Paul explicitly connects the new covenant with the absence of a veil while the presence of an untorn veil indicates a spiritual blindness. In 2 Corinthians 3, the untorn veil turns out to be a barrier keeping people away from understanding the old covenant because it can be removed only in Christ, who would lead the people to see the new covenant in the old one. Paul’s veil is another complex image. On one hand, the veil refers to Moses’ physical veil that (according to Paul) he wore to hide his face — this veil transforms into a negative symbol. On the other hand, the veil refers to a barrier which covers people’s hearts and minds and robs them of the freedom of the new covenant.
According to Paul, those who turned to Christ have no veil covering their faces. They can contemplate the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces, which means a more direct access to the glory of God than a veiled face would allow. The absence of the veil in Paul brings both freedom and boldness, which partly corresponds to the establishing new mode of togetherness, symbolized by the torn veil of the temple. As these cases show, in the NT the image of the untorn veil is a symbol of separation and distance from God, but the image of the torn veil changes into a symbol of a door precisely because of Christ’s groundbreaking — or rather curtain-breaking — self-sacrifice.
But how does the death of Christ eliminate a specific restriction on God-human communication expressed through the artefact, image, and symbol of a curtain?
One answer is that in the salvation economy of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ is God’s temple or God himself who came to human beings for their salvation. Thus, God came out from behind the curtain, visiting the Lord’s creatures: the Father of Israel made a decisive move to reveal himself in His Son Christ Jesus, who is the last sacrifice, removing the need for entry into the Holy of Holies. Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, and the sin itself lost its grip as an effective factor barring us from entering God’s presence. Therefore, the curtain, whether literal or symbolic, is redundant. Instead of humans’ coming into God’s presence, this time God’s humanly presence comes to us.
The same restrictiveness goes for the veil presented in the Qur’an, which hides God and emphasizes the distance between: a human can hear God but not see the Creator. From the point of view of the NT, in Jesus we have seen God. In Christ, God became visible and took shape, body, and action. Christ, who is God Incarnate, showed up in our lives as a poor peasant, loving, forgiving, warning, and healing. In Jesus, the grace and accessibility of God’s presence balance the austere sublimity and hiddenness of God expressed in the veil. The NT teaches that seeing Christ the Son equals seeing God the Father (John 2:19, 12:45, 14:9). This visible and humane God becomes one with us because through the Spirit, Immanuel (God-with-us) indwells us. The tearing of the curtain or the more distant mode of communication between God and man points to the indwelling accomplished and activated in Christ. God does not speak to us anymore from behind the curtain.
The everyday language used by the faithful of all three religions also corroborates with the interpretation that in Christianity the veil as a demarcation and restricting factor of communication between God and humans has been transcended. In the daily vocabulary of devout Judaists and Muslims, one does not frequently hear people mention God’s talking to them. In these faiths, most often than not God’s daily interaction with humans is a privilege reserved for the chosen few such as prophets, saints, or mystics. But among devout Christians, including the less touchy-feely groups such as Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, it is not so infrequent to hear people mention what the Holy Spirit or God told them or how the Spirit gave them some insight in dealing with a particular daily issue. In my own experience, when I was a Muslim, I personally never referred to God as a daily conversational partner. It simply could not cross my mind that God, so sublime and grand, would stoop down to talk to me.
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Of course, neither Islam nor Judaism deny the belief that God may address ordinary individuals in a very straightforward way. In fact, the OT gives a lot of examples in which humans actually see God in one way or another. But neither mainstream Islam nor mainstream Judaism grants God or humans the right to be as deeply in communion and in communication with one another as the incarnation of God does. Incarnation opens a new mode of togetherness (God dwelling in humans as his temples) and interaction that is absent from the concept of communication via veil. In incarnation, God intimately identifies with us by visibly becoming one of us and sharing our most vulnerable moment in existence: death. This new mode of togetherness, which moves God and humans to indwell one another to overcome the existential curtain, is what is symbolized by a torn physical veil. The pinnacle of this indwelling through whom we are invited to participate in the divine self-sacrifice and communion with God is Jesus Christ. The Son of God has a double role in eclipsing the curtain. First, in him God moves closer to us than the veil is supposed to allow, thus making the curtain functionally redundant. Second, with his pierced body he himself stands in for the curtain, thus paying the price for the tearing of the veil.
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Therefore, the curtain between God and man, established by the OT and reaffirmed by the Qur’an, was transcended in the NT because of Jesus Christ: the veil was torn, and the Holy of Holies became visible and accessible. Jesus Christ introduced the Holy of Holies to us in a new kind of relationship (humans as God’s temple, communion) between God and humans based on incarnation.
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