Part of a syncroblog on the “The Kingdom of God.” For other posts, see below.
“In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Most people agree that these words are deserving of full acceptance. But I’ll guarantee that despite their elegance, determining what exactly constitutes “essentials”, always seems to prove their undoing.
However, as far as Christians go, one notion that holds a considerable place as an “essential” is that of the “Kingdom of God.” This is after all the deep uniting theme that emerges from the known words of Jesus. The Kingdom of G-d, (Gk Basileia tou Theou) is for many the overarching raison d’être – the fundamental descriptor of G-d’s purpose in history, a notion bigger than say “salvation” or “Church”.
If we can agree on nothing else, can we not agree to labor together, for the sake of “The Kingdom”? Have we not always prayed, “Thy Kingdom Come”? It would appear quite self evident that the metanarrative here, is the Rule of what recent translation “The Voice” calls repeatedly the “Liberating King”.
But something irks me about this. And that is this: is it still appropriate in our day and age to subscribe to this metaphor of royalty, when describing our Creator, our source, sustainer, and destiny?
Historically, it’s worth noting that G-d’s first choice for Israel was that “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The Israelites refused, and asked rather for a monarch. And G-d granted their wish through Samuel (the results of which were a sorry state of affairs).
As part of the remedy to this lack of faith, Jesus later proclaimed a New Rule and Lordship in the face of the all encompassing domination of Rome. And the idea of another, alternative Kingdom continued to have power through the centuries, before the idea of monarchy (leadership via one sovereign individual) began to fade some 200 years ago.
Now we live in a post colonial age, when the political order of the world no longer revolves around Kings and Kingdoms. The Beatles reflected this truth whimsically when they sang, “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say.” To be a bit Anglocentric, what relevance does Queen Elizabeth II have for life beyond the sentimental, the nostalgic, or the spectacular?
But I’m not really an anti-royalist, I’m just saying that Lizzie Windsor is ultimately, just one of us. And I certainly don’t want to see any heads roll, as they have during the era of revolution; peasant uprisings have typically been terrifying eruptions unleashing the worst evils. (It must be noted though, from a political point of view, that the ill will and anarchy that comes from revolutions is very often a mirror reflection of the level of injustice of a previous dispensation). But I’m no republican either, looking to systems of human government for succor or salvation.
All I am asking is, do we really want to imagine the goal of our faith to be a “Kingdom”? This begs an enquiry into the King himself. Is the sovereign benevolent, and does he have the interests of his subjects at heart? If so, you might say, well what is the harm in Monarchy? And if we keep the Royal metaphor, can we (like Britain I suppose), wrest it from the clutches of patriarchy, and declare a Queendom, where the ultimate power is feminine?
I’m not going to attempt to answer these questions here. All I want to establish is, is the notion the “Kingdom of God” set in stone? Is it part of the core confession of the Christian? If not, what might the alternatives be?
When Jesus proclaimed the Rule of G-d in “Kingdom” terms, he almost always likened this state to something other than monarchy: yeast, treasure, seed, an owner, a net, a merchant. Instead of driving home the idea of a human monarchy, Jesus used the Kingdom notion to imply a vast, cosmic, generative set of ideas about what the unseen G-d might be like. If anything his impetus was away from the common, single, literal understanding, and radiating out towards a seemingly inexhaustible mystery.
But if there is one thing that definitively subverts a limited reading of the topic, Jesus made this radical assertion, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
The amazing thing about this statement of Jesus is not how we might now take presumptuous advantage of G-d, our pal, but how G-d so loved us that he desired to make his tent amongst us. Rather than frame Jesus’ concept of Friendship with our limitions – over-familiarity or lack of respect – we need to reframe our concept by His.
If Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”, but took on “the very nature of a servant”, are there not other ways to imagine G-d with us? Brian McLaren for one, in his “Secret Message of Jesus”, in the chapter entitled “The Language of the Kingdom”, has presented a number of alternative ways to re-imagine the message of Jesus, and our relationship with the Divine. I list some here with my own extrapolations:
- The Revolution of God. Or, a Revolution of Hope, a radical alternative to the status quo of human based power systems.
- The Party of God. A state of play, celebration, fun, open-endedness, and authentic community.
- The Dance of God. The intense, intimate, response to flowing and become immersed in the rhythms of Divine Life.
- The Network of God. The organism through whose veins courses Life, where all are parts of an interconnected whole, like the branches of the vine.
- The Dream of God. As faith beings we can apprehend the magnificent Promise made by God to be part of a reality which is far greater than this material, timebound realm. Australian Aboriginals view the origin of man as the Dreamtime.
McLaren also lists several other metaphors such as the “Army of God” or the “Global Economy of God”, which have had their day, lost their power, or been otherwise discredited. Others such as “Mission”, “Story”, “Family” however, retain their power.
[late addition] Peter Rollins makes the impish suggestion that the church he seeks is “do(gh)nut shaped”, by which he means it has no centre, or central leadership. We might share in his mischeif by claiming to seek a Kingdom without a King, or put more politically, an Anarchy of Love rather than a Monarchy of Power. And John Caputo call it the “Sacred stuff of anarchy”. [end]
I am of the conviction that to the extent I remain Western, and especially “Modernist”, in my thinking and life, I will never be able to apprehend a full picture of the G-d revealed in Christ. Bede Griffiths saw the Eastern way as “the other half of my soul”, settling in India and fully partaking of its Life, while remaining passionately devoted to Christ as a sannyasi or renunciant. The all-pervasiveness of Brahman or Atman stood for him in stark contrast to a fractured, rationalistic, scientific western view.
I do not subscribe to the view that the ultimate ground of being is as impersonal as the Hindu tradition would have it. However, I do not accept that it is as individualised and anthropocentric as the West makes it out to be. I am attracted to a middle way, hinted at by the medieval creation mystics of the 11-14 Centuries – Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhard, and Hildegaard of Bingen.
A while ago I did an overview of Atonement Theories, in which I referred to Scot McKnights “golf bag” metaphor: A rounded game of golf needs woods, irons and putters, according to the circumstances. So too, says McKnight, we need to view the great theme of Atonement from many angles, not as is currently the case, from a predominantly “Penal Substitution” one.
It’s time to add more metaphors to our quiver. While I am not in any way judging anyone devoted to the idea of “The Kingdom of God”, I do think we should examine our well worn phrases; our clichés are those wineskins which will not be able to hold the New Wine being cultivated in this post-modern age.
I believe there is a danger that our attachment to the idea of “The Kingdom” might border on the idolatrous. An idol is that which takes the place of the Divine, an object or concept which becomes the focus of our ultimate attention.
In all things, charity: and Love involves not only obedience, but whole hearted commitment to newness, growth, fullness and abundance. We have a poetic responsibility to allow our imaginations a scope worthy of an unlimited G-d “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”.
In this spirit then, I ask, is “The Kingdom” still of G-d?
of Kent on Politics and the Kingdom of God.