Most of us are familiar with this optical illusion or some variation of it. Do you at first see a maiden or a hag?
I’ve heard there’s some psychological significance attached to which one materializes to your eye. At any rate, it’s interesting that two people looking at the same image can see something entirely different.
Now try Jesus. Without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, at best, He appears a good teacher, the Bible a religious storybook, and human reason the crowning triumph of evolution.
And the church? What does the eye discern when the Spirit is absent? At best, a non-profit organization whose benevolence is shaky. At worst, an abusive, oppressive institution with a long list of scathing indictments, faults, and flaws. Without the enlightening Spirit of Truth, the dominant image of “hag” is fixed in the mind.
But from Psalm 84, here is the Psalmist’s Spirit-enabled view of God’s dwelling place:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!
The dwelling place mentioned here in the verses was the temple of Solomon, a fabulous architectural wonder and ancient tourist hot spot. However, the Psalmist went well beyond the physicality of it, its ceremonies, and liturgy.
In fact, those who had become accustomed to externals might have viewed his appreciation for the place as extreme–My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord. The writer was not seeing a hag, not even an impressive edifice, but a maiden. For, past the marble, gold, silver, and intricately carved olive wood was glory. Beauty. That temple had been radiated with the presence of the living God.
I think it fair to say that the Spirit had opened the eyes of the Psalmist’s heart to see it.
In these last days, on the far side of the cross, the Holy Spirit who indwells us provides an even fuller understanding of God’s house, the church.
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians chapter one was “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (vv. 17-18).
And, like the Psalmist of old, we find ourselves seeing beyond the meeting facilities, the aesthetics, the programs, and even the sometimes problematic personalities of people, to the glory that indwells them.
I used to be part of a fellowship where the common concern was whether new attendants in our gatherings had yet “seen the church.” That’s a spiritual priority, sounding close to what Paul wanted for Christians in the Ephesians passage.
But among us, “seeing the church” often signified something different from receiving, through the Spirit and the Word, a revelatory understanding of the people of God.
In our circles, it came to mean that a newcomer had resonated with our particular church structure—alignment on a local or national headquarters, how many churches were allowed in one municipality, approved study materials, and the keeping of conference schedules. It meant standing on the right side of battles over what musical instruments were allowed in services, judgment upon what constituted worldliness, and what titles, if any, were allowed in the assembly. “Seeing the church” came down to holding correct opinions on a multitude of items that were really more about church culture than Scripture.
Had Paul really prayed for us to see such things?
Having said this, I think there is a place for all kinds of pragmatic concerns in the life of every congregation. Each will have its own particular way of being and doing things. There’s no need to rail against it in the name of some sort of formless spirituality.
However, the apostle prayed for us to see the glory of the indwelling Christ within one another. Perhaps there is no better way of understanding the church than that it is the sum total of Christ in the saints.
Maybe we’ve got a ways to go before that revelation happens. Obviously, for one, we’d have to lay off our habit of seeing “the hag”—stop preferring the people we click with, and give up assessing personalities and judgments. Cease the ugly talk.
And then ask God to show us Christ not only in the Sunday morning message and soaring music but in the believer seated next to us. Maybe it’s the person you know every way except in the Spirit—your Christian bowling buddy, perhaps.
God will do it, and to the extent, like the Psalmist, that we’ll long for more.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on John Myer
Featured Image by Eric Ward on Unsplash
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