Monday, January 11, 2010

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit - part II

One thing to think about when considering such a posit is the nature of what it means to be a covenant person of God. If one takes a look at the idea of Ancient Israel and their orientation to their own cultural paradigms, one thing is evident in the way they viewed the manifestation of holiness in the world. This is the idea of different spheres of holiness that are concentrated in the most holy and are then espoused, concentrically, to less holy areas as one moves further away from the center  spheres. In this, one sees that “[t]aken together the results seem to suggest that spiritual life occurred [for Ancient Israel] in three concentric spheres.”[1] This, of course, is found in the interplay between the Tabernacle/Temple and both Israel as a people and the world more generally. So, for example, the Tabernacle/Temple is, of course, that highest of holy places, with the holy of holies espousing even greater significance, but beyond this there is the next but less prominently holy place in the camp of Israel. After the camp of Israel, by this model, the concentric spheres lead away from the tabernacle to the ultimately destitute nations and land outside the camp in the wilderness, and into chaos. It is easy to see that the divine Presence, according to the beliefs of ancient Israel,  becomes ever diminished the further one journeys through these concentric spheres.[2]

This type of cultural structure, obviously, is at the heart of the ancient Israelites' identity as a covenant community. Here, one might argue that any spiritual factors aside, this type of existential worldview has a pronounced psychological affect on the orientation of the self, in the subjective view of an Israelite, to Yahweh and His realm of holiness. When God proclaims Israel a nationhood of priests, He ultimately shapes them as that people bound within the confines of not only national boundaries but much more psychological and cultural boundaries as related to their actual orientation to Him through His Presence at the Tabernacle/Temple.[3] Therefore, when Yahweh declares that the entire nation of Israel are priests, His intention is to create a bridge between the aforementioned spheres of holiness in order to allow the turbid and less holy nations of the world an entry point to His Presence; Israel was meant to be that servant who would administer access to a relationship with the one true God. However, because ancient Israel was placed at the crux between dwelling in the shadow of the Presence of God and yet still drenched by the curse of interminable sin, she, through the theocracy of God, found herself as that identifiable intermediary between chaos and the divine.

The idea of God reaching out to the world through a human intermediary was not simply started with the rise of Ancient Israel, in the biblical tradition, but one might argue that this is an idea that was set out and expounded through the very moment of first creation in Adam. Scholar Richard Hess takes this idea up when he speaks of Adam’s likeness to God by saying:

"What then is the meaning of the terms image (tselem) and likeness (demuth), used here to describe the image of God? It is best illustrated in the practice of ancient Near East kings of erecting or carving out images in order to represent their power and rulership over far-reaching areas of their empires. These represented the dominion of the ruler when the sovereign was not present in the region[.]"[4]

One here sees that Adam himself may have been a symbol of that divine work in creation and thus that herald to Divine authority in creation. And, taking a cue from the first man of their own mythology, it can be noted that the very core of Israelite's orientation to their own theocracy was always meant to be an existential paradigm, which had the purpose, ultimately, of announcing the divine Presence and authority to a corrupted, fallen world. Israel dwelt in the Presence of God, and they were meant to embody that identity.

[1] Richard Hess, Israelite Religions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 183.
[2] Hess, Israelite, 183.
[3] Exodus 19:6.
[4] Richard S. Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, ed. Ronald W. Pierce et al (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 81.

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