“Mommy, where is God?” I recently heard that my two-year-old nephew, who wasn’t speaking in complete sentences last time I saw him, has started not only asking questions but asking this question. I remember when I first asked the same question; my own mother answered with, “God is everywhere.”
I pictured God then as being like the air, filling in all the empty spaces between the furniture. I wondered, if He was really everywhere, if that meant He had to also be inside the toilet bowl. I sensed that my mother might think this was a disrespectful question, so I don’t think I ever asked it, but I wondered about it, and I felt bad for Him. I was glad I didn’t have to be everywhere!
But I wonder how an ancient Israelite mother would have answered that question. I wonder if she would not have answered with, “God is everywhere.” I think she might have said, instead, “God is inside the temple in Jerusalem.”
People at different points in the story of the Bible would have had different answers to that question. It has many right answers.
Apparently Adam and Eve might have said, “Why, He’s right over there, walking towards us from under those trees, don’t you see Him?”
A mother at the Red Sea would have said, “God is in that big pillar of fire that lights up the night sky and is protecting us tonight.”
And at the time of Jesus’ life a very, very wise and perceptive mother would have looked over at Him and said, “Do you see the Man from Nazareth who is healing everyone who comes near Him? That is where God is.”
And now? Where are we in the story now? And how is God trying to get close to people in our part of the story?
Because the Bible is the story of God trying to get close to people again. To pick up where we left off, with Adam and Eve, they sinned and it changed things. God did not commune with them and walk and talk with them as He had done before. They didn’t get to say to their kids, “Get your shoes on, God is coming over after dinner to take you out for a walk with Him this evening.” And it broke His heart.
After that, God did not live on the earth with humans and dwell with them until He came down and dwelled in the “temple built with human hands,” first the tabernacle and then the temple. This was God’s Move Back to Earth Plan, Stage 1: The Temple is a Building. And Stage 1 was a great improvement to what was before, because God was living on the earth again! The mothers in this era could point to that tabernacle tent or temple building and say, “There is a room inside in the very center called the Holy of Holies, that nobody is allowed to go into except the high priest once a year. That is where God is.”
But that was a far cry from what God’s heart longed for! And after that temple was destroyed (long story), His presence did not dwell with humans on the earth that much, to that extent, until Jesus came. Then Jesus shamelessly proclaimed that He was the temple, that His body was the temple (John 2:18-22). This was Stage 2: The Temple is Jesus.
This stage was an enormous, unspeakable improvement over the previous sort of temple! In Jesus, God could walk and talk with humans again. People could touch Him and converse with Him, they could see up close what God was like. Later His disciples understood and wrote that they had seen Him with their eyes and touched Him with their hands (1 John 1:1), that He “became flesh and tabernacled among us” and that humans “saw His glory” (John 1:14). His love, mercy, and truth, His treatment of children and of women, His healing power and saving power and cleansing power and forgiving power—all of these could be clearly seen when God dwelt among men in the “temple” of Jesus’ human body. The Mommies who were lucky enough to live nearby could bring their children to sit on God’s lap. Jesus-as-the-Temple was a vast improvement on the former temple!
Now, however, we are in Stage 3: The Temple is Us. Jesus has died, risen, ascended to His Father’s right hand and poured out the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). God’s Spirit dwells in each believer individually and in the church corporately. It’s in this stage that the Mommies of the world can say, “Jesus is living inside my heart, and He will live inside your heart too if you ask Him.
Jesus specifically told us that this stage would also be an improvement on the previous one, that having “the Holy Spirit” He was sending to live inside of us would be better than having Jesus present in the flesh (John 16:7).
Do you believe that? Are you experiencing so much of God through the Holy Spirit that it’s better for you than if Jesus was still walking around in Israel and you could hop on a plane and stand in line to talk to Him in person? (It might be a long line…) Well, Jesus said you can. So what are you waiting for?
We’ll talk more about that, about the Holy Spirit, next week. But here’s a fast-forward to the end of the story: Stage 4 is coming. In the next stage of the story, the “temple” of God on the earth will change again. We will never lose the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will never lose us, but things will get better still. So much better, just as the “temple” in every stage has been so much better than the last. First the Son was sent to the earth, and then the Spirit was poured out on the earth, but in the end of the story, even the Father will come and live upon the earth!
Then ALL three members of the Trinity will dwell with their human image bearers on the new and renewed earth. In that day “the dwelling place of God will be with man” (Revelation 21:3) and in the city that comes down from heaven to earth, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). God Himself will be the temple! Even the Father will be the temple! God with man will be fully fulfilled. In Stage 4: God is here and He needs no other temple, nobody will ask, “Mommy, where is God?” They will be living in His presence and asking their questions directly to Him.
But right now we’re standing firmly in Stage 3. The temple of God on the earth right now is us. And to rephrase our question: how much of the Garden of Eden relationship with God that was lost can be and is restored by the Holy Spirit living inside of me right now?
After all, Jesus said this was the best stage of the story yet…
God, if You’re living inside of me, can we talk?