The Silence of Technology: Presence Precedes Tools

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man.”

That’s Paul, who knew a little about the God who made the world.  But the abrogation of the temple is a thread running through the New Testament.  Compare:

  • “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”  – Mark 14:58
  • “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  –  2 Corinthians 5:1
  • “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” — Hebrews 9:11-12
  • “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”  – Hebrews 9:24

There is a subtle caution about the limitations of technology here–the presence of God is not the sort of thing that can be brought about through the Promethean effort or the quest of Babel.

But the eschatological limitation of technology’s promise actually starts in the Old Testament’s understanding of the temple and its creation:

  • “If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.”  – Exodus 20:25
  • “…just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” — Joshua 8:31

What started with an altar, though, was extended to the temple itself.  In describing what must have been a curious scene, the author of 1 Kings writes about the temple’s construction:

“When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.”

The moment, I think, perfectly encapsulates the double-nature of technology.  The silence of the tools in the formation of the temple is not a critique of technology per se, but rather points to (I think) the ultimate imperfection of human making in a world marked by sin.  There are some things which tools simply cannot and should not do in a fallen world.   This isn’t simply a critique of using tools as instruments of war or violence.  Rather, it is a critique of our pretension to turn the objects of human making into recipients of our worship, a pretension that we are not free from even though the ends to which we put our making are “holy.”

Of course, none of this is complete without Revelation 21.  Of that passage I let Gregory Beale, on whose work the post largely depends, conclude:

Likewise the purpose of the temple in the Old Testament and the purpose of the expected end-time temple was to house God’s glory, before which his people were to worship.  Some prophecies may have been conceived of as referring to a small-scale structure that would encase the divine glory.  However, their fulfillment revealed that the entire recreated cosmos and not a manmade building would by the physical temple housing God’s glory instead of a little building in a small part of the earth.

Of course, that recreated cosmos isn’t made by human hands either.  It drops down out of heaven.

(This is all a part of my inquiries into a theology of presence.  The translation into textual form is going somewhat slower than anticipated, but then that’s providing me more opportunities to refine my thoughts along the way.)

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  • http://www.cbc-network.org Jennifer

    Great piece! And I think you *nailed* it spot on. I agree with your point on the ultimate imperfection of human making in a world marked by sin, when I consider modern day reproductive technologies, the making by human hands of life in the laboratory. Certainly God allows life to be made, and there is no fault in the child created by such a human endeavor, but the fault is in the man-made manufacturing of children as our right and created in our own image (by human design). Would love to see more posts on this subject!

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Thanks, Jennifer. Very kind of you. And TOTALLY agree with you on the bioethics point. I think the ramifications for not prioritizing presence are deadly. I’ve just started “What is a Person” by Christian Smith, and I’m curious to see how he walks down this line. Read it?

  • http://www.cbc-network.org Jennifer

    No I haven’t read it or even heard of it. Will check it out though. Thanks for the tip.

  • http://Bensonian.org Christopher Benson

    [Cue Alanis Morissette.] Isn’t it ironic that we both offered posts on technology today? See mine on the technology-god:

    http://bensonian.org/2011/05/10/the-technology-god/

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Just like Morissette’s song, there’s nothing ironic about that at all. : )

  • Steven

    Hey Matt, nice post. I’d never thought about the prohibition of using tools in the building of the temple in quite this way before. Neat!

  • Gary

    I wonder if the way the builders circumvented the prohibition (if there was one) on using tools in construction of the temple (“He didn’t say anything about using tools at the quarry; we’re just not supposed to use them on the building site”) is commendable. It seems to be, from a cursory reading, a way to respect the letter of the law. But what the spirit of that law is, I don’t know.

    Of course, once the temple was built all sorts of technological implements (lampstands, tables, etc.) become part of the worship. And it seems strange to think that no technology at all was used in putting the stones together. Block and tackle (of some form) were probably used, no? (Should have paid more attention in my introduction to the OT class.)

    Perhaps one should think this way: No noisy technology should be used. Noiseless technology is permissible (though perhaps not ideal).

    On a related note.

    As for what noise is? Two guesses: That which distracts. That which displaces stillness.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Gary, I wondered whether it was commendable as well, honestly. I almost slipped in something about the building of the temple being a sign simultaneously of the holiness and brokenness of the world. But I thought it too speculative.

      matt

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