When I was maybe ten, I learned how my body was [and is, I suppose] a temple for the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 6:19]. At some point in my early years I was taught that this is one of the reasons not to smoke cigarettes. How that arose as a priority I am not sure, but I guess I could see how the logic works: introducing carcinogens and tar into sensitive human lungs is really bad for us, and since we’re temples for God it’s not a good idea to pollute our physical bodies.
Great point. But I’m not sure if anti-smoking is what the passionate Saint Paul was after. I think there is more to the story!
What’s Paul trying to get at with this whole idea of bodies as temples?
I’m going to take a crack at it. So, at Easter we listen in to a story about a Jesus who dies, then comes back. If you’re part of a liturgical church, you may have followed the church year, journeying with Jesus through his birth, life, ministry, death, then finally-at Easter-resurrection from death.
But aren’t we left with the question of why Jesus ditched us? I mean, wouldn’t it be so nice if we could just go ahead and meet up with Jesus sometime? Might that be an encouragement for those of who sometimes wonder if this great, sweeping Christian narrative might be make-believe?
I thought about this at Easter. Why did Jesus do things this way? Apparently he and God the Father were working together on the whole plan, so couldn’t they have done something to assist with our nagging doubts?
Evidently Jesus trusted the folks who had taken him seriously during his several years of ministry in Galilee and Judea. Clearly he put his faith in a small group of wavering followers [think Thomas] who had to actually confirm that he was, in fact, alive after the gruesome crucifixion.
Those doubting, bumbling, distracted followers went on communicate the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Two millennia later, this message has lasted, and though it has been twisted in nearly every way imaginable, we can still discover a rich, vibrant, faith in the lives of so many individuals across the planet.
Here’s the account we learn of within Scripture regarding why Jesus left. First, at an ultra rational perspective, Jesus would run into trouble at some point connecting with the many people who would love to meet him. Over 2 billion followers of Jesus inhabit planet earth, and that’s a lot of pastoral work for one guy, even if he’s the son of God.
Rationality aside, Jesus tells us he’s going to send the “comforter,” the Holy Spirit [cf. John 14:16]. I suppose he understands our doubts and wants to let us in on why it is that he leaves after doing such amazing things on earth.
Soon, Jesus leaves. Luke’s Gospel does a sufficient job at explaining how this happens, but it’s startling how brief the details turn out to be: Raising his hands he blessed them, and while blessing them, took his leave, being carried up to heaven [Luke 24:51].
That’s it. Bye, Jesus!
Enjoy the view!
Say hi to God for us!
And he’s gone. Finally-and apparently at the right moment-the Spirit arrives in force [Acts 2:1-13]. Who knows how long the disciples were hanging around waiting for the Spirit to show up? They were worshiping God in the temple [Luke 24:52], so they were certainly convinced that he was legit, but they were still waiting.
Thankfully, the Spirit showed.
Now consider our own context. We’re caught within the matrices of contemporary life, stuck with tax forms, school obligations, vocational discernment, and the host of questions that center on how to be the person we are supposed to be, whatever that means.
Looking deeper, it seems most of us have a sense of how things are supposed to be. Yes, sometimes we see things a little differently than others, but we’d all agree it’s wrong that folks are killing one another; that famines ravage countries and children go hungry; that bullies run not only playgrounds but businesses, militias, and countries.
We all have a sense that things are not quite right, and we all long to be part of changing this.
Some of us are tired of religion, burned out on church, annoyed at fellow church-goers and overwhelmed by the unanswered questions within the life of faith.
And yet, the feelings of desiring a better world persist, so we move to our various ways of accomplishing this. Or, we never had faith in the first place, no religious convictions or faith tradition imparted to us from our family or our community. Yet, we still have a vision for what life is meant to look like. We still have a conscience. We still have this God-given breath, our hopes, our very existence.
We still have humor.
A while back I was at our local park for a few moments with our two tiny boys, Maelin and Silas, and my wife, Kaile. I found a lonely, empty Easter egg and gave it to Silas so he could play with it. Soon, I found a few more eggs. I was stoked-someone didn’t find these eggs. And they were everywhere.
What could be better? Eggs! And all for us!
After a few brief minutes of egg-collecting joy, I realized the eggs were coming from a young couple just around the corner from where we were. A young woman with a large egg basket saw me at immediately took mercy on me for my egg theft. I replaced the eggs I had gathered as rapidly as I could, feeling as ridiculous as ever for failing to realize they had just been hidden.
“I was about to steal all your eggs!” I confessed to the couple, who were still laughing at my mistake.
All of this reminds me that when we learn that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, it has some vast implications:
Can we be temples of God without acknowledging it?
If we say we don’t believe God, are we still a living account of the God we have disowned? By breathing and existing and living, does not our very existence testify to the beauty of God?
Could every second of every life throughout all of history become a witness to God, once we see it the right way?
For Christians, can we listen in to how God has already been at work within us? How do we do that?
My identity as a Christian-a person who seeks to follow the way of Jesus-consists, at least in part, of a new way of seeing everything. It’s shedding the many corrupting ideas and habits that have entered into my daily life over these thirty years. It’s losing the life I thought I wanted and taking up a new and better way of being the same me. I become more fully human and more alive as I grow slowly into the stature of the biblical picture of new humanity: Jesus.