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House Of God

Psychiatrist Stephen Bergman wrote the novel The House of God under the pen name Samuel Shem, basing it on his own experience as a medical intern at Beth Israel Hospital [1]. The novel scandalized senior physicians when it first appeared in 1978 [2]. They could not understand how a work that seemed to glamorize an unprofessional, dehumanizing attitude toward patients (not to mention containing so much bawdy sex) could become an instant hit among their house staff.

house of god

My reading of the novel is that it depicts a group of interns at a major teaching hospital who end up adopting dehumanized and unprofessional attitudes toward their patients precisely to the degree that the residency experience has treated them in a dehumanized way. If the novel has a hero, it is the Fat Man, the senior resident who tries to help the interns make it through this grueling year. He provides both emotional support and shrewd medical know-how, most of it directly at odds with the academically sophisticated but practically useless teaching of the attending staff, who care only about advancing their academic careers and not at all about the welfare of either the patients or the house staff [4].

Applying the lessons of The House of God today, then, prompts us to ask two questions. First, do we take better care of house staff so that they might then take better care of their patients? And second, if we do, then have those changes actually resulted in better patient care?

When somebody falls down, up onstage at a theater, do you ever hear the call go out, "Is there an insurance executive in the house?" No. If there are no doctors practicing medicine, there's no health care. Doctors have to do something they have almost never done: They have to stick together. We have to stick together for what we want, in terms of the kind of health care we want to deliver, and to free ourselves from this computer mess that is driving everybody crazy, literally crazy.

After finishing his grapefruit, Bergman -- born Jewish but now a practising Buddhist -- led me out the back door into the garden and along a path that led to an old two-story carriage house at the back. He took me up a narrow wooden staircase to a large attic, where he has his office. He sat at a large rectangular desk; behind him, shelf after shelf was crammed with books.

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, ...

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company. And there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man being the head of the house of his fathers. And these are the names of the men who shall assist you. From Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; ...

14 So Solomon built the house and finished it. 15 He built the walls of the house on the inside with pieces of cedar wood. He put wood over the inside walls from the floor of the house to the roof. And he put pieces of cypress wood over the floor of the house. 16 An inside room called the most holy place was built in the back part of the house with pieces of cedar wood, from the floor to the roof and as wide as ten long steps. 17 The rest of the house, the center room in front of the most holy place, was as long as twenty long steps. 18 There was cedar on the house within, cut to look like gourds and open flowers. It was all cedar. No stone was seen. 19 Then he built the most holy place inside the house, in which to put the special box of the agreement. 20 The most holy place was as long as ten long steps, as wide as ten long steps, and more than five times taller than a man. He covered it with pure gold. And he covered the altar with cedar. 21 Solomon covered the inside of the house with pure gold. He crossed the front of the most holy place with chains of gold, and he covered it with gold. 22 He covered the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. And he covered the whole altar by the most holy place with gold.

23 In the most holy place he made two cherubim of olive wood. Each one was almost three times taller than a man. 24 One wing of the cherub was as long as three steps. And the other wing of the cherub was as long as three steps. It was as far as five long steps from the end of one wing to the end of the other wing. 25 It was as much as five long steps between the ends of the wings of the other cherub also. Both the cherubim were the same height, length and width, and they looked alike. 26 Each of the cherubim was almost three times taller than a man. 27 He put the cherubim in the most holy place of the house. The wings of the cherubim were spread out. The wing of the one cherub was touching the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub was touching the other wall. So their wings were touching each other in the center of the house. 28 He covered the cherubim with gold.

29 Then he cut pictures in all the walls around the house to look like cherubim, palm trees and open flowers, in the center room and the most holy place. 30 He covered the floor of the house with gold, in the center room and the most holy place. 31 He made doors of olive wood for the most holy place. The top and sides of the door had five sides. 32 He cut pictures in the two doors of olive wood, to look like cherubim, palm trees and open flowers, and covered them with gold. He spread the gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees. 33 For the doorway of the center room he made four-sided side pieces of olive wood 34 and two doors of cypress wood. Each door had two moving parts. 35 On them he cut pictures of cherubim, palm trees and open flowers. And he covered the pictures with an even covering of gold. 36 He built the inside place with three rows of cut stone and one row of large pieces of cedar wood.

37 In the fourth year the base of the house was laid in the month of Ziv. 38 In the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, the eighth month, all the parts of the house were finished just as all the plans had been made. Solomon took seven years to build it.

As we consider the significance of the tabernacle (and later temple) in Scripture, it will be helpful to keep two points in mind. First, the tabernacle was the house of God, the place of His dwelling. Blue, purple, and scarlet-threaded curtains, abundant use of pure gold, and a veil partitioning its two rooms mark the tabernacle as the palace of the most holy King.

Thirteen years after the Ark was placed in the house of Abinadab, King Saul was slain by the Philistines in a battle on Mt. Gilboa bordering the valley of Armageddon. Abinadab was also killed in that battle together with his father Saul (1Sa 31:2). This ended the 40 year reign of Saul.

To the humble, believing soul, the house of God on earth is the gate of heaven. The song of praise, the prayer, the words spoken by Christ's representatives, are God's appointed agencies to prepare a people for the church above, for that loftier worship into which there can enter nothing that defileth. 5T 491.1 From the sacredness which was attached to the earthly sanctuary, Christians may learn how they should regard the place where the Lord meets with His people. There has been a great change, not for the better, but for the worse, in the habits and customs of the people in reference to religious worship. The precious, the sacred, things which connect us with God are fast losing their hold upon our minds and hearts, and are being brought down to the level of common things. The reverence which the people had anciently for the sanctuary where they met with God in sacred service has largely passed away. Nevertheless, God Himself gave the order of His service, exalting it high above everything of a temporal nature. 5T 491.2 The house is the sanctuary for the family, and the closet or the grove the most retired place for individual worship; but the church is the sanctuary for the congregation. There should be rules in regard to the time, the place, and the manner of worshiping. Nothing that is sacred, nothing that pertains to the worship of God, should be treated with carelessness or indifference. In order that men may do their best work in showing forth the praises of God, their associations must be such as will keep the sacred distinct from the common, in their minds. Those who have broad ideas, noble thoughts and aspirations, are those who have associations that strengthen all thoughts of divine things. Happy are those who have a sanctuary, be it high or low, in the city or among the rugged mountain caves, in the lowly cabin or in the wilderness. 492If it is the best they can secure for the Master, He will hallow the place with His presence, and it will be holy unto the Lord of hosts. 5T 491.3 When the worshipers enter the place of meeting, they should do so with decorum, passing quietly to their seats. If there is a stove in the room, it is not proper to crowd about it in an indolent, careless attitude. Common talking, whispering, and laughing should not be permitted in the house of worship, either before or after the service. Ardent, active piety should characterize the worshipers. 5T 492.1 If some have to wait a few minutes before the meeting begins, let them maintain a true spirit of devotion by silent meditation, keeping the heart uplifted to God in prayer that the service may be of special benefit to their own hearts and lead to the conviction and conversion of other souls. They should remember that heavenly messengers are in the house. We all lose much sweet communion with God by our restlessness, by not encouraging moments of reflection and prayer. The spiritual condition needs to be often reviewed and the mind and heart drawn toward the Sun of Righteousness. If when the people come into the house of worship, they have genuine reverence for the Lord and bear in mind that they are in His presence, there will be a sweet eloquence in silence. The whispering and laughing and talking which might be without sin in a common business place should find no sanction in the house where God is worshiped. The mind should be prepared to hear the word of God, that it may have due weight and suitably impress the heart. 5T 492.2 When the minister enters, it should be with dignified, solemn mien. He should bow down in silent prayer as soon as he steps into the pulpit, and earnestly ask help of God. What an impression this will make! There will be solemnity and awe upon the people. Their minister is communing with God; he is committing himself to God before he dares to stand before the people. Solemnity rests upon all, and angels 493of God are brought very near. Every one of the congregation, also, who fears God should with bowed head unite in silent prayer with him that God may grace the meeting with His presence and give power to His truth proclaimed from human lips. When the meeting is opened by prayer, every knee should bow in the presence of the Holy One, and every heart should ascend to God in silent devotion. The prayers of faithful worshipers will be heard, and the ministry of the word will prove effectual. The lifeless attitude of the worshipers in the house of God is one great reason why the ministry is not more productive of good. The melody of song, poured forth from many hearts in clear, distinct utterance, is one of God's instrumentalities in the work of saving souls. All the service should be conducted with solemnity and awe, as if in the visible presence of the Master of assemblies. 5T 492.3 When the word is spoken, you should remember, brethren, that you are listening to the voice of God through His delegated servant. Listen attentively. Sleep not for one instant, because by this slumber you may lose the very words that you need most--the very words which, if heeded, would save your feet from straying into wrong paths. Satan and his angels are busy creating a paralyzed condition of the senses so that cautions, warnings, and reproofs shall not be heard; or if heard, that they shall not take effect upon the heart and reform the life. Sometimes a little child may so attract the attention of the hearers that the precious seed does not fall into good ground and bring forth fruit. Sometimes young men and women have so little reverence for the house and worship of God that they keep up a continual communication with each other during the sermon. Could these see the angels of God looking upon them and marking their doings, they would be filled with shame, with abhorrence of themselves. God wants attentive hearers. It was while men slept that Satan sowed his tares. 5T 493.1 When the benediction is pronounced, all should still be 494quiet, as if fearful of losing the peace of Christ. Let all pass out without jostling or loud talking, feeling that they are in the presence of God, that His eye is resting upon them, and that they must act as in His visible presence. Let there be no stopping in the aisles to visit or gossip, thus blocking them up so that others cannot pass out. The precincts of the church should be invested with a sacred reverence. It should not be made a place to meet old friends and visit and introduce common thoughts and worldly business transactions. These should be left outside the church. God and angels have been dishonored by the careless, noisy laughing and shuffling of feet heard in some places. 5T 493.2 Parents, elevate the standard of Christianity in the minds of your children; help them to weave Jesus into their experience; teach them to have the highest reverence for the house of God and to understand that when they enter the Lord's house it should be with hearts that are softened and subdued by such thoughts as these: "God is here; this is His house. I must have pure thoughts and the holiest motives. I must have no pride, envy, jealousy, evil surmising, hatred, or deception in my heart, for I am coming into the presence of the holy God. This is the place where God meets with and blesses His people. The high and holy One who inhabiteth eternity looks upon me, searches my heart, and reads the most secret thoughts and acts of my life." 5T 494.1 Brethren, will you not devote a little thought to this subject and notice how you conduct yourselves in the house of God and what efforts you are making by precept and example to cultivate reverence in your children? You roll vast responsibilities upon the preacher and hold him accountable for the souls of your children; but you do not sense your own responsibility as parents and as instructors and, like Abraham, command your household after you, that they may keep the statutes of the Lord. Your sons and daughters are corrupted by your own example and lax precepts; and, notwithstanding 495this lack of domestic training, you expect the minister to counteract your daily work and accomplish the wonderful achievement of training their hearts and lives to virtue and piety. After the minister has done all he can do for the church by faithful, affectionate admonition, patient discipline, and fervent prayer to reclaim and save the soul, yet is not successful, the fathers and mothers often blame him because their children are not converted, when it may be because of their own neglect. The burden rests with the parents; and will they take up the work that God has entrusted to them, and with fidelity perform it? Will they move onward and upward, working in a humble, patient, persevering way to reach the exalted standard themselves and to bring their children up with them? No wonder our churches are feeble and do not have that deep, earnest piety in their borders that they should have. Our present habits and customs, which dishonor God and bring the sacred and heavenly down to the level of the common, are against us. We have a sacred, testing, sanctifying truth; and if our habits and practices are not in accordance with the truth, we are sinners against great light, and are proportionately guilty. It will be far more tolerable for the heathen in the day of God's retributive justice than for us. 5T 494.2 A much greater work might be done than we are now doing in reflecting the light of truth. God expects us to bear much fruit. He expects greater zeal and faithfulness, more affectionate and earnest efforts, by the individual members of the church for their neighbors and for those who are out of Christ. Parents must begin their work on a high plane of action. All who name the name of Christ must put on the whole armor and entreat, warn, and seek to win souls from sin. Lead all you can to listen to the truth in the house of God. We must do much more than we are doing to snatch souls from the burning. 5T 495.1 It is too true that reverence for the house of God has 496become almost extinct. Sacred things and places are not discerned; the holy and exalted are not appreciated. Is there not a cause for the want of fervent piety in our families? Is it not because the high standard of religion is left to trail in the dust? God gave rules of order, perfect and exact, to His ancient people. Has His character changed? Is He not the great and mighty God who rules in the heaven of heavens? Would it not be well for us often to read the directions given by God Himself to the Hebrews, that we who have the light of the glorious truth shining upon us may imitate their reverence for the house of God? We have abundant reason to maintain a fervent, devoted spirit in the worship of God. We have reason even to be more thoughtful and reverential in our worship than had the Jews. But an enemy has been at work to destroy our faith in the sacredness of Christian worship. 5T 495.2 The place dedicated to God should not be a room where worldly business is transacted. If the children assemble to worship God in a room that is used during the week for a school or a storeroom, they will be more than human if, mingled with their devotional thoughts, they do not also have thoughts of their studies or of things that have happened during the week. The education and training of the youth should be of a character that would exalt sacred things and encourage pure devotion for God in His house. Ma

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