Friday, 24 August 2018

Thin Places

The Da Vinci Code created a surge of renewed interest in Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel. Psychics and paranormal researchers have long regarded Rosslyn as a “thin place,” where the natural and supernatural are said to overlap. It is seen as a place where the line between this world and other worlds is seen to be very thin. Some have suggested that Rosslyn Chapel was purposely constructed over a natural energy field to serve as a point of contact with aliens. There is a rumour that the remains of a crashed UFO are housed in a vault beneath the chapel.

I do not know what to believe except that people are drawn to thin places—to places where they can sense the supernatural. That is what Solomon’s temple was intended to be. Ironically, that is what a Christian church is supposed to be. People need for churches to be thin places where they can come and feel the presence of God. Maybe that is why it is so disheartening to come to church hoping to encounter a living God and find only a dead congregation in a lifeless worship service. A church can be an awfully thick place.

We’ve all heard people who love nature say they feel closer to God in the mountains than in church. Maybe they are just making excuses or cannot endure sound doctrine. Or maybe, just maybe, they are speaking from honest experience. Maybe they have gotten really tired of visiting God’s house when God is obviously not at home. There were lots of houses for lots of gods in the ancient world. The thing that made Solomon’s temple different was that on the day they dedicated this house of God, God actually showed up and moved in.

The cloud was God’s way of letting people know his presence. “When the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house . . . for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” It hovered over Mount Sinai when Moses met with God. It led the children of Israel through the wilderness and later on it enveloped Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration.  The people could not actually see God, but at least they could see where God was. The cloud let them know they were in a very thin place.

This thinness really had nothing to do with natural energy fields or UFOs in the basement. It was simply that God was in the place. And whenever God is in a place then things get really thin. The concept of thin places need not conflict with the doctrine that God is in every place.  Solomon knew that no human-made structure could house God, but he felt divinely compelled to build a dwelling place for God. It was not that God needed a place like that. It was that God’s people needed a place like that. Solomon understood that the “heaven and the highest heaven” could not contain God. In all of space there is not a single spot where God is not. This is difficult for adults and children to comprehend.

A little boy once asked his Sunday school teacher, “Where is God?” “God is everywhere,” she replied. “Is God in my inkwell?” “Uh, yes,” answered the teacher, “I suppose so.” “Then I got him!” replied the boy as he clamped his hand over the top. Is God in the inkwell? Where is God? Really, I suppose God is in all. Yet, there are specific places where God’s presence is made known - places where God seems to be at home. A church is meant to be one of those places. There are some churches where God’s presence is so strong you can feel it. There are other churches where God’s presence is seemingly absent. You can feel that, too.

If there is such a thing as the presence of God in a church, there is also such a thing as the absence of God in a church. The sad thing is that religious activity can go on with or without God’s involvement. Religious activity is a sad substitute for a genuine experience with God. It’s as if we almost have the power to generate such an experience—as if our churches are without power simply because we have neglected to flip some spiritual breaker. But it is not as though we can coerce God into coming through assertive invocations. Neither can we conjure up God’s presence with emotional hype. We can no more control God’s movement than a farmer can control weather patterns.

There is apparently something about an earnest desire for God that attracts God. I guess even God likes to feel wanted. David wanted to experience God’s presence so much that his soul panted like a deer for the water. Solomon wanted it so much that he spent seven and a half years preparing a dwelling place for God. All the preparation and desire paid off the day the cloud of the Lord came and filled the house of the Lord. God moved in and made himself at home among his people. Heaven and Earth overlapped a little. All God’s people knew they were in a mighty thin place.

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