It has been a long hard day, beloved reader. And while I do not particularly want to tackle an intense passage such as the writer of Hebrews writes (yes, it is attributed to Paul), it would give me a sense of accomplishment, and that would be a good thing after such a day. And as I prepare myself to delve into Pauline thought, I have to admit . . . it not have been easy for Paul to explain to his readers what he wanted to say.
“You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) (Hebrews 12:18 – 21)
Unlike the Hebrews who were called out of Egypt, Paul’s readers (and us) can not go to a physical place to hear God’s word and receive God’s guidance. But that was a terrifying place, and perhaps it is just as well that is not possible. But, that also means that God is not accessible to us in the same way that the Lord was on Mount Sinai. And furthermore, the Holy Spirit is an intangible thing, hard to understand and even harder to grasp.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Verses 22 – 24)
But, Paul says, you can come to the spiritual city of God. It is not as frightening. But neither is is tangible – that is, experienced bodily. And while Paul and others may have a strong sense of it as a spiritual place, that ability rests on one’s own faith life and experience. With my insight that Paul might have been struggling to explain this concept, I can understand and appreciate his hoping and praying that his readers understood what he meant, and had experienced it for themselves. Paul rushes on to give his exhortation.
“See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. (Verses 25 – 29)
Let me digress just a little. You know, Paul heard God’s voice on the road to Damascus; or depending on your interpretation, he heard Jesus’ voice after Jesus had returned to heaven and took on his Divine aspect. So even if Paul was not there when God rumbled on Mount Sinai, Paul had experienced God/Jesus’ voice. But his readers did not even have that.
It is different when one does not have a concrete experience of the Divine. I am not saying it is not possible, nor that it no longer happens. It is just harder. Jesus said to Thomas, blessed are those who have seen and believed. But blessed also (perhaps even more so?) are those who have not seen but believe. That would be us, beloved reader.
I do not know what your road to believe was, beloved reader. I do not know how physically experiential it was. It is not my place to know or inquire. It is my place, however, to hope and pray that your encounter with the Divine has established and nurtured your relationship with the Divine. That you are steady in the Lord, unshaken in your faith. Selah!