God is at work in the world reconciling all things to himself – this is the message of the Bible. The fact it can get lost in a smaller story of personal redemption and a heaven vs hell narrative is proof in point that we are overlooking the beauty and wonder of the good news.
As a pastor, I’d wrestled for many years over the divine intention and how that’s best understood and expressed. The traditional ‘gospel message’ of getting ‘saved’ in order to go to heaven when we die felt less compelling than in the days of my youthful passion as a hell fire preacher! God’s call to greatness; the concept of original glory coming before original sin, started to fire my own imagination as to the purpose of God in the world – something which has only grown stronger with time but still lacked a meta narrative to capture it. In more recent times I’ve been helped greatly by the work of N.T Wright in this regard opening my eyes to the purpose of God in creation and reconciliation more completely.
This, along with a deeper appreciation of Jewish history, customs and teaching and insights into Eastern thought and symbolism served to warm my own heart over this great and glorious story. Most striking of all this is the concept of Temple theology and the idea of the whole of creation being a temple inhabited by God. And we – you and I being the image bearers of God as we live deeply out of our identity of a new creation in Christ.
This temple theology is at the heart of the teaching of Wright and this article is indebted to his insight and thinking which embraces the whole of Scripture in the most wonderful way as he describes, what he calls the Divine Drama.
He sets the scene beautifully.
The emphasis I want to insist on is that we discover what the shape and the inner life of the church ought to be only when we look first at the church’s mission, and that we discover what the church’s mission is only when we look first at God’s purpose for the entire world, as indicated in, for instance, Genesis 1—2, Genesis 12, Isaiah 40—55, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 1 and Revelation 21—22.
This is where my proposal about a ‘five-act’ hermeneutic comes in. … The Bible itself offers a model for its own reading, which involves knowing where we are within the overall drama and what is appropriate within each act. The acts are: creation, ‘the fall’, Israel, Jesus, and the church; they constitute the differentiated stages in the divine drama which scripture itself offers.
He goes onto frame the drama of the scriptures within a Temple Metaphor which runs deeply and centrally to the whole story.
In our previous blog in the series we finished by introducing the image of a temple as found in Genesis 1-2. It’s a garden temple, where the beauty and intimacy of God interacts with the creation itself. It’s the place where heaven comes down to earth. The place where divinity touches humanity.
And then we have the fall.
The fall breaks and pollutes the human heart and results in Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden – they now live east of Eden, but still carry the identity and heart of Eden people.
The image bearing has been broken – the angled mirror, reflecting God’s image into the world through those made in that image, and then in return back to God through worship, is marred.
The heaven and earth project falls apart and God’s intention is to bring them back together – something of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 1, starts to unfold as the story continues.
The book of Genesis is spilt in two main sections. Genesis 1-11 – is pre Abraham; it is the OT of the OT if you like. Genesis 12 and through to the end of Malachi – is the start of the rescue plan. One section is a reflection of the other showing how God works to put things back together. As we will see the Babel of Genesis 11 reappears as the Babylon of the exiled people.
One is put together as being a picture of the other. We are place in a wonderful garden – a temple where heaven and earth meet but then things get messed up. Of course, this is not only the story of then – but of now. Of how life has been fractured and heaven and earth divided.
When these stories were written we may not be sure, but they were pulled together and edited during the time of the exile to Babylon. Their compilation brings cohesion to a people struggling to keep hold of their identity. Their story as an exiled people speaks of this original story – it’s the story of Israel in the promised land - and where do they end up – in Babel which is Babylon. Which means confused!
We all end up at Babel – confused. We all find ourselves in Babylon – exiled. We’ve lost our way from the Promised Land. We’re all living East of Eden.
Like Adam and Eve, we’re all part of the fall.
The garden temple is broken because the very thing needed to keep it working is obedience – and disobedience won. The temple image is broken – but not lost. God is still in the business of bringing heaven to earth.
So, God announces his rescue plan in Abraham – he calls childless nomads. He calls a couple who have nothing to become the conduit of blessing to the whole story of creation. It’s out of this – and those promises that everything else flows.
Next time we will build on this temple metaphor and see how it flows through the scriptures to present the ultimate intention of God which is not so much getting us to heaven as it is in getting heaven to earth – and getting it into us.