What is Herbert's representation of God in The Temple? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Herbert's representation of God in The Temple is one of total submission.  God is shown to be a totalizing force, one that demands complete submission in actions and deeds.  Herbert's collection of poems in The Temple illuminate a representation of God in which individuals must possess total commitment towards the divine, viewing themselves as secondary to God's power. God is a force that forces submission and compulsion. The view of the divine is one where the individual recognizes its awesome power and submits themselves to this condition.

Herbert's representation of God as one of intense totality is seen in different poems within The Temple. In the exposition of "The Altar," the individual is "thy servant" in reference to God.  The individual approaches God in "The Altar" as one "made of a heart and cemented with teares."  This shows a view of God that is all encompassing in its condition of being in the world.  The individual understands that their own sense of being is infused with the presence of God.  There is no room in the individual psyche for anything else.  The representation of God is one where the individual understands that their "parts are as thy hand did frame."

Such a representation of God is continued in "Gratefulnesse:"  "Thou that has given so much to me,/ Give one thing more, a grateful heart."  The representation of God as one who benevolently gives so much to the individual is only enhanced by the need of the individual to demonstrate complete gratitude towards the divine. It is a representation in which the individual recognizes their rightful place as subservient to God.  "Thy praise" towards God constitutes the individual's pulse, reflecting Herbert's understanding of the totalizing representation of the divine.  Finally, In "The Sinner," Herbert suggests a representation of God that can right that which is wrong: 

The spirit and good extract of my heart/ Comes to about the many hundred part./  Yet, Lord restore thine image, hear my call:/  And though my hard heart scarce to thee can grone,/ Remember that thou once didst write on stone.

The representation of God as the only source that can provide meaning is seen in this closing.  Herbert depicts God as a force that can make good out of anything.  Conversely, the representation of God's power as awesome enough to restore the sinner is evident here:  If God can write on stone, than the heart of a sinner is easily conquered.  This becomes where God's representation is meant to cast meaning upon the individual.  For Herbert, God's power is in the meaning he brings within the individual.  It is a totalizing view in which all else is secondary to it.