1 Kings 8: 27–30 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
Reflection If we do ever think of heaven, we tend to think of heaven in the past, as the very first act of the creation, or in the future, as the very last destination of the saints. But in his dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon points to the role of heaven in the present.
Solomon knew that the God to whom he was dedicating the Temple was not going to come and live there. Indeed, he confesses, God cannot be contained by the earth. And he also knows that God cannot be contained by heaven, not the highest heaven, either.
Yet at the same time, Solomon tells us that heaven is the ‘dwelling place’ of God. Of course, God is present everywhere, at all times, and Scripture tells us that there is nowhere we can go that is beyond God (Psalm 139).
Even so, heaven is that part of creation that is especially identified as the place where God ‘dwells’, in the present, a place ruled by God and inhabited by God now. It is not a place like other places, of course – it does not appear in any atlas or sat-nav, and you will not see any photographs of it.
Yet heaven is a place within creation nonetheless, a dwelling-place not only for God but also for the heavenly host of angels who praise him day and night – a place of peace and joy.
And it is a place in which God not only dwells, but – Solomon reminds us – a place from which God watches over us in his mercy, hears our cries and our prayers, and graciously forgives.
God is not trapped outside creation; God even has a dwelling-place within creation. And from that place, he shows his never-ending compassion for us.
All this, all the time – for us, now.
Prayer Gracious God,
You are the one who dwells in heaven, watching over us, seeing us and hearing us, and forgiving us.
No pain and no joy is beyond your awareness, and no fault and no sin is beyond your forgiveness. Help us to hear this good news from heaven each and every day – the glad tidings that we are never alone and that we are not left without your presence and your love in the world.
Professor Paul Nimmo, King’s Chair of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen.