Updated and revised. A continuation of the thoughts in a previous post, Human Strudel.
Studying the Israelite sanctuary system is like opening a treasure box. There are many glowing things to behold, and each time something different shines more brilliantly than before. Much of the language in the New Testament is infused with elements from the Old Testament sanctuary system, and understanding the mechanisms of the sanctuary unlocks many ‘hidden’ facets of Biblical passages.
Doves in the Temple
Recently, one small piece of the sanctuary system has had a deep impress on my mind: the doves. There was one particular event in the life of Jesus where He stood in the temple and with authority, kicked out the people who had turned the temple into a marketplace. The commodities were sheep, ox, and doves – animals that were to be sacrificed in the temple as offerings for sin.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. Matthew 21:12-13. (Also see Mark 11:15-17, John 2:13-16)
It is interesting that in these passages, those who sold doves were particularly singled out. The words “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” were particularly directed to them. Why?
Back in Leviticus, we learn that lambs were not the only animal offerings for burnt, sin, or trespass offerings. In Leviticus 5, for example, one could bring turtledoves for sin and burnt offerings if he could not afford to bring a lamb. “And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering” Lev 5:7. Further, if he could not afford turtledoves, he could bring an ephah of fine flour (v. 11).
Thus, the people who were selling doves were not selling to the rich and affluent; they were selling to those who had little money. The buying and selling in the temple gave occasions to greed and fraud where the poor were taken advantage. On top of that, the Pharisees convinced them that they would not be worthy of forgiveness without the sacrifice. No wonder Jesus was not indifferent to this situation, to say the least.
Poverty and Jesus
In Luke 2:21-24, we read about the time when Jesus was brought to the temple as a baby. His parents, as they consecrated Him to God, brought two turtledoves as sacrifice, telling us something about their socio-economic status. This was Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of God! God was not joking when He said, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
When Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” he was quoting the passage in Isaiah 56, which probed the question, Why did His mind think of this passage?
3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
4 For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
8 The Lord God, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
God’s house, the temple, is supposed to be a refuge for people from all nations and tongues, especially those who are outcast, who don’t belong anywhere else, and who have no other home. It is His prime interest to gather all of these people in His house, where He will give them a name, a family, and security.
So, when Jesus saw men standing in between God’s house and those whom He wanted to gather, men who made merchandise out of mercy, salvation, and grace, ‘the zeal of God’s house ate him up’ (John 2:17). It was antithetical to what God wanted to do in His temple, that system that was divinely inspired for the purpose of reconciling sinners to God. That structure was a shadow of Jesus Himself, in whom we all are reconciled with God.
The buying and selling were antithetical to the sanctuary; it was antithetical to Jesus’ mission.
In kicking the sellers out, Jesus was saying, “This is not what I’m about, not what my Father is about.” Justice was restored, and those who were held afar from God by the sellers drew near to His presence.
God is not a respecter of person. In a world where affluence makes social status, this truth is entirely wonderful. It makes absolutely no difference how much money one has; God’s acceptance is full and free all the same. And God is serious when anyone tries to convince people otherwise.
“…if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.
“Academic excellence combined with spiritual excellence.” “Higher than the highest human thoughts can reach is God’s ideal for His children.” These are the ideals that we hold so dear. Following the examples of Daniel, Joseph, and Nehemiah, we desire to achieve and maintain the highest standard in our work so that God’s name can be glorified. Naturally, the enemy will not be happy with these efforts. I want to take some time to write, hopefully as an encouragement, about a trying experience that I believe those who strive for excellence are (most) susceptible to.
Everyone loves the days when the sun is out, the air is fresh, the flowers are blooming, and you just got an A on a test. Or if you’re not an undergraduate anymore, you can replace the A with a successful interview, a word of affirmation from your superior, an accomplishment at work, a thoughtful deed from a friend, an impactful Bible study, a successful event, or any other triumphant moments or instances when you receive a token of appreciation. But I want to talk about the days when these things seem to be miles away. I’m not talking about the regular, mundane, and uneventful days; I’m talking about days when the reality is polar opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. These are days when your effort is never enough, when self doubts arise, and when you feel like a complete failure both in deed and in character.
In moment such as these, there is a voice that starts out faint but grows increasingly loud in your head that you can’t seem to ignore. The voice sounds something like this: “What kind of student/worker/minister are you? You can’t do anything right. Your school work is falling apart. Your ministry is not having any impact. You say you want to glorify God, but how can He look good if you’re being such a failure? You say you believe in excellence, but look at your mediocre school work. Your spiritual life is an unpracticed theory, and you’re not even a decent person. Nothing about you is excellent.”
Have you heard these words before? I most certainly have. In fact, I’ve heard it more than once in my life, and the more I strive to be the best that I can be, the louder these voices seem to be. How did a quest for excellence turn into an endless fall to the mire of self?
The number of times that this voice appears is not the real issue. The real issue is whose voice I thought it was. There was once a time when I thought this was God’s voice. He helped me realize that it wasn’t, and that He loved me even before I discovered my own faults and weaknesses. I know enough to believe that He’s not a condemning God. But as this phenomenon occurred again and more intensely so, I realized that I thought it was my own voice, that I was condemning myself.
Once was a week when I basically went down this spiral, worse than ever before. It was again, the week when I saw “Passion of the Christ.” What struck me powerfully was the scene of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Lucifer was there. Funny, I always pictured Jesus praying by Himself. Of course Satan was there; it was the most crucial moment of Jesus’ mission! There were two things that Satan whispered in Jesus’ ears as He called the Father’s name and as the Father withdrew His presence from Jesus, “Who is your father? …Who are you?” I gasped as I heard those words being uttered and it gave me the chills as I thought to myself, “I’ve heard that before. That voice sounds familiar.”
It grieved me to realize that I had been listening to the enemy’s voice more than God’s. Yet, I felt so liberated because as scales fell from my eyes, I finally saw that it was not my voice that condemned me. It was the enemy’s. It was comforting to know that this phenomenon is actually a temptation, and Jesus did not succumb to it in Gethsemane. It is not humility when we doubt the identity that God has invested in us. When Jesus did not feel God’s presence, when everything around Him did not testify that He was the Son of God, when His own countenance was so marred that even Lucifer himself looked more majestic than Him, He believed. His faith clings on to His identity which the Father had revealed from before, and praise Jesus, He clings on to His mission.
The Bible tells us in Revelation 12:10, And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. Accused. That was exactly what I felt. The enemy of the soul was accusing me.
The verse before tells us that he deceives the whole world. I was deceived – Satan was the last person I thought of when I heard those voices. In Zachariah 3:1-7, there is a vision of Joshua the high priest in front of the judgment of God.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
In front of the judgment seat of God, we have to face our life’s record. May we remember that none of us lives unto ourselves.
The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
The accuser does not have the last word. God has the power to rebuke Satan. When God chooses someone, no one else can contend with Him. He said Joshua was a brand that He plucked from the fire.
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.
Only in verse 3 does the Bible give the detail that Joshua’s garment was actually filthy. But apparently it didn’t matter to God. He still was a brand that God plucked out, dirty though his garment may be.
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”
God then did not leave Joshua in his dirty garment, as He does not leave us in our iniquity. He takes it away and clothes us with new garments, garments that we cannot get by ourselves.
Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.
When God clothes us, He does it completely. He does not do a shoddy job.
And the angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.
After all of that, then comes the bidding. Remain in my ways, and greater things are in store for you.
Oh the beauty of justification by faith: to be made right in the presence of God! What more grace can God bestow upon us?
So, to my fellow believers in excellence, when you hear those condemning voices, know that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Satan may accuse you of many things and all of his accusations may be true, but God has a stronger claim upon you, and He takes our filthy garment and replaces it with His garment of righteousness.
Revelation 12:11, the verse right after Satan was identified as the accuser of the brethren, says, And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
There is a way to overcome. It doesn’t say that we overcome by consoling ourselves that we’re not that bad. Neither does it say that we overcome by working so hard to attain that excellence back. The key to overcoming is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The blood of the Lamb justifies us, and we should never stop testifying this good news. God has made a way for sinners to be His children, and there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom 8:1).
Don’t listen to the voices, look to Jesus, and keep getting up.
An experience we hardly admit. A thought we often shun. A fear we avoid at all cost. Loneliness.
Few would actually say “I’m lonely”, not jokingly or with tongue in cheek, but in a solemn and sober manner. Outwardly, snickers may be directed to such a person, but there may also be inner, unspoken admiration for the courage to admit such a private state of being.
Why are we lonely? And why are we so afraid of being lonely?
Why Are We Lonely?
There are quite a number of reasons why loneliness occurs. Physical or geographical isolation from preferred companions is one. The absence of a refreshing and vibrant social network can trigger an isolated feeling and awareness.
It must be noted, however, that loneliness differs from being alone, because it can easily occur in the midst of social interactions. Studies show that occurrences of loneliness are rampant in big cities. People can feel alone in a crowd or even in a marriage.
Thus, loneliness lies in realms beyond the physical. The cause and the solution, therefore, cannot be just physical. It is perhaps quite clear that loneliness is not about the lack of company; it is the lack of intimacy. So the discussion must shift to the immaterial realm of human relationships.
Relationships and Intimacy
The lack of intimacy in relationships could further be caused by several reasons. Firstly, it can be caused by the loss of someone or a relationship through social problems or death. The space that was occupied by certain individuals is now permanently vacant, and the void demands something to fill it back in.
Secondly, it may be caused by a quality of friendship or relationship that is too shallow according to one’s estimation, because it doesn’t satisfy one’s need to identify with another or to be understood in the innermost thought and motive. Such a relationship takes time. Moving to a new surrounding or a new place can be a source of this type of loneliness. Time, though, can potentially solve the problem given that efforts to develop relationships are expended.
The latter cause can be generally described as the discrepancy between expected intimacies with actual intimacies. This discrepancy introduces another factor into the equation, which is one’s growth as he goes through life and various life experiences. Growth in life allows the expansion of one’s concept and understanding about relationship and intimacy. Thus, something that may fulfill one’s need today may not do so a few years down the line.
Where Loneliness Comes From
Out of these few sources of loneliness, it can be concluded tentatively, that the solution of loneliness requires: (i) a person(s), since it deals with relationships, (ii) an intimate relationship with that person(s), since mere company does not suffice, (iii) an established understanding of one’s being at a deep level, and finally (iv) something dynamic and expansive that somehow would grow and expand with one’s conception about the world.
These sources, however, are mere circumstances that trigger loneliness. Can any of it actually claim as the source or root of loneliness? Where does loneliness come from?
American Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho says,
We suffer a lot in our society from loneliness. So much of our life is an attempt to not be lonely: ‘Let’s talk to each other; let’s do things together so we won’t be lonely’ And yet inevitably, we are really alone in these human forms. We can pretend; we can entertain each other; but that’s about the best we can do. When it comes to the actual experience of life, we’re very much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is asking too much.
Existentialist philosophers explain the phenomenon of loneliness as a part, perhaps an integral part, of being a human. Each person is born as a separate entity from any other person, with consciousness that is distinct from anyone else’s. Each person lives and dies alone. It is a given and a fact of life.
In other words, the root of loneliness lies in the fact that humans are individuals. We don’t share our soul and consciousness with any other person. It is a given. Yet, this fact is not a hopeless end to the problem.
Loneliness: A Christian Perspective
In Christianity, the answer to loneliness is inevitably God. There is no other Being that can satisfy such demands of the soul. Furthermore, this Answer in the Christian worldview does not only fulfill the aforementioned criteria, but explains the root of loneliness as well. In contrast to Buddhism, this ‘human form’ is not a result of endless cycles of reincarnation in which being a human just happens to be the current state of existence, and one better learn and make the most of it. To the Christian, this ‘human form’ has an intentional origin. Unlike realism that stops at “It’s just the way it is”, the Christian knows that the given facts of life have a Life Giver.
If individuality has an origin, namely the Intellect who produces a unique design for each person, and if loneliness is the inevitable consequence of being an individual, the solution to loneliness must therefore be in the origin.
The One who creates individuals is the One who can fulfill men’s loneliness at the deepest level. Expecting anything or anyone else to do so, will inevitably result in disappointment. At the end of the day, loneliness is in the mind. Each person is all alone in his thoughts and motives, and no one else can access that space except the God who can read the minds of men (cf. Psalm 139). This loneliness is the space God creates in each person for Himself, the God-shaped void, the eternity in men’s hearts (cf. Ecc 3:11). It is felt even more by separation. While the Edenic parents could freely enjoy direct communion with God to satisfy their longing, sin has intensified loneliness in the present world (cf. Isa 59:1-2). Regardless, loneliness is an obvious sign that humans need God.
The publishers’ preface to The Desire of Ages write:
In the hearts of all mankind, of whatever race or station in life, there are inexpressible longings for something they do not now possess. This longing is implanted in the very constitution of man by a merciful God, that man may not be satisfied with his present conditions or attainments, whether bad, or good, or better. . . . It is God’s design that this longing of the human heart should lead to the One who alone is able to satisfy it. The desire is of Him that it may lead to Him, the fullness and fulfillment of that desire. That fullness is found in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Eternal God. . . . Haggai calls Him ‘the Desire of all nations,’ and we may well call Him ‘the Desire of all ages,’ even as He is ‘the King of ages.’ It is the purpose of this book to set forth Jesus Christ as the One in whom every longing may be satisfied.
Ultimately, the Christian should not be afraid of being lonely. It is the space where God can touch a person’s soul in the deepest sense. It is a special time shared between just one Creator and one human being. It should be a joy for any two beings in love.
To conclude with an insightful quote,
The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God.
Ps 107:9 For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.