In the beginning when God created the world, God and human beings enjoyed direct and unhindered fellowship. In the beginning God’s place was shared with the world and the humans God had created. When God walked in the garden in the cool of the day anticipating the companionship of the man and the woman (Genesis 3:8–9), we should understand that the heavens and the earth were the shared space occupied by God and all of creation. In the beginning, God arranged a marriage made in heaven but then lived on earth — a “marriage” between God and God’s people.
From the beginning, then, God was present and interacting with the world He made. For the first humans, to be “in the world” was to be in the presence of God. Heaven and earth were “of a piece.” God’s place was “our place.” Our place — which was the only place available to “us” — was the place God had prepared for us and shared with us.
At that time, there would have been no need to pray for God’s name to be hallowed, God’s kingdom to come, or God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. Nor would there be a need for any of the other requests Jesus later taught His disciples to make of the Father. There was no separation between heaven and earth, God’s domain and the world’s, and God’s will and that of people.
What’s more, there would have been no need for altars, sanctuaries, temples or churches because God was at home and ever present in the world; because we humans were never anywhere but in and with the God who made us and loves us. In the world God fashioned and called “very good,” heaven and earth were together, the one place God and His people lived in loving oneness. It would have seemed unthinkable for anyone to tear apart what God had made and joined together.
Yet someone did. Well, not one but two, Adam and Eve, and then everyone since has followed their lead. They turned from the presence of God to follow their own way, and this following led to alienation and estrangement between God and humans, God’s place and our place, heaven and earth. This following has led to the greatest divorce ever.
As a result, we live as persons displaced from God and from the gifts of God. We are hollow shells of what God intended when heaven and earth were one. We fall far short of the glory that was our destiny by God’s design when heaven and earth were one. We live apart from God, blind to God, assuming that God is not present in this world, and not normally at work in this world. Because this world is not really God’s domain or God’s place. Heaven and earth are no longer one, and we live as children of this “Great Divorce.”
But God did not give up. Instead, God came near. In fact, God entered all the way into our world adrift from heaven, divorced from the God who created and loves us all. God first entered through Israel whom He called to be a “holy people.” Not “holier than thou,” but to be God’s own special people. But this was not to suggest that others are not or could not also be God’s people, as Israel supposed. Rather, Israel was called to be “holy,” God’s own people, precisely the way God intended and sought all to be. Through Israel, God wanted to show all nations His character and intentions for the whole world. Israel’s calling and mission in the world, should they accept it, was to be the nation that shows all others their true heavenly origins and destiny. Yet, sadly, Israel chose not to accept their mission. Because Israel, like all other peoples, were likewise children of the “Great Divorce.”
Until … the time came for Jesus. In Jesus, God entered the world, to deal with the painful and harsh realities of this “divorce.” Jesus’ message was: “The kingdom of God, or ‘of the heavens,’ is here and now! Turn toward kingdom-come and enter in!” Jesus proclaimed, taught and brought the kingdom of God near. Through dying and rising, Jesus reconciles the world back to God, removes the hostility that separates God’s place from our place, and collapses the walls that separate the world and us from God. Jesus declares “peace” between God and the world, so that God’s place comes near and draws our place into its orb.
Therefore, as Jesus’ followers we live and serve on the front lines of God’s great drawing together of heaven and earth. Jesus’ Spirit lives in our hearts, bringing heaven to earth in and through us. As we love God and people, we contribute to God’s reuniting of heaven and earth in our world today.
In the end it will be as it was in the beginning. God’s place will be our place, and our place will be God’s place. And in that place, there’ll be no need for temple or church. Because Jesus will appear; only this time as Bridegroom who claims His Bride so that, as before only more gloriously, the two — eternal God and radiant people of God — become one. Yes, in Jesus, there will be the greatest divorce recovery ever.
Bishop David Kendall is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference who was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005. He is the author of “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus” (fmchr.ch/godscalldk) and the co-author of “The Female Pastor: Is There Room for She in Shepherd?” (fmchr.ch/fpsisdk).