For a week in August the Montana mountains took my breath away, but the time came to leave paradise. The flight out of Bozeman connected in Salt Lake City, home of the Latter Day Saints. As I plopped into my seat, a very friendly man struck up a conversation. Thirty five-ish and baseball capped, he looked like everyday Joe; but minutes into our conversation I learned he wasn’t. “I’m flying to Philadelphia to begin plans to construct the Mormon Temple. It’ll be right across from Logan Square,” he said as if talking about putting in a flower garden. It turned out John Kemp was one of the two directors of a building project that would entail 1000 workers of various kinds, years of effort, and millions of a certain granite brick which he happily lugged out of his backpack and handed me, saying, “Here’s a sample. Isn’t it beautiful?”
I felt swept into the grand current of history-in-the-making. Curious, I asked, “How much will this temple cost?”
Smiling, John said, “Yep.”
He couldn’t tell me.
The Mormons regard their temples with great reverence. Certain Bible passages inspire them to pour their considerable collective fortunes into grand edifices, numbering well over 100 around the world. I’m sure the story of Solomon’s temple inspires them—it was “the most magnificent building which the world ever saw,” at over 150,000 square feet and 20 stories. God Himself commanded the building of a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring house of worship.
But an interesting lesson emerges later in the story. In spite of the glory of Solomon’s temple, the people strayed from God. This ultimately led Nebuchadnezzar to demolish the city. Years, later, the prophet Haggai urged the people to rebuild. The second temple paled in comparison to the grandeur of the first, yet God said, “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former . . . and in this place I shall give peace,” (Haggai 2:9). In what way did the smaller, poorer, second temple outstrip the first in glory? It would give “peace.” It’s as if God was saying, “The grandeur of Solomon’s temple didn’t save you from national ruin. Now I want to teach you about real glory!”
Buildings can’t give peace. In fact, architectural competition between nations has often brought war. Some say that the World Trade Towers symbolized the prosperity of the U.S., provoking the attack of September 11, 2001. Architectural greatness conveys power, but not necessarily love or good will.
People, however, can bring peace if their hearts are filled with the glory of God—His character. How many churches, grand or humble, have become dens of iniquity as inevitable conflicts tangled into cutthroat wars? How often have religious buildings housed factions that “bite and devour one another,” (Galatians 5:15)? Yet at times a godly man or woman have played the “peacemaker” and miraculously persuaded the warring factions to work and live in harmony.
The New Testament presents a powerful concept: The temple of God, the place where He shines forth, the house of His Shekinah, is the community of believers. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV). If His Spirit fills each believer, it fills the “temple” of the corporate body more so. If the purpose of Solomon’s temple was to glorify God, wouldn’t Jesus’ temple—his community of believers on earth—glorify Him even more?
Does the world need finer buildings? Perhaps. But it much more desperately needs love, peace, and harmony. I know I sound like a hippie; perhaps in some respects I am. But think about it. Jesus could come again, make the earth new, and give us all new buildings, but if our characters still reek of selfishness, if our communities still rankle with strife, it won’t be long before angry graffiti covers the granite walls—granite walls which will ultimately turn to powder in the face of hateful weapons of mass destruction.
I’ll take a look at the Mormon Temple across from Logan Square in a few years’ time. Maybe I’ll see the friendly John Kemp again. His gleaming granite handiwork will rise before me, a man-made, breathtaking mountain. Thousands will look on in similar awe. But better yet, one day God’s people will actually love each other as Jesus first loved them. Their community will become the grandest temple of all time. Then Jesus’ prayer will be answered: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” John 17:21.
Now, that will be breathtaking.