritual is thinner than normal. But God may be had and found anywhere, and of course, he may also come and present himself to us anywhere we might be. And we relate to him personally, as to a friend who is always available (whether we sense it or not!), rather than objectively as being located only in a particular place.

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