Temple or No Temple: Where does God Really Live?

Religious history often depicts temples as sacred places where God is present and is known. But what kind of temple?

Salt Lake Temple, Utah, one of the first LDS-Mormon temples

I grew up in the LDS-Mormon religious tradition which is strongly oriented toward worship in temples. The Latter-day Saints have many temples all around the world. The worship there is called “ordinances,” which are various forms of rituals or sacraments, and these are all said to be salvific activities that I participated in for decades.

LDS temple worship is not merely something good to participate in, it is taught to be absolutely required for salvation in the highest kingdom of God, similar as baptism is considered a requirement to go to heaven in many other forms of Christianity. For this reason, Mormons also perform these rituals vicariously for people who have died who have not participated in them during life. I wrote about the LDS temple for many years when I was a Mormon, and so became intimately acquainted with its spiritual symbolism, and its relationship to other esoterica in history. It was my first introduction to the deeper nature of spirituality and mysticism.

But are temples really necessary to go to God? Are temples where God lives? In the LDS tradition there is a plaque on the front of each temple which reads, “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.” Are such buildings really God’s “house”? I suggest yes and no. I’ll explore that in this article.

Old Testament

Of course, temple worship goes back to ancient times, and we can find it throughout the Old Testament. It seems to begin with Moses and the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt. Moses says he was commanded by God to build a portable “tabernacle,” a sanctuary, a kind of proto-temple, among the Israelites, so that God could be present among them, live with them, be with them. It was the “dwelling place” of God. It was the “Tent of the Meeting” where Yahweh could dwell on the Earth, and where the Israelite priests could “meet” with God during their journey through the wilderness. It was built in a pattern of increasing holiness the deeper you went into the structure, separated by veils or partitions. It was thought that God lived in the innermost place called the “Holy of Holies,” which is also where the Ark of the Covenant was placed.

The structure of the Tabernacle and its role among the Israelites seems to have mirrored Moses’ mystical experiences and direct encounters with God on Mount Sinai, complete with a pillar of cloud (like a veil) and a pillar of fire (the presence of God), elements which Moses had experienced when he met God. With the Tabernacle Moses was making it “on Earth as it is in heaven,” the “heaven” he had experienced in his mystical visions. So the Tabernacle was perhaps a symbolic place, a sacred center, where Moses’ original mystical vision could be recapitulated, celebrated, recounted, returned to, remembered, and reenacted. By entering the Tabernacle the Israelite priests could re-enter that Presence of God, to receive oracles or otherwise determine God’s will for the people. It was a mystical centerplace, around which the Israelites could orient their worship of God, form their community, and encounter the living God again and again, directly.

Later temples followed the same pattern of the Tabernacle, including Solomon’s Temple, and Herod’s Temple that was in place in Jerusalem when Jesus lived, as seen depicted in the model photograph at the top of this article.

New Testament

The tradition of temple-building and temple worship seems to have taken a much different direction in Jesus’ time. Jesus was known for teaching at the temple, in the courtyard, but also seems to have criticized it. In fact, he was known to have threatened to “destroy” that temple, and build another one (see John 2:19; Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58; Acts 6:14). There is also an account of Jesus using physical force to disrupt the activities of the temple, the “cleansing of the temple” (Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48; John 2:13–16). Why? What was he doing? Why was he against the temple if it was a conduit to God?

It seems to me that the temple had devolved into a ritualistic system for the religious elite and powerful. Over time it had lost its mystical nature, its symbolic efficacy to point the people to the presence of God. It was forgotten that the temple was a symbol for the presence of God, not that presence itself. It had become a place of empty outward performances, empty sacrifices, commercial activities, ceremonialism, etc. The people had lost genuine connection and communion with the Divine. Jesus realized that you didn’t need a physical building in order to experience the presence of God, and that such a building could even be a distraction from genuine contemplation. The religious authorities “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13).

Stephen

This is particularly evident in the words of Stephen and Paul, who state repeatedly that God did not live in temples “made with human hands.” Stephen was arrested for “speaking against this holy place [the temple]” and that Jesus had said that he would “destroy this place” (Acts 6:13-14), and so he was taken before the Sanhedrin, the supreme council and tribunal of the Jews.

Stephen recounted to them Israelite history, and how God had been with them all along, even long before Moses’ Tabernacle. But the Israelites had often made idols from their human hands that they could worship instead of God, as with the golden calf (Acts 7:41). Because they worshiped the work of their own hands, they were exiled from God (Acts 7:42-43). They had exiled themselves. Stephen compared this act of worshiping the work of their own hands to the activity then current at the Jerusalem temple itself,

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…the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.

-Acts 7:48

He repeated the words of Isaiah:

Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?

Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?

-Acts 7:49-50, cf. Isaiah 66:1-2

Stephen seems to have been pointing out that God was so much bigger than merely the Jerusalem temple. The whole cosmos was God’s dwelling place. How could they build a temple to house God, to box God in? It was God’s “hand” that had made all things in all of creation, something which they seemed to have forgotten. Stephen accused them of not knowing God as God really is, in their own hearts. They resisted the “Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). For that Stephen was stoned to death.

Paul

Paul made similar statements. He noticed that the people in Athens did not really know God, praying to an “unknown God” at their temples. They were ignorant of God as God really is. In his famous speech in the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, he repeated the same words of Stephen:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

-Acts 17:24-25

God is so much bigger than any temples that could be made by humans, even giving everyone life, and breath, and everything they have. God did not need to be found in a temple. God was with each and everyone, much closer than they realized:

…[God] is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

-Acts 17:27-28

We live in God. We have our being in God. The living God is right here and now, in each and every one of us, something which we often forget. We are even manifestations of God ourselves, incarnations of the One, expressions of the Divine, the unfolding of the Absolute in reality, something which is not made by human hands as man-made temples are:

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

-Acts 17:29

God did not need to be found in any particular man-made object, image, or form, but rather was in all forms, causing them all to come into being. This incarnation that we are, this physical being we have become in the world, is the true temple of God, which all man-made temples were meant to point towards, as Paul explains elsewhere:

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

-1 Cor. 3:16

The Spirit of God did not merely inhabit the temples that humans built with their human hands, but rather was the very breath that had been breathed into “Adam” that made him a living soul. The true “sacrifice” of the temple was of our own bodies and egos (Romans 12:1-8).

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

-1 Cor. 6:19-20

Paul seems to be teaching that God lives in our own bodies, that these are the true temple of the Holy Spirit of God, that we are not our own (our ego’s), but that we belong to another, to a higher or greater Being. Worship God in your body, in your spirit, both of which are God’s, God’s own Body and Spirit as they have become manifest in and through you. The Presence of God is in you already, there is no need to look elsewhere in a temple made with human hands.

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”

-2 Cor. 6:16

We didn’t need to seek God’s Presence in the idol of a temple made with hands, as if that is the only place where God resided or made its Presence known, but rather we were to search for God in ourselves, in this temple of our body-mind, which was where the living God dwelt, living with us, walking with us, being in us.

Jesus

This seems to recall Jesus’ words that he would “destroy this [Jerusalem] temple,” and build a new one in three days (Mark 14:58; John 2:19). John tells us what this “new temple” was:

But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

-John 2:21-22

Jesus seems to have taught his disciples that the temple in Jerusalem was empty, meaningless, had become an idol, was unneeded, was superfluous, and would be destroyed. The true temple was the temple of the human body, perhaps even the communal Christic Body of humanity itself, and Life itself, consciousness and being. As we have seen already from Paul and Stephen, it was not Jesus’ body alone, but all of us. We are that temple.

At best, the temples of the Tabernacle and Temple in Jerusalem were symbols, pointers, signifiers, signs, pointing the people toward a more true reality. It was not that reality itself, as Hebrews explains to us:

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

-Hebrews 8:5

The earthly tabernacles and temples made by humans were merely copies, shadows of what was in “heaven” (Col. 2:17). They were replicas, patterned after the temple seen in mystical vision, including the veils of ego, and passing through them into holier and holier (more pure, undefiled, empty, and holistic) places deep in consciousness, beyond all dualism, even to the very center place of Divine Consciousness itself where God is known directly, and one unites with or realizes union in God. Those outward temples were not the true temples of God, the true realities themselves. Realizing the God within the human body-mind was a superior covenant to those human-made copies (Hebrews 8:6). They went directly to the Source, not through the mediation of a temple or its human priest. The true “priest” was the Christ consciousness within each and every person (Hebrews 8:1-2; cf. Luke 17:21).

Christ Consciousness

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.

-Hebrews 9:11

The Christ consciousness is the true “high priest” of our consciousness. We go through the “tabernacle/temple” of our own body-mind, not made with human hands, to a place inwardly that is not even a part of the physical creation, not part of forms, objects, images, perceptions, etc. It is not a part of the manifestation of the cosmos, but rather is its source, in which all manifestation arises. It is the pure consciousness or awareness or context in which all the contents of consciousness arise.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

-Hebrews 9:12-14

It was not through the outward sacrifice of animals that one reaches God, but through the sacrifice of one’s own “self,” one’s own ego, one’s own “blood,” that one enters into that Divine consciousness, and knows the Eternal and its redemptive power. Animal sacrifice was an outward ceremony, a symbol of the cleansing of the ego-mind from consciousness, this “unclean” part of our “self,” that which seems to separate us from God in the subject-object dualism of mind. When the mortal ego is surrendered and sacrificed, cleansed from the conscience of mind, then the unblemished pure consciousness of “Christ” is known, that eternal God-Spirit that is the foundation of each and every person.

For Christ did not enter a [temple] sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

-Hebrews 9:24-28

It was not by entering into an earthly man-made temple that was merely a shadow copy of the heavenly one that one realized God’s Presence. It was by actually entering “heaven” itself, which I interpret to mean the consciousness within the true temple, our body-mind. That is where God’s true Presence was found. It was through one’s own “blood,” one’s own ego, through the sacrifice of that “blood,” which brought one into God’s Presence. When the ego “dies” from consciousness, sin is also done away, the sin of separation, including all the ego’s defilements or delusional imperfections and illusions attached to its sense of “self,” and so one is redeemed into the One, the Holy (Wholly) One, “saved” into that pristine and peaceful Consciousness of God.

One or Many?

But this sounds like it is only referring to one person, Jesus, or the “Christ,” a singular individual, who does this for many people, even all people. How could it refer to us each finding God’s Presence within us, in the temple of our body-mind?

I suggest that the Christ Consciousness is One, it is nondual, singular, there is no separate subjective self or selves there to separate one from God. It is beyond the subject-object split of the human psyche. When we realize it, we have discovered pure consciousness that is identical in each and every person, it is union in God, it is God in us, as One Singular Being, one Awareness, one Life.

When the ego passes away or is “crucified” from consciousness, then it is the One Christ Consciousness that is known (Gal. 2:20). That One Christ realization takes away the “sins” of many seemingly separate egos or independent “selves,” the sin of separation, the illusion of being alienated from God, the mirage of the Fall from God’s Presence. It is through the sacrifice of our own “self” that we come to know this One, realizing that it was actually the One all along, sacrificing itself to know itself, to be One, to be Love. This is Christ’s “Second Coming,” which saves us from our egoic separate “self.” We realize ourselves in Christ, and that is “his” appearance.

The True Temple

This process of transcending the ego-self, the “natural man” of the “carnal mind,” is the true “ordinances” of the temple of the body-mind. It is the actual process of entering “heaven.” It is the true “high priest” passing beyond the veil of the ego. It is the real “sacrifice” of one’s own “blood,” one’s every identity as a separate self, which sin of separation is the very thing which seems to separate one from God’s Presence. When that dualistic ego-veil is pierced, One returns to God’s Presence, knowing God directly as the One, the true Reality, not merely a shadow, a copy, or an earthly replica of “heaven.” It is heaven. One knows God in the here and now, as one’s own deepest Self.

All earthly temples are at best symbols of this mental “change of mind” (“repentance” or metanoia), contemplative ascension or transcendence beyond ego into pure consciousness, Christ consciousness, Krishna consciousness, Buddha-nature, the al-Insān al-Kāmil, the Tirthankara, the Dharmakaya, the realization of Tao in us, the direct knowing of our deepest truest nature in the cosmos as God, the Absolute, the Real, and of our body-minds as incarnations of that God, that Ultimate Reality, the explicate order of the implicate nature of the universe, the outward side of the inward God, the material nature of the spiritual consciousness, body and spirit as One, the Word made flesh, the Father having become the Son, the Dharmakaya’s incarnation as Nirmanakaya, the unmanifest energy of the unified quantum field of the cosmos showing itself to itself in the discrete localized material outward forms we see in the contents of consciousness, or what we call our “mind” or mind’s eye. There are many ways of articulating this expression.

We may realize we are all That, we are all that God expressing its Self in the here and now, that infinite Love that is both being and becoming, and knowing itself through us. This is the universal Christ, which we may all come to know as our deepest and truest Self, the pure consciousness in us all, that is identical in us all. It is the eternal or timeless life of the Divine.

The “House of the Lord” is our own body-mind, this tabernacle of flesh, this body and all bodies that house God’s Spirit, even as my own Mormon tradition notes in its scriptures:

The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.

-D&C 93:35; see also verse 4

Recalling Jesus’ words, when the true temple of God as the elements themselves, the flesh of humanity and life itself, is defiled, when it is distorted, when it is corrupted and replaced with the idols of the man-made religious temples made with hands, when those temples cease being effective symbols pointing us to the true temple of ourselves, and we forget that it is our own body-mind and consciousness where God truly lives, the presence of God in us, then those “temples” are eventually “destroyed,” they fall apart, they ultimately fail us at some point. They cannot actually bring us into God’s “heavenly” Presence, into the pure consciousness of God’s perfection (Hebrews 10:1), into this incomprehensible unfathomable unthinkable indescribable unconceptualized transrational transpersonal indivisible unitary at-one Love. They can’t do it. They are symbols of it.

They are thus “replaced” by God’s true temple, God “builds” a “new” temple in our consciousness, a mystical temple, which has always been God’s real dwelling place, the temple of our physical bodies, our minds, our souls, our consciousness, our own living being, all beings at-one in the transcendent nature of the cosmos itself, this Singularity, this One, this Absolute, this Ultimate Reality.

What do you think? How can earthly temples point to the true temple of our own body-minds, and our own mystical realization of being in God, and God in us? How can we realize God in us?


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2 thoughts on “Temple or No Temple: Where does God Really Live?

  1. Thank you Bryce.
    Right on. I agree with you.
    Just wondering if you have every read A Course in Miracles and what your thoughts are about it?
    I just started about 3 weeks ago and so far so good.

    1. Thank you, Maureen. I think A Course in Miracles has much spiritual wisdom in it. It seems to be a genuine modern mystical text, written from contemplative states of consciousness. I have not read all of it, but parts of it.

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