The Apostle Paul chided the Athenians for limiting God by thinking too narrowly about places of worship:
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;Acts 17:24-25
Centuries earlier, as Solomon prepared to dedicate the temple in Jerusalem, the irony of what he was doing was on the forefront of his mind. Near the beginning of the dedicatory prayer, he said:
Will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?1 Kings 8:27; see also 2 Chronicles 6:18
Repeatedly in this prayer, Solomon speaks of people praying “toward this place,” and he repeatedly speaks of God hearing them from “heaven, thy dwelling place.” Clearly, this building does not limit God in any way, but functions rather as a focal point for worship. The location was significant for the worshippers, and the dedication of the place was in fact a dedication of the people.
Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, as Nephi and his family settle in the promised land, they build a temple “after the manner of the temple of Solomon” (2 Nephi 5:16). Nephi’s brother Jacob assembled the people in this temple to deliver an important message to them. (See Jacob 1:17.) King Benjamin likewise called his people to a meeting at a different temple at the end of his reign. (See Mosiah 1:18.) And when the Savior visited the American continent following His death and resurrection, He appeared to a group of people who were assembled at a temple. (See 3 Nephi 11:1.) Clearly, being in a place which was dedicated to worship helped people on these occasions to be prepared to receive counsel and blessings from God.
Near the end of Solomon’s prayer, he anticipates situations in which the Israelites won’t be able to be in the temple. When they are in battle, he asks God to hear them if they pray “toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house that I have built for thy name” (1 Kings 8:44-45, 2 Chronicles 6:34-35). If they are carried away captive, but they pray towards the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple, he again asks God to hear them from his dwelling place in heaven (1 Kings 8:46-49, 2 Chronicles 6:36-39).
When Wilford Woodruff offered the dedicatory prayer for the Salt Lake Temple, he made a similar plea:
When Thy people shall not have the opportunity of entering this holy house to offer their supplications unto Thee, and they are oppressed and in trouble, surrounded by difficulties or assailed by temptation and shall turn their faces towards this Thy holy house and ask Thee for deliverance, for help, for Thy power to be extended in their behalf, we beseech Thee, to look down from Thy holy habitation in mercy and tender compassion upon them, and listen to their cries. Or when the children of Thy people, in years to come, shall be separated, through any cause, from this place, and their hearts shall turn in remembrance of Thy promises to this holy Temple, and they shall cry unto Thee from the depths of their affliction and sorrow to extend relief and deliverance to them, we humbly entreat Thee to Turn Thine ear in mercy to them; hearken to their cries, and grant unto them the blessings for which they ask.Dedicatory Prayer, Salt Lake Temple, 6 April 1893
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when all temples were closed, President Russell M. Nelson referenced this prayer, and then added:
Brothers and sisters, during times of our distress when temples are closed, you can still draw upon the power of your temple covenants and endowment as you honor your covenants. Please use this time when temples are closed to continue to live a temple-worthy life or to become temple worthy.
Talk about the temple with your family and friends. Because Jesus Christ is at the center of everything we do in the temple, as you think more about the temple you will be thinking more about Him. Study and pray to learn more about the power and knowledge with which you have been endowed—or with which you will yet be endowed.“Go Forth with Faith,” General Conference, April 2020
Today, I will be grateful for holy places which enable us to grow closer to God. I will look forward to my next visit to the temple, but until that time, I will remember the temple as I pray. I will trust the promise of Solomon’s dedicatory prayer, that even a memory of the temple and a desire to be in the temple can help me draw closer to God and receive His blessings.