Part of what this blog wants to accomplish is to vary our angle of perception by zooming in and out. Last week, we took a “zoomed out” perspective by providing terms we think might describe a trustworthy world. When we zoom in, we want to go a bit deeper, especially to provide biblical or theological notions of a trustworthy world.
I appreciated the comments on last week’s blog. They were great and demonstrated something important. Some of the words or phrases reflected an experience of a trustworthy world as it was created to be. Some represented sentiments related to a world we do not yet know, a world that has yet to be created–a new creation. Both are needed. This week, I want to “zoom in” on the trustworthy world of a new creation as represented by the phrase “kingdom of God.”
Most mornings, I pray these words: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” These are perhaps the most familiar lines of the prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray. They help us to see the world the way he did. “Your kingdom come, your will be done…”
Jesus was all about the kingdom of God. Mark’s gospel introduces Jesus by saying he came “proclaiming the good news about God. ‘The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news'” (Mk 1:14-15). He lived and taught in such a way to give people a view of life the way God would order it. No, that’s not quite it. He lived and taught in such a way to give people a view of life the way it will be ordered when the kingdom of God comes fully at the end of the age.
By teaching his followers to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus was inviting them to live now in light of the future realities of the coming kingdom of God.
Jesus assumed that the coming kingdom of God is a more trustworthy way of ordering the world than the ways other powers and authorities do. For instance, in contrast to the ways other kingdoms tend to be stacked in favor of the wealthy and powerful, the kingdom of God is arranged according to the needs of the poor and excluded because only a world arranged in this way can be trustworthy for all. So, we pray only for our “daily bread,” not for as much bread as I can gather.
In contrast to the violent world given to us by the rulers and authorities of other kingdoms, the kingdom of God is ordered non-violently. Loving enemies, turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile are the way people live who pray daily, “Forgive us our trespasses, because we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s a habitable world because it turns on mercy.
Jesus believed this is the way the world will be in the age to come, not the way the world already exists. It’s a world that is “near,” to recall the language from Mark’s gospel, not “here.” So, it is a world that is still coming. But this doesn’t mean we passively wait for this world to crash and burn while we wait for heaven. Jesus taught us to pray for God to “make it on earth as it is in heaven.”
In fact, early Christians believed that the resurrection of Jesus meant that the future day of the Lord had broken into the present. Most Jews of Jesus’ day believed in the resurrection of our bodies on the day of the Lord. The uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection was that it came before the final and great day of the Lord–that it happened in the middle of history. His resurrection was a sign that the realities of the age to come were breaking into the present age with power. In fact, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh in Acts 2 convinced believers that they could live by the Spirit in the power of the coming age, and not by the power of the rulers and authorities of this present age.
One way theologians talk about the realities of the kingdom of God, is that we live in the already, but not yet. The trustworthy world of God’s reign is near, but still coming. God’s people live today believing that that coming day is real. They don’t wait with resignation for this world to pass. Instead, they engage the powers and authorities of this world with the power of the coming age. They live what they pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”