Remember the story of the woman at the well? The woman asked Jesus, “Do we worship in the Temple (something man-made) or on the mountain (something god-made).”
Jesus said, “Neither.”
CS Lewis said, “The devil often sets you up with a question and then offers two well-sounding possible conclusions; so well-sounding that you never stop to wonder if the question is even a correct question at all; or even if it should/can be answered."
So we start choosing between the better of two wrongs, instead of saying: 'I can’t answer that question because the presumptive basis for it is false.'
The woman’s (and the Jews') concept of who God was, where god was, what he was like or what it meant to worship or be in good standing with this god – was 'off'. This 'off' picture created a question that can’t be answered.
Jesus said, “A time is coming when people will not worship God on the mountain or in the temple, for God is spirit and the father is seeking those who worship him in spirit and in truth.” I’m sure you’ve heard this verse 1 billion times but I will explain something I’m sure you’ve never heard about it.
First, the word mentioned here for 'worship' did not mean singing, dancing, emotion, affection, or anything we translate by modern worship. It was an action performed when a Caesar rode through town. People would worship him by kneeling to the ground and showing respect. It was an act of submission. It was not about love and affection. Simply a sign showing you respect, honor and will obey the person passing by.
It makes sense that if people would give honor and bend a knee to an earthly ruler, how much more so should we to god? But this also assumes god thinks and acts and wants from you the same thing an earthly ruler wants: subjugation, glory and obedience. He doesn’t. This king doesn’t act like most kings. He has a different agenda and, believe it or not, it’s not to be worshiped. Hence, his citizens probably will worship differently than most citizens.
Second, the word mentioned here for ‘spirit’ in Greek was air or breathe. We say spirit and picture a ghost, but it was the word used by Greeks when talking about inhaling and exhaling, or a normal summer breeze. It was not primarily just associated with paranormal entities. You could flip a coin as to which version of the word to use. And translators often did...
Third, the word mentioned for ‘truth’ in Greek is defined as ultimate reality. The translation actually says, “the reality, void of fantasy, speculation and judgement.”
It actually means: what is literally real, or the opposite of illusion. Again, in America we think this word is amorphous and ethereal, making reference to a reality behind the reality we are in. You’ll even hear Christians say things like, “The spirit world is so much more real than this world.” That’s cute, but that’s not how the Greeks used the word.
Growing up, this verse was also used to tell people how to behave in a worship service... A.K.A. dancing, eyes closed, praying in tongues, worshiping, not in the room you were in, but in the other realm; just you and god in the secret place, in your heart. This verse (like many other verses in the Bible) became widely used almost entirely backwards from what it was actually saying.
John Piper recently taught on this verse and his take away was that ‘truth’ meant people needed the knowledge of the one true God to truly worship. Because, to him, you can’t worship in truth unless you know the right God to sing to. He said worship in truth means worshiping correctly, with knowledge. He then goes into ‘spirit’ and concluded that spirit means singing passionately, from the deepest parts of your heart with zeal for god. Again, a teacher using this verse to promote a previously accepted concept of worship. Not at all what the verse is about.
As you can see, Piper, and many others, were using this verse confirming one side of the woman’s questions. But Jesus didn’t go there. He said something more heretical and fascinating.
And here’s what he said...
She asked him about two holy places, heritages, concepts of worship. She asked him as if he would obviously agree with her on some level that either the mountain or the temple was the correct place to worship and please God. He answers and says, “The day is coming where people will worship in the opposite of illusion.”
Isn’t that a funny way to answer her question? She asks about the mountain and the temple and he says, “the opposite of illusion.” Referencing the temple and the mountain as illusions. Those are both fantasy, incorrect, not real.
The verse could be much better said like this:
“The day is coming where people won’t submit to a version of god in a temple or on a mountain, or any specific holy place for that matter, for god is seeking those who submit to him as they breathe in reality.” Or “who show him honor in the reality of their breathing.” Or “the day is coming where people will just…breathe. They will just bow to the divine within themselves.”
See - he was pointing her to the God within.
The reality within.
The kingdom within.
The Kingdom within
The kingdom of the temple and mountain was religion. It had rules, laws and legalism. The very notion of going to those two locations was that something between you and god needed to be fixed. They infer distance, separation, disconnection, being cut off, in debt, guilty. In this system, something needs to be done. The idea of “crying out” to god was based on the inner belief that God needed your expression, emotions, promises, convictions and sacrifices to hear you and possibly answer your prayers.
You can see why he doesn’t answer her question, because her definition of worship was based on healing separation - a faulty premise. To pick one or the other would have been to agree with the premise of her question: that God and men were separate and men needed to do something about it.
We have to remember, those systems worshiped yhvh … passionately. With dancing, festivals, sacrifices, offerings, prayers, tears and tambourines. When a god is distant, of course that’s what you’d do. When he’s outside of you, well, you’d do anything to bring him back, right?
The kingdom within, of your heart, was just you…sitting there…breathing. He’s essentially saying, that any system or thought that tells you you need to do more than just breathe in order to know and engage and please God, is an unreal illusion.
The thinking that says you 'need more', is religion. He’s right - you’ll 'thirst again' drinking from that well. He said his way, his water, would cause an internal well that you could drink from forever. Because you’re finally given the gift of self back.
And that’s the greatest gift.
Ronnie is an artist whose ideas have launched businesses, apps, music albums, and as of late, cartoons. Visit his website here. He thinks outside the box but don't tell him that, he doesn't believe in boxes, unless you're in a movie cinema. Ronnie lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA with his wife Anna and their three boys Jack, Griffin and Maverick.
Read all previous articles by Ronnie Herrema