Sunday, September 1, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 6 and Augustine's Treatise on the Profit of Believing 14

2 Chronicles 6 – Solomon prays, “O Lord, you have said that you would live in a thick cloud of darkness. Now I have built a glorious Temple for you, a place where you can live forever” (6:1-2).

Solomon recounts the word the Lord spoke to his father David promising him that even though he had not chosen a city heretofore nor a ruler to rule over his people, he now has chosen Jerusalem as his city and David to be ruler over his people Israel.

The Lord prevented David from building the house, but now David’s son has completed it. Solomon kneels in the presence of the entire assembly on a platform in the court of the Temple and prays, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant in steadfast love with your servants who walk before you with all their heart—you who have kept for your servant, my father David, what you promised to him . . .Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant, my father David, that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children keep to their way, to walk in my law as you have walked before me” (6:14-16).

Solomon knows a Temple made with human hands cannot contain God: He says, “But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!” (6:18) Still, when those faithful to God direct their prayers to the Temple Solomon prays that God will have eyes to see and hear their supplications. If someone swears before God’s altar, may He hear and act, judging the guilty by bringing their conduct down on their own head, vindicating the righteous. 

When Israel is defeated by enemies because they have sinned, and they confess and plead with God in the Temple, may He hear and forgive the sins of the people.  When there is drought due to sin, and the people confess and turn from their sin, may God hear in heaven and forgive their sins and send rain.  Likewise if there is famine or plague, blight, etc, whatever the people suffer and whatever prayer they direct toward this house, may God hear it from heaven and “forgive, and render to all whose heart you know, according to all their ways, for only you know the human heart” (6:28-30).

Foreigners, likewise, if they come from distant countries because of God’s name “and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, my you hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner ask of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel , . .” (6:32-33).

If your people go out to battle and they pray to you toward this city and toward this house, then hear their prayer and maintain their cause.  And if they sin against God, as all do sin, and God is angry with them and they are taken captive, and they come to their senses and repent “with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity. . .and pray toward their land,. . .then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, . . .maintain their cause and forgive your people. . .O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to prayer from this place” (6:38-40).

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
14 - But now I will proceed with what I have begun, if I can, and I will so treat with you, as not in the meanwhile to lay open the Catholic Faith, but, in order that they may search out its great mysteries, to show to those who have a care for their souls, hope of divine fruit, and of the discerning of truth. No one doubts of him who seeks true religion, either that he already believes that there is an immortal soul for that religion to profit, or that he also wishes to find that very thing in this same religion. Therefore all religion is for the sake of the soul; for howsoever the nature of the body may be, it causes no care or anxiety, especially after death, to him, whose soul possesses that whereby it is blessed. For the sake of the soul, therefore, either alone or chiefly, has true religion, if there be any such, been appointed. But this soul, (I will consider for what reason, and I confess the matter to be most obscure,) yet errs, and is foolish, as we see, until it attain to and perceive wisdom, and perhaps this very [wisdom] is true religion. I am not, am I, sending you to fables? I am not, am I, forcing you to believe rashly? I say that our soul entangled and sunk in error and folly seeks the way of truth, if there be any such. If this be not your case, pardon me, I pray, and share with me your wisdom; but if you recognize in yourself what I say, let us, I entreat, together seek the truth.

These seem to be the wisest words Augustine could use to encourage his friend to persist in seeking truth generally and in seeking it in the Old Testament writings. And the reading from 2 Chronicles, Solomon's dedication of the Temple he has built - very aware that nothing on this earth can fully contain the presence of God, yet brings God nearer to His people. We are reading the words here of men, who understood the mystery they were dealing with, yet persisted in the search for ways that great reality could be brought to all who sought to raise the bar of our human behavior and the health of our souls.

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