Encouragement From The Word

A theology of place

When I was co-leading a pilgrimage in Israel recently, we visited the place along the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized.  It’s in a narrow spot in the river, with perhaps 7 or 8 metres separating the shores of Israel and Jordan.  Both sides have infrastructure set up for pilgrims who visit the site.

Numbers of these pilgrims choose to be baptized (or, in some cases, re-baptized) in the spot where Jesus was baptized.  Being nearly all people of the Reformed faith whose faith is vibrant and whose first baptism ‘took’, none of our group opted for rebaptism.  (It was just as well, since the water was about the colour of chocolate milk!)

I suppose that for some, the place is significant, and they want to celebrate their faith in that place.  Yet while I think there can be great inspiration by being in a place of biblical or historical significance, there is no inherent holiness about it.

Now, to the Jews, it’s another story; when we visited the Western Wall of the second temple in Jerusalem, Jewish pilgrims (even on a quiet day) were flocking to the wall to pray, because, though the temple was destroyed in AD 70, the wall is closest to what would have been the Holy of Holies when the temple still stood. Faithful Jews today believe that the glory of the Lord resides within that wall.

But Christians do not believe that God resides in any one place.  Indeed, we believe God resides in the whole world, and in the human heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So you need not be concerned that you can’t sense God’s presence because you’re not at a particular site or in a particular building; by faith, he is with you wherever you go.

However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?

Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’” (Acts 7.48-50 [NLT], citing Isaiah 66.1-2)

2 thoughts on “A theology of place”

  1. Your reference to the Jordan River is mindful of Naaman’s response to Elisha so many, many years ago.

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