October 4 - 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 & Galatians 2:16-20 - you are the temple of the living God (a reflection)
This being the Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross, there are two sets of Scripture readings assigned for the Liturgy - one for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost and the other for the Sunday after the Elevation.
"You are the temple of the living God."
This is a very significant statement, and it says a lot more than the face value. For background context I am using a great article, "Man as the Image of God in Reverse," from even greater blog, The Whole Counsel of God. I would seriously recommend that, if you haven't already done so, become subscribers and regular readers of this blog. Fr Stephen De Young, the author of the blog, does a lot of major background context unpacking for what we believe in and why we believe it. He shows that Christianity is not a religion created 2000 years ago, or just one of the religions, or just the main religion. Christianity and all its doctrines, in fact, go all the way to the beginning, to God and creation.
Anyway, read the blog. And now to the above verse. There is a connection here to a pagan tradition of "entrapping" their gods in idols, which were often statues, but sometimes could be human beings. This pagan tradition was, in fact, a cheap imitation of what God did in the beginning, when He created the first human beings and breathed into them the breath of life, opening their nostrils, and causing them to live, and to function as God’s image.
Let's look at what the pagans did first and then come back to how exactly we are the temple of the living God. For the pagan tradition I will quote a large block from the article I cited above.
For pagans to interact with their gods, they had to install that god's image, or idol.
After its installation, a ceremony was performed in order to open its mouth and nose, so that the spirit of the god could enter into it.
Ancient people worshipped and desired to interact with the spiritual powers through acts of worship.
In order to interact with these spirits, [the spirits] needed to take up residence in a body. One means of this was possessing a human person, as was the case of the oracle at Delphi, and other less famous mediums (i.e. Acts 16:16-24). Great men were also seen to be possessed, and guided by spiritual beings, such as Socrates’ daemon (Republic 6.496, Apology 31c-d) or the genius of the Roman emperor. The other, far more common, mode of this interaction was through the construction of a body for the god by its worshippers, an idol. Once the divine spirit was inhabiting the image, the primary task of the [pagan] priests was to care for the idol, by keeping it clean, dressing it, bringing it food and drink, maintaining its home in the temple, etc. It is this which engendered the extended critiques of idolatry throughout scripture (cf. Isaiah 44). It is not merely that humans are worshipping rocks and chunks of wood instead of the God Who created them. There is an inherent foolishness at work here. If a so-called god is unable to clean itself, dress itself, maintain its own home, or even pick itself up off the floor if tipped over, how could one possibly believe that such a being could bring rain or great yields of crops? If it cannot govern even the most basic functions of life, how could it govern a nation, or the world? And yet all of these rituals are aimed at one goal, to use the temple and the image to control the god, and get it to do what one wants. The image of the god is the place where it encounters the human world.
So, the pagans created these statues/idols in order to entrap the spirit of a god, so that they could interact with it, because human beings do not have other means of interacting with the spiritual realm.
This was, as I said, a cheap imitation, and a reverse, of what God did in the beginning.
What we see in Genesis is precisely the reverse of this pagan practice...After creating a human person as His image, God Himself breathes into him the breath of life, opening his nostrils, and causing him to live, and to function as God’s image. The gift which is here given to human persons is to be the means by which God is going to act, to work, in His creation. This is a gift and a privilege, as God does not need humanity in order to act in creation, any more than He needed a creation in which to act.
The pagans, therefore, in doing their installation of god's spirit in an idol were doing what, I think, is the preservation in our deep subconscious memory of what happened to all of us at the beginning. We were created by God, we are His image, and as such, we can't help ourselves but try to do what He does. Even though we fail because we are not, well, God. Just look at little children, those little images of ourselves. They try to do what their parents do, and fail because they are not big enough, or strong enough, or smart enough to do the same things yet.
So, when Saint Paul says that "you are the temple of the living God," he is not making just a nice cute statement in order to make the Corinthians Christians stop doing bad things. He is saying what has always been true - we are the temple of the living God because He has breathed life into us! Think about that. God breathed His breath into us and enlivened us! And this breath has been passed down from Adam and Eve to their children, and from our parents to us. And even our sinful behavior has not moved God to take away this breath from. On the contrary, He sent His Son to die for us, so that we would have it for all eternity.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest