The City of our God (A reflection on Ps 48)

 

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
    in the city of our God.

So begins Psalm 48, a stirring hymn of praise to God — not the distant God of the philosophers or even the cosmic God of the theologians, but the God who dwelled right there, with and among God’s people. As much as it is a hymn to God, it is also a hymn to Jerusalem, the great city, a fortress built on a mountain, and at its very heart, the Temple, the very place where God was believed to dwell.

As I was reflecting on this beautiful poem this morning, I couldn’t help but be struck by its confidence. Not only is Jerusalem home to God as a “sure defense” (v3), but its walls lead its enemies to scatter (v5), it is called “the city of our God, which God establishes forever” (v8), and the beauty and sturdiness of the Temple is a powerful symbol for the psalmist of God’s steadfastness (v9). All this builds up to to a boastful crescendo of awe and trust in God’s goodness:

Walk about Zion! Go all around it!
    Count its towers,
consider well its ramparts;
    go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
    that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
    He will be our guide forever.

Christian faith matches this bold claim with an even bolder claim: that this same Spirit of God that once dwelled in the Temple in the holy city now dwells in our hearts. As Paul wrote to the faithful in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, cf. 1 Cor 6.19, 2 Cor 1.22, 2 Cor 4.6).

Paul uses this truth as a warning against sin, as a warning not to ‘defile’ the temple of God. But I wonder if, like the Psalmist, we can also use this truth as a source of confidence, of awe and wonder. We can often see our hearts as soft things, easily bruised and wounded. And yet, our hearts are stronger than we give them credit for. They are powerful, strong and resilient. And so, inspired by our Judahite ancestors in faith, we too might boast of the wonders of God’s chosen dwelling:

Look at my heart! Just watch it at work!
    See how it loves,
consider well how it sees;
    go through its strong yet permeable walls,
that you may tell the next generation
    that this is God:
our God forever and ever.
    He will be our guide forever!

I’m reminded of the image I had last year, which described all of the heart’s efforts, its successes and failures, as buildings in the beautiful skyline of a majestic city. Today’s reading from the Psalms reminds us that this city in our heart isn’t just any old village, but is the very city of our God, God’s stronghold and mighty fortress, which God has established for ever.

 

2 thoughts on “The City of our God (A reflection on Ps 48)

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