Where is God?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Habakkuk 2:18-20

Where in the world is God? The ancient prophet Habakkuk has a profound answer to that question.

According to a U.S. government study entitled “Noise and Its Effects,” the excessive noise in our environment is hurting us. Noise is everywhere today; in fact, if you live in a city it’s almost inescapable. Traffic noise, heavy equipment and machinery, running engines and motors of all sorts, airplanes landing and taking off, televisions blaring and car stereos thumping; the noise is deafening – sometimes literally. But hearing loss is only one of the harmful consequences of being bombarded with excessive decibels. The study listed many other effects noise has on human beings, and every last one of them is negative. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to noise interferes with human communication, lowers scholastic performance, disrupts sleep, and results in various adverse health consequences, including physical and psychological reactions like increased stress levels, raised blood pressure and hypertension. My favorite finding from the report was the final effect of noise they reported: it’s annoying. They didn’t have to pay for a research study to find that out; I would have told them that myself for nothing.

When I was a boy the Sunday morning service in our church often opened with the choir singing, in soft and reverent tones, these words from the second chapter of the book of Habakkuk: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). This is an invitation by the prophet to step back from the noisy world around us and contemplate a deeper truth about ultimate reality. Habakkuk suggests that we stop our own noise-making for a bit – all the wrangling, jarring discord, the complaining, the boasting, the arguing, the endless “spinning” – and fall silent before God the Lord. Habakkuk’s statement begins with a declaration and then follows with a directive.

THE LORD IS IN HIS TEMPLE”

Let’s consider the declaration first: “The Lord is in his holy temple.” Now what does it mean to say that the Lord is in his Temple? Did Habakkuk and his fellow Jews think that the God of all heaven and earth resided in a stone building on a hilltop in the ancient city of Jerusalem? Of course not. When King Solomon, who had built the spectacular Temple building three centuries before Habakkuk’s day, presided over its dedication, he prayed these words: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heaven, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built” (1 Kings 8:27). Old Testament believers understood that God could not be contained within any man-made structures. The real God, the true and living God of heaven and earth, is infinite, immeasurably greater than the whole universe. He does not live in houses made by human hands, as the New Testament says (Acts 17:24). If God cannot be contained even by the whole universe, how could one tiny spot within it possibly be his home? No. The correct answer to the question “Where is God?” is “Everywhere.” Listen to the testimony, for example, of Psalm 139:

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

vv. 8-10

So when Habakkuk tells us that the Lord is in his holy temple, he is making not a geographical statement but a theological one. The prophet is not trying to locate God for us. Rather, he is revealing to us a profound truth both about God and about the world. When the Bible says that the Lord is in his sanctuary, whether that is on earth or in heaven his “dwelling place,” it does not mean that God’s presence is localized in one particular area. It means rather that the Lord is enthroned over the creation. This statement is a symbolic way of expressing the truth that God is ruling over everything and everyone, right now. He is exalted, he is lifted up, he is “enthroned upon the cherubim” that stretched their wings over the ark of the covenant in the Holy of holies in the temple (Ps. 80:1). God is above all things, “the Lord Most High” as the Bible calls him. Because God is enthroned, that means he is in charge, sovereign, in control of all things. I read an article recently by an army general whose title, an example of the military’s love of acronyms, was “SACEUR” That stood for “Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.” Well, the Lord’s title is “SCU” – “Supreme Commander of the Universe”! This is the truth that the Psalms especially love to sing out:

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty . . . girded with strength.

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”

The Lord reigns; let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice . . . For you, O Lord, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods!

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

Psalm 93:1; 96:10; 97:1,9; 99:1

And this is the truth that God means us to understand about himself when Habakkuk tells us that the Lord is in his holy temple. It’s a truth that ought to make us celebrate.

To say that the Lord is in his holy temple not only conveys a truth about the sovereign reign of God over the creation. It also points to another truth about the universe itself. The Jerusalem temple was patterned after the tabernacle, the tent for worship that Moses constructed in the wilderness during the Exodus. God had instructed Moses very carefully to make everything according to the pattern he had been given. So the temple on earth was built according to plan, and the plan reflected the true sanctuary of God in heaven, just as the temple rituals and sacrifices were symbolic pre-enactments of the true offering Jesus made on the cross.

But if the temple in Jerusalem was an earthly copy of the heavenly sanctuary, the Bible also suggests that the earth itself was a sort of copy of the temple. Scripture declares that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it . . . for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2). And again, “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm” (Psalm 75:3). Biblical scholars tell us that this language about the earth having foundations and pillars is meant to suggest a picture of the temple to our minds. It’s as if to say the whole world is a temple, a kind of sanctuary, full of the presence of God. So when we are told that the Lord is in his holy temple, we aren’t just to think of God being over the world, high above it, but of God being in the world at the same time. The Lord is not a distant sovereign, far off, remote, untouched by all that goes on far below him. No. He is a present God, intimately involved in the world and in the lives over which he rules.

BE SILENT BEFORE HIM

So this is the prophet’s great declaration: “The Lord is in his holy temple.” Next comes the directive: “Be silent before him.” Why are we enjoined to keep silence in the face of this truth about the ruling and very present Lord of the universe? What does it mean to be silent before him? I think first of all our silence is a token of our submission. It is the silence of humility and reverence, of awe and – to use the biblical word – fear. “The fear of the Lord,” says the Bible, “is the beginning of all wisdom.” So to be silent before the Lord God is to bow before him, to place ourselves consciously under his sovereign authority, under his rule. It is to confess that we and all we have belong to God alone for the Lord is God and there is no other.

Habakkuk’s directive to be silent before the living God is offered in the context of a denouncing of the idolatrous lives of many of his contemporaries.

Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it?

Or an image that teaches lies?

For he who makes it trusts in his own creation;

he makes idols that cannot speak.

Woe to him who says to wood, “Come to life!”

Or to lifeless stone, “Wake up!”

Can it give guidance?

It is covered with gold and silver;

there is no breath in it.

But the Lord is in his holy temple;

let all the earth be silent before him.

Habakkuk 2:18-20

Notice the contrast that the prophet stresses. Here are all these idols – lifeless, useless, helpless, man-made things. People who look to idols for help are worshiping nothing but the creations of their own imagination. But the Lord is in his holy temple. In contrast to worthless idols, God rules and acts, God lives and speaks. Idols come in all shapes and sizes, not all of them visible to the eye. But they all have this in common: they are the products of the human mind, the projections of our own desires. They are false gods. Only the God of the Bible is real. I have a nephew who is an associate professor in a university; he is moving up the tenured ranks toward becoming a full professor eventually. Well, there is only one “full God” in the universe – and he doesn’t have any associate gods. This is the fundamental truth we acknowledge when we bow before the Lord in silent submission.

But it is also accurate to say that our silence before God is the silence of faith. When we are silent in the presence of God, we affirm the truth about God’s sovereignty – God’s goodness and his power – even when we can’t see these things plainly displayed around us. Let’s face it. The fact that a good and loving God rules the world is not always obvious. That is one reason why the Bible so strongly proclaims that, in fact, he is reigning on the throne of the world. Habakkuk himself struggled with questions about God’s failure to act in the face of evil, his apparent willingness to allow terrible things to go on without any interference from him. Believing in God does not answer all these questions for us or end all our struggles with the problem of evil. But it does cause us to finally fall silent before God in faith, because knowing God is even better than knowing all the answers to the mysteries of life.

At the end of the book of Job God finally appears, in response to the agonized pleas of his suffering servant. God doesn’t give Job any answers, but that no longer matters to Job, because he has seen the Lord:

Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth . . . I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Job 40:3; 42:5-6

Wherever you are right now, whatever your struggles, know this: the Lord is in his holy temple. God is above you, but God is also right there beside you. Let’s keep silence before him.