And in the midst of these glorious rituals and this most magnificent of religious buildings, Solomon says,
The LORD intends to dwell in the dark cloud.
To be sure, this cloud fills the temple of the Lord - the "princely house” built by Solomon – at the conclusion of this great event, but the Lord himself dwells specifically “in the dark cloud."
This is not just poetic hyperbole about incense: this cloud had signified the presence of the Lord among the children of Israel all the way back in the time of the Exodus (e.g., Exodus 13:21-22; 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-18; 33:9-10; 40:34-38; cf Job 22:13-14; Ps. 97:2; etc).
There is tremendous meaning in the fact that God dwells "in the dark cloud" and the most fundamental meaning is the utter mysteriousness of God.
This is an important reality check for many of us: both for believers and for unbelievers.
Unbelievers smugly reject the concept of God, but what they reject is only a concept of God within their own skulls -- a concept that is really just a cartoon or caricature of God, at best.
Likewise, some believers smugly embrace a concept of God that exists only within their own skulls -- often a collage of favorite images and half-remembered dogmas.
That God dwells "in the dark cloud" reminds us of the limits of our human intellect in coming to know the infinite and eternal God in Himself.
But then what is the point of the Temple and the rituals and all these books?
St. Thomas Aquinas (naturally) sums it all up succinctly:
"Therefore the created intellect cannot
see the essence of God,
unless God by His grace
unites Himself to the created intellect
so as to be intelligible to it."
(Summa Theologica, Ia q. 12 a. 4 Respondeo)
"Non igitur potest intellectus creatus
Deum per essentiam videre,
nisi inquantum Deus per suam gratiam
se intellectui creato coniungit,
ut intelligibile ab ipso. "
Thus God makes himself known to us by his grace, including the grace of revelation: most fully and perfectly through his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
That God dwells "in the dark cloud" teaches us humility. Try as we might, we will never be able to wrap our minds completely around God in Himself.
But the fact that this dark cloud "filled the temple of the LORD" reminds us that God does not remain infinitely aloof, but chooses to come to us by his grace.
Thanks to this amazing gift of grace, we do in fact come to know God -- in the Scriptures, in the teaching of the Church, in prayer, and in the Sacraments.
The infinitely mysterious God and Lord of the Universe -- who dwells "in the dark cloud" -- has indeed chosen to come to us, to make himself known to us, and to unite himself to us: most especially, perfectly, powerfully and uniquely in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, in that wonderful moment of the Transfiguration of our Lord (Matthew 17:5),
While (Peter) was still speaking,
behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
"This is my beloved Son,
with whom I am well pleased.
"Listen to him."