Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

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I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Do Not Approach My Holy Mountain

"Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows..."

This passage really bugged me, ever since I started my "recovery from fundamentalism". I mean, here God seems to be saying that no one can approach the mountain because it's so holy, they'll die. But, then, why does the mountain need guarding? Why the archers of Israel?

I remember asking about this in church, and being told, after the teacher became a bit exasperated, "Well, God said it, so it must be right." To which I replied, "Well, Moses may have said God said it." This was the point at which it occurred to me that another explanation was that Moses just didn't want anyone following him up the mountain. But that may be a bit cynical.

I was reminded of this today as I viewed a PBS Special describing Mauna Kea and the conflict between the needs of the astronomical community and native Hawaiian religious sensitivities. (Here's a summary of the production, called "First Light".) While Mauna Kea is probably the most perfect place on the planet to study the stars, the observatories placed there are seen by some native Hawaiians as a desecration of the holy mountain.

While I appreciate the idea of a special place which we try to preserve, the idea of a "holy location", i.e., where only certain people are allowed to go, seems to lead to trouble. For example, the aforementioned Mt. Sinai; the Holy of Holies, where unworthy priests might die; and the city of Jerusalem, which has certainly had its share of conflict through the millenia.

I guess I'd like to suggest that part of the story of Jesus is that he made the Holy Places (and items) available to everyone:

Mt. Sinai: the law given there was superceded

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:23-28

The barrier to the Holy of Holies was rent

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Matthew 27:50-52

The city of Jerusalem

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1-4

That last passage is quite a promise: no more death, nor more mourning or crying or pain. This sounds like the end even of hell, described by George MacDonald. And that is the consummation of Jesus making all of the Holy Places available to everyone, as everyone will have partaken in the holiness.

There will be no more need to keep anyone away from God's Holy Mountain.