God’s Architectural Sensibility

My family and I just got back from a vacation in London and Paris. My wife and I just celebrated 20 years of marriage, and we decided that rather than get each other gifts, we would instead do something that would involve our kids as well, and so we decided to experience these two great cities for roughly four days each.

We took in museums (The British Museum, Tate Modern, Louvre, Orsay) and historical sites (The Tower of London, Versailles), and in general just soaked up the vibe of both places by walking (a LOT) and eating as much like “the natives” as possible.

Though London and Paris are in ways utterly unique (London has much more modern architecture, to my eye), both cities also feel remarkably similar in a way.

There is a phenomenon in architecture called “Human Scale”, which says essentially that human beings have a natural sense of appropriate building and street size in relation to ourselves. If buildings are too tall and streets are too close or narrow, most of us feel hemmed in and claustrophobic. If they are too low and too far away from the sidewalk (hello, suburban America), we experience a sense of disconnectedness from our immediate environment.

When there is appropriate relationship between humans and their built environment, we feel encouraged to look in windows, to slow down, to interact with each other and the stores, businesses and restaurants around us.

Things feel right.

I think it’s that way with God.

In a couple places in the Bible, we are told that God is a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4 and Hegrews 12), and it’s easy to understand that God is transcendant and big, and our “human scale” to Him is way out of wack.

Luckily, God understands architecture.

I think God gives us a spiritual “human scale” in two very profound ways.

First, He provided His people with things like the Ten Commandments. (By the way, the Ten Commandments make up what some of us know as “The Law”, but a better way of understanding the Commandments is to think of them as “The Instruction”; it’s actually a better translation.) Saint Paul says in Galatians that the Law was “our custodian” (3v24).

In other words, the Law—the Ten Commandments and other specific instructions from God—help us “scale down” God’s character to something that we can more easily relate to.

But God goes further.

Paul also writes in Colossians, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation” (1v15).

The most “human scale” element of God’s doing is, in fact, Jesus.

In a way, the glory and power of God is simply too much for us to bear; our humanity has no basis for understanding or coping with it.

It is way beyond human scale.

But God—in His great grace and mercy—remakes the spiritual architecture of the universe so that we can better relate to Him.

The temptations are still there: open up the spaces too wide (with no appropriate “confinement”) and we become disconnected to our environment, to the world in which we live and move. Our spirituality becomes abstract and centered around “getting to Heaven” when we die. Shrink the spaces too much and we become focused on “following the rules” and performing for God while ignoring the heart transformation that He offers us.

But when you get it right—when the Human Scale is appropriate—it feels great. You are connected to the environment, and your spiritual life is vitally connected to the world around you. You are in community, relating to the world around you as God works in you and shapes your heart.

Like walking down the Champs Elysses or The Strand.


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