The “Kingdom”: of God?

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.”

netsMost 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?

Other syncrobloggers:

  • Susan Barnes (Christian currently attending a Baptist church) of Abooklook on My kingdom goes
  • Timothy Victor (Christian) of Tim Victor’s Musings on The reign of Godde
  • Ronald van der Bergh (Dutch Reformed) of Ronalds Footnotes on Notes on “the Kingdom of God” in the New Testament
  • Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic, heterodox) of soundandsilence on The “Kingdom”: of God?
  • Beth Patterson (Non churched follower of Christ) of Virtual Tea House on What it’s like rather than what it is
  • Jeff Goins (Non-denominational Christian) of Pilgrimage of the Heart on The Kingdom of God: Now and Not Yet
  • Phil Wyman (Non-denominational Christian) of Square No More on Jesus as the Archetype Shaman (Part 2): A Nostalgia for Paradise
  • Stephen Hayes (Orthodox Christian) of Khanya on Kingdom, power and glory
  • Andrew Hendrikse (Fake expression of the Unknown) of fakeexpressionoftheunknown photographs John Caputo’s words deconstructing who the hell knows what on The Kingdom of God is like.
  • Matt Stone (Christian) of Glocal Christianity on The only Christian nation is the Kingdom of God
  • K.W. Leslie (Christian/Pentecostal/Assemblies of God) of The Evening
    of Kent
    on Politics and the Kingdom of God.
  • Bryan Riley (follower of Jesus) of Charis Shalom on Multiple Bloggers on the Kingdom of God
  • Liz Dyer (follower of Jesus Christ) of Grace Rules on The Kingdom of God is at Hand
  • 27 Comments »

    1. Gavin Marshall said

      Perhaps the best place to start is the teachings – the kingdom the heavens is like ….
      Look at those metaphors and build it from there, without the royalty bit – because that’s the heart of it all isn’t it

    2. [...] Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic, heterodox) of soundandsilence on The “Kingdom”: of God? [...]

    3. [...] Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic, heterodox) of soundandsilence on The “Kingdom”: of God? [...]

    4. [...] Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic, heterodox) of soundandsilence on The “Kingdom”: of God? [...]

    5. Hi Nic–
      Really liked this post.
      I’m up for the Dance of God…and I too have noted that Jesus always used natural metaphors for what the ‘kingdom’ is like…you may enjoy my post on the topic.

      Thanks again–this was a joy to read into!

    6. [...] Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic, heterodox) of soundandsilence on The “Kingdom”: of God? [...]

    7. gracerules said

      Personally I like The Dream of God but since I think Jesus was using The Kingdom of God as a political term as much as anything I guess I would have to say that The Revolution of God is probably amore appropriate substitute.

    8. I like the post, but I’ve never thought of the Kingdom in terms of monarchy. Perhaps that is because I’ve never been a citizen of a monarchy. I think of it as the rule of God. When we submit to the King, we are a part of the Kingdom. That’s how I think of it. So, I’m not so sure about all the other substitutions you suggest, because I think those are different word pictures that describe God, all of which are valid, but none of which exactly portray the rule of God, except perhaps the dream of God, but it is much more real than just a dream. It is. He is. He rules.

    9. [...] Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic, heterodox) of soundandsilence on The “Kingdom”: of God? [...]

    10. Gavin Marshall said

      What if Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom wasn’t so much about a kingdom, but turning the whole concept of a kingdom on it’s head. Redefining it using a metaphor that the people were used to. If the concept of the kingdom was matter, Jesus teaching was antimatter. Put them together and Boom! – it is finished…

    11. timvictor said

      We shouldn’t forget though that Godde is King as one image many. We can certainly capture what that means if we don’t 100% relate to it today. This image does not fully express Godde in relation to creation, including us, but it does express something.

      Appropriate imagery could include CEO, Sole Proprieter, President and given that this world is not under Godde’s Reign we could go further toward Revolutionary and Terrorist.

      Though I’m all for finding new images and metaphors I don’t believe the old ones have dried up. We need different tangents pointing to the same reality, different windows on the subject.

    12. Phil Wyman said

      I like your poll, but I wonder why I have to choose. Can’t I pick them all instead. That seems the better option to me. ;-)

    13. Nic Paton said

      Hi Phil, I just tested it – it’s multiple choice.

    14. Susan said

      I read, The Secret Message of Jesus a while ago and enjoyed his thoughts of the subject. Thanks for the reminder.

    15. russ.... said

      “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.”

      Nic, that sounds decidedly eastist to me. also, do you think it’s your “modernism” that prevents you from apprehending the full picture of G-d revealed in Christ, or the utter majesty & mystery of it?

      what happened to seeing through a glass darkly?

      11 days to go!

      till soon,

      the third mayor of simpleton.

    16. Nic Paton said

      Your Worship:
      Eastism is one man’s cure (but may be another man’s poison).

      I’m currently taken by the Bede Griffiths story, because it resonates.

      What other ways might there be out of modernism and towards this majesty and mystery?

      I still see through a glass darkly, but does that mean I should desire blindness?

      If you are pulling my leg, I’m pulling yours.

    17. Don Rogers said

      Nic- I see the “kingdom” metaphor as simply being the best way to describe a concept in terms that people “of the day” could best understand. I no longer see the monarchial metaphor as useful for me as I have diligently strive toward a different metaphor to describe my relationship to our Source. What is that “new” metaphor? I have no idea. I figure to be striving for it until the time I “cross over”.

      • Nic Paton said

        Don
        Yes – First, it was contextually appropriate.
        Then, it was pretty paradoxical – see my comment to Gavin above.
        And because of this, it fres us from fixed myths and in search of other approaches. I do not think any of us will ever grasp it. But I look forward to your discoveries, and hope you keep sharing them with us for a long time yet.

    18. [...] Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic, heterodox) of soundandsilence on The “Kingdom”: of God? [...]

    19. Matt Stone said

      The Revolution of God.works best for me. I think the socio-political overtones are important even if the monarchy metaphor reasonates less in our context.

    20. Gavin Marshall said

      “The answer is never the answer.
      What’s really interesting is the mystery.
      If you seek the mystery instead of the answer,
      you’ll always be seeking.
      I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer
      — they think they have, so they stop thinking.
      But the job is to seek mystery,
      evoke mystery,
      plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom.
      The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”
      Ken Kesey

      the kingdom of the heavens is … a mystery

    21. Jeff Goins said

      I liked the revolution. Nice piece, Nic.

    22. The Revolution of God!! Yes…….

      “Two thousand years ago God started a revolt against the religion He started . So don’t ever put it past God to cause a groundswell movement against churches and Christian institutions that bear His name. If He was willing to turn Judaism upside down, don’t think for a moment our institutions are safe from divine revolt. I am convinced that even now there are multitudes of followers of Jesus Christ who are sick and tired of the church playing games and playing down the call of God. My travels only confirm that the murmurings of revolution are everywhere. I am convinced that there is an uprising in the works and that no one less than God is behind it.” – Erwin McManus

      • Nic Paton said

        Thanks FEOTU for the vote. Interesting, Dream is leading the poll at the moment. And Dance has no takers…

    23. Challenging thoughts, thanks. :-)

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