There are a number of misconceptions about the Kingdom of God. I’ll touch on a few, as these misconceptions get exacerbated in times of trial, confusion, and grief. I write this on a day when 25 plus people, mostly young children, were tragically gunned down in a school in Connecticut.
There is a rallying cry from Christians for God’s Kingdom to come when we’re suffering. And we should cry for this. However, we should clarify what we’re crying for. A cry for God’s Kingdom “consummation” – the future event that will restore all things is a wonderful prayer. We do indeed await a new heaven and new earth – joined together at last as they were originally designed. However, it’s important to remember that the Kingdom has begun in and through Jesus. There is hope, and empowerment, now.
We have hope, now, despite our trials. Yes, we want that future perfection, but as we’re part of the problem, God, in His grace, is using His people as part of the solution – to work for the Kingdom. What we want to be careful of with our rallying cry then is not to position us as victims – crying out helplessly to God and asking why. We should expect suffering, death, violence (easy to say in easy times). The question is how, as God’s people, do we be Jesus in the midst of it? How do we model Kingdom values rather than those of our culture?
N.T. Wright notes that another misconception is that the Kingdom of God is within us – that’s what Jesus said, right? Lot’s of folks have run in all different kinds of directions with this translation – most notably that we somehow have God’s divine power inside us and we can thus do things as we see fit. This misses the mark. Even Jesus submitted to God’s will. Nothing less is expected of his followers.
This “within us” thinking generates notions of spirituality – we’re spiritual beings – and Jesus was a great spiritual teacher. That’s all we need – spirituality. To call Jesus a great spiritual teacher is to miss him and the kingdom by thousands of miles. Jesus was not great. He didn’t fit that category. Martin Luther, Ghandi, and Abe Lincoln were great. Jesus was either a lunatic or God’s anointed representative.
In short, believing that the kingdom is within us does little in times of crisis. We find out, very quickly, there is little in us that has any real or significant impact to address a crisis from a kingdom perspective. Again we cry out to God, wondering why.
Other translations have noted that the kingdom is in your midst. This leaves us somewhat bewildered as if searching for a hidden treasure. Again, not a very good understanding if we are to effect any real change or take any kingdom like action.
Wright notes that a more accurate translation that gets at Jesus’ meaning is that the Kingdom of God is within your grasp. What Wright suggests is that we have to reach out and grab the kingdom. We have to dive in to the turmoil of life and effect the kingdom. Jesus didn’t sit up on a cloud plucking people off the earth to save them. No, he walked among the broken, sick, and disenfranchised and ushered in God’s Kingdom.
The children’s advocate, Mr. Roger’s, writes this:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
We miss the kingdom because we don’t understand we’re to effect it – to work for it. We’re supposed to be the helpers; yet, if we spend all our time crying and expecting someone else to do it we miss the honor of serving the King. Some powerful words form the King…
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20)
Pray for takers.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson