When I think of other reasons to consider choosing someone else to build God a house I think, “Why no mention of his indiscretion with Bathsheba? Why no reference to the murder of Uriah? No inner turmoil for ignoring the rape of his daughter?”
You may need to pick this up by reading, or re-reading Part 1.
It sure seems a case could be made, and in modern times by Christians is regularly made, that killing in war is justifiable. We still get incensed at the killing of innocents, the mistreatment of the powerless, and the abuse of others. At least that is our claim. Telling the leaders it was because of his military service and the accompanying shedding of blood that kept him from constructing the temple sounded better than admitting his own egregious actions. But, kings do what kings do.
And, kings say what kings say. When David concludes his speech to the leaders about the future, legacy-marking event in the temple, the leaders pledge their money. I do not mean to be crass, but this sure sounds like a good fund raising campaign. “Here is what I am setting aside for the building.” Implied, at least in how we practice it, is the expectation that those under the king would follow the king’s lead. And they did.
How does the story function? Why did the narrator not give us Nathan’s words as to why David was denied the privilege to build the temple? Please engage in something more than, “because it is there in black and white.” Doing so ignores the complexity of the story. A reason coming from the prophet would give the reason more credence. Maybe this is David’s version. Invoking the language of Divine sanction continues to this day. Sometimes it has been used to justify a position or an action that is really exposed to be our position or an action resulting from our agency, not God’s. That the Scriptures may include illustrations of this sort of thing for us to be wary of should not be surprising.
Dare I suggest that during my conversation with Guy yesterday he pointed out that we might miss some levity in the story? That is, knowing there would be readers of the story, the details may be intended for us to find humor in David being the one to offer the reason for his denial and that it was his military background not his moral fiascos. This should not be lost on us as a possibility lest we make the same mistakes. Can you think of a few?
What lies beneath? Consider the conversation between Samuel and YHWH. The pattern is established. The people observe the way others order and structure themselves and believe the material reality of a king is more to their liking than a spiritual reality only heard from via a prophet/priest. It is not that they really want to shun God’s presence. But, to gain standing among all nations they believe, or so it seems, a comparable order must be established for them to be taken seriously. “Give us a king.”
Follow that pattern and re-read God’s response to Nathan when the matter of a temple, a house, comes up. YHWH needs no house. How do you house a presence so ubiquitous as to be everywhere? God replays his interactions with his people. It is as if to say, “I need no house. It is you who think I need a house.” And, in similar fashion, God gave them instructions for a temple as he did in giving a king. What if God gives us what we want even if what we say we want we already have? Is that not Israel’s dilemma? They wanted a king – they had one. They wanted a temple – they had one.
Where would David have gotten the idea to house God? He saw them in the places he conquered. What would happen when the people determined to house God? Presence is consolidated and controlled. By the time Jesus stands in Luke 4, preserving the house and its accompanying ritual and rigor become the means of honoring God rather than what Jesus would propose and later Paul would radicalize. Déjà vu?
“But the time is coming – and is here! – when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth.” Not on this mountain or that. Not in this house or that. Paul extends the thought. People are the house of God’s dwelling. “Don’t you know your body is the temple of God?”
Nevermind that Jesus talks of the destruction of the temple, the building or his body, we miss that we cannot house God in a temple or in a church. We say we know this but then fight tooth and nail to keep the constituency happy enough to contribute and maintain our own structures and systems.
These attempts to house God miss that the language of the Sacred Text. People house God’s presence. The implication is two-fold, at least. First, the mission of God then becomes incumbent on the person(s) who lay claim to being Christian. By mission I do not mean the narrow vision of personal evangelism. I mean participation in the multi-faceted mission that at its core is the agenda of Jesus to reconcile the world to himself. Second, if Christians ever hope to offer a hopeful call to the Nones, the de-churched, or post-churched, the skeptic and the cynic, it will come when we discontinue our efforts to take back perceived places of Christian privilege wherein we house God in our structures and institutions and instead illustrate how God is housed in us.
For, even to Jesus’ critics he says, “the Kingdom of God is within you.”