October 23, 2017

Another Look: If there is an overriding narrative theme in scripture, this is it . . .

David, Chagall

David, Chagall

If I were asked to summarize the primary narrative theme of the Bible with one brief verse, I would choose a line from the Lord’s Prayer:

“Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, CEB).

The story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world.

The Hebrew Bible begins with the story of a royal construction project, as the King of the universe prepares his holy Temple (Genesis 1). The word for “temple” in Hebrew means “palace,” and what God does on the days of “creation” is to set up the place of his reign. He appoints royal priests — human beings “in his image” — to represent him, subdue the evil in the world, have dominion and multiply his blessing throughout the earth. Then on the seventh day, he rests on his throne, taking up his rule.

The story goes on to tell us that humans failed to carry out the King’s directives, leading to cycles of rebellion, divine judgment, and restoration (Genesis 2-11). Those early days of sin and salvation culminated in the establishment of the city of Babylon, where people gathered together to build their own temple and create their own kingdom. God scattered them over the face of the earth, and then chose one man and his family out of Babylon through which to restore his blessing to the world (Gen. 11-12:1-3).

The man’s name was Abram, and to him God said, “I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you” (Gen. 17:9, CEB). From that point on, the people through whom God would restore his blessing began to experience conflict with the kings and kingdoms of the world. Abraham, called to be the patriarch of kings, found himself in danger on several occasions, and ultimately his family, many generations later, found themselves in captivity under the rule of Egypt’s ruler, Pharaoh. In time, God delivered the Hebrews and led them to Mt. Sinai, where he entered into a suzerainty treaty with them. He became their King and they became his people, his chosen nation.

The story of God’s chosen nation is a narrative filled with battles, wars, and controversies involving the peoples and kings around them. At one point, Israel herself chose a king, and though her motives were bad at the time, God relented and made her into a kingdom. It wasn’t long before Israel had established God’s palace (temple) in Jerusalem, enjoying a season of prosperity and peace during David and Solomon’s reigns.

However, under the kings that followed, Israel split apart into two nations and eventually became exiled once more from their land. The kingdom was destroyed, the temple sacked, the people carried off into the diaspora. Though some returned to the land within a couple of generations, things were never the same. Israel never had another king again but lived under the domination of invading nations for centuries.

When Jesus was born, the emperor of Rome ruled the land. At the proper time, at the outset of his ministry, Jesus publicly announced, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15, CEB).

Jesus’ life and ministry led to his death, resurrection, and ascension, by which he took the throne and inaugurated God’s Kingdom in the world. Through his finished work, he did more than conquer the rulers of earth; he soundly defeated the spiritual rulers: the forces of sin, evil, and death that hold all people (not just Israel) captive. By the power of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on his followers, a mission was launched by which outposts of his Kingdom are being established throughout the world. His people are planting seeds for a harvest of righteousness and peace in the age to come.

So today we who trust and follow Jesus live in anticipation of the day when the Kingdom will be consummated and we will sing the Hallelujah Chorus together: “The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will reign forever and always” (Rev. 11:15, CEB).

Until then, every day we pray, “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, CEB).

• • •

Adapted from a 2012 post in the series, Psunday Psalms

Comments

  1. Pretty quiet so far. Finally, something we all agree on? 😉

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Possibly. I resisted the urge to first post [as I read this a couple hours ago now] because I don’t want to seem negative.

      But I agree with this.

      However…. I do not know what it means. Okay, the Kingdom of God is established. and… It certainly, after a long while, had a positive (I believe, unequivocally – but Perfection is standard I refuse) impact on Western civilization. It clearly had issues penetrating other directions, and still does. And it brought a fair amount of crazy with it in the West; The Church seems, albeit like much of human endeavor (and yes I will describe The Church as human endeavor without apology) to struggle with self-regulation, not much less so than other organs of human civilization.

      So there is a part of me that honestly wants to respond: “And so [what]?”

      In making this conceptualization ‘work’ the typical route is all manner of mental and historical contortion and “what I *really* mean is” [a give away that the point is poorly conceived or that the presenter lacks a thought concrete enough to articulate consistently]. So I can agree, while being unsure that my agreement has much value.

      “””His people are planting seeds for a harvest of righteousness and peace in the age to come.”””

      This kind of eschatology, for me – and I think ***MANY*** others – has grown thin after more than a dozen centuries. Endeavor is for a harvest, of some kind, at some point in the future? This is too abstract to be lovely, too abstract to have warmth, and very worn. This does nothing to guide me towards loving my neighbor. And having watched churches for the decades of my life as well as knowing many of those who labor on behalf of the suffering, excluded, aged, etc… this vision is almost universally *not* what motivates them. I find this type of vision spoken of *far* more by the oppressor, the privileged, and the [currently] virile (just wait, they will change their song later).

      • We’ve also had posts on the questions this raises. I think you’ve put your finger on the biggest theodicy question for Christians. If Jesus is risen and reigning, why, in two millennia, hasn’t the world changed? What’s taking so long?

        • CM: It’s true that many people ask, “Why, in two millennia, hasn’t the world changed?” This question is most likely asked by those who believe in systems, who believe that a more just government, school, economy, etc., can bring about permanent human change. Those things certainly have an impact, but I keep reminding myself that every generation — in fact every individual — has the same set of choices to make concerning God and morality, and our track record with those choices isn’t good, regardless of the enlightened society we may have grown up in. There is no system that confers freedom from sin and death on the next generation, although a good system can at least make sure that its children are fed, clothed, and educated. So in essential things, the world hasn’t changed, and we can’t expect it to. Democracy, women’s rights, health care, social justice — these things (to the degree that we’ve achieved them) are fragile and entirely at the mercy of those who come after us. That is, until Christ returns and establishes the new heavens and the new earth. Until then, there’s really nothing new under the sun.

          • I should make it clear that I’m speaking of earthly kingdoms, not the kingdom of God. Our problem, it seems to me, is that we confuse the two and expect from the kingdom of God the things we would like an enlightened government to provide for us. In that way we are just like the Jews of Jesus’ time who wanted the Messiah to overthrow the Romans and rebuild Israel.

          • Good points. There just seems to be such an expectation in the NT that “the kingdoms of this world” will become “the kingdom of our Christ” that it appears imminent when you read it. It’s hard to imagine that the apostles could have foreseen two millennia without it happening.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > it seems to me, is that we confuse the two

            I do not accept this.

            If Christ established [past tense!] his Kingdom in this world – which this post states – then I refuse the distinction. I am not confusing anything – I am saying there is *only one thing*, the world, which I see. And where/what is this kingdom? This this-world-that-kingdom is a meme I place under the label “contortion” I used above. My response is “But wait? You said Christ came into the world to establish his kingdom which is breaking forth? And now you are saying you didn’t mean that?”

            Saying a kingdom is established but yeah, everything is still going to suck just the same,… what’s the point?

          • kerokline says:

            I actually think its the opposite, Damaris. The people who say that things are no different are the people who don’t believe in the power of education, government, movements, etc.

            To chock up all the last 2000 years of change as “nothing new under the sun” betrays a certain blindness to history! This is how I think of it: when Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, the world “worked” in a way essentially unchanged from 2000 years prior. Assuming Ecclesiastes has even remotely accurate dating (~1000 BC), the world would remain unchanged for another roughly 1000 years.

            In the last 1000 years, and I know I’ll start to sound like a broken record in the comments, the world has become, in substantial non-trivial ways, better than when Christ came. There is less war, less poverty, longer lives, less violence, than when Christ was last here. Not just in the west, but the world over.

            What would Jesus think if he returned? He might be saddened we are still awful to each other, but I think he would be amused that we are trying to be less awful. Think of the miracles he performed when he was here…
            Modern medicine has cured Leprosy! THERE ARE NO MORE LEPERS. We can restore hearing to the deaf, we can restore sight to the blinded. By my count, over half of Jesus’ miracles were miracles of healing. Healing that we can now give to the world (and do, with organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders)!
            Modern agriculture has vastly decreased the price of food the world over. There is less extreme poverty than there was only 100 years ago, let alone 1000. I count this as being able to feed the crowds. Organizations life the WFP and Stop Hunger Now are literally feeding the hungry the world over.
            Modern Science can literally turn lead into gold. Its not quite as fun as water into wine, but as miracles go I think its neat.
            Even socially, the concerns Jesus had are being dealt with (again, the world over).
            In what society is the adulteress still stoned? I count a few countries in the middle east and India (which are changing as we speak, thanks to outcries from the public and political pressure).

            I could go on and on. Don’t let your cynicism (rightfully earned in this world) to blind you to what I think is a fairly apparent fact: that Christ’s Kingdom was and remains “in and among you / in your midst”. It is here, not coming; present, not future tense.

            We only think things are awful because the are awful in comparison to what could be. They are not awful in comparison to what was.

          • turnsalso says:

            Kero: If that’s what the Kingdom of God brings, whatever it is, count me in.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            kerokline:

            > I actually think its the opposite, Damaris. The people who say that things
            > are no different are the people who don’t believe in the power of education,
            > government, movements, etc.

            I doubt this. I believe they are no different – there is only one world. I am also a thorough going institutionalist [I will confidently go all the way as to categorize anti-institutionalism as intellectual and political juvinialism]. Those who distrust or dislike institutions will simply create anti-institutional institutions (which have a spectacular failure rate and likewise a very short shelf live). In my experience anti-institutionalism and anti-worldism – which is what dualism ultimately always is – are kissing cousins IMO. If the world is a worthless, or at least inferior place, then contact with it should naturally be avoided, and The Stranger avoided – America is thick with this.

            > In the last 1000 years, and I know I’ll start to sound like a broken record

            Repeating what is true is worthwhile. Declinists (a) have bad data and (b) are permitted too much of the stage.

            > There is less war, less poverty, longer lives, less violence,
            > Not just in the west, but the world over.

            Yes.

            > Modern agriculture has vastly decreased the price of food the world over.

            Yes.

            > There is less extreme poverty than there was only 100 years ago,

            Yes.

            > I could go on and on. Don’t let your cynicism (rightfully earned in
            > this world) to blind you to what I think is a fairly apparent fact: >
            > that Christ’s Kingdom was and remains “in and among you / in your midst”.

            But is it? Is this the coming of Christ’s kingdom or is it much more simply about technological and political progress. Humans do learn from history – at a much accelerate rate as literacy becomes more pervasive.

            > We only think things are awful because the are awful in comparison to
            > what could be. They are not awful in comparison to what was.

            I do not think it is so awful. In places where peace and prosperity can manage to become established it tends to hang-on. And I am astonished at the conversations I can have today which would have been **unimaginable** even when I was in high-school. Conversations where you would have been dismissed out of hand if not mocked. Moral decisions such as replacing old sidewalks with ADA compliant curbs are met with a simple shrug – of course that is the right thing to do – and the tax to pay for it passed with a staggering majority. Our [Michigan’s] “conservative” governor is crystal clear – the state should be open to accepting Syrian refugees, and except for the expected outcry of the far-far-far-right everyone is like “yeah, of course”. This is moral progress large and small.

            The church is there, in the mix, on the positive side, a bit. But I would not describe her as much of a leader. Especially these days, at least in my part of the world, she is big on declinism, seperatism, and despair [of course she calls it “joy”].

          • kerokline says:

            >I doubt this. I believe they are no different – there is only one world

            Maybe I’m recoiling at something Damaris doesn’t believe, which is totally possible. What I’m hearing is a belief that humanity is no better off than it was 2000 years ago, but maybe it’s more specific than that. Maybe she means humanity is better in particular ways, but individually is no better at being good people.

            And I can understand that sentiment, even though I disagree. I agree that humans, on a chemical level, are relatively unchanged (probably) in the last 10000 or so years of our existence. Humans are social beings though; our society is as much a part of who we are as our DNA, and our society (worldwide) is demonstrably better (I think) than Medieval Britain, Rome, Babylon, Egypt, and before.

            > But is it? Is this the coming of Christ’s kingdom or is it much
            > more simply about technological and political progress.

            Can’t it be both though? Why should I believe that humans left Africa 60,000 years ago, and existed essentially unchanged for 58000 of those years, until we as a species decided it was time for something different? If I need one moment in history that I can point to, that says “this, this is where things started to change”, I think it makes a certain sense to point to Christ.

            I’ve already come to be comfortable with the “how / why” distinction, right? The “How does gravity work?” vs “Why is there gravity?” So I think I can parse it this way:

            “How did humanity grow beyond Hobbes’ ‘nasty, brutish, short’ lives into something more?”
            Well, education and technology progressed to allow more equality for more people, and philosophies of peace and equity became popular.

            “Why did humanity grow… into something more?”
            G-d’s kingdom came, and remains, in their midst.

            I feel like its way too cheesy to say that though. I feel awkward, because I’m dropping the veneer of irony that I’ve worked so hard to cover myself with, and all that’s left is childishly hopeful and positive.

          • Kerokline: I’m not a pessimist, nor am I ignorant of history. I am glad that we have eliminated smallpox, for example (although there were over 200,000 new cases of leprosy reported in 2013, not counting almost the same number of existing cases). I also believe that Christianity as lived out by individuals and institutions has given the world many temporal blessings. I’m making two points, I guess: first, that each person in each generation has the same sin nature, and no amount of education or physical comfort will change that. Therefore we must always work to maintain and protect the blessings of our society, because they are hard-won and fragile achievements, not evolutionary changes in our species. Second, that the kingdom of God is not the installation of plumbing or the elimination of polio, any more than it was the revival of the Jewish Davidic kingdom two thousand years ago. The kingdom of God is something hidden, something separate from improvements in standard of living or enlightened philosophies, something that grows in each person, not in systems or governments. Like the yeast it’s compared to, it grows unobserved and occasionally is better for some pummeling.

            I too see the world as a whole, but I do think there are complex layers of reality. Vaccinations do not redeem us from sin and death, and our comfortable, wealthy society is no good at all if it causes us to forget that. In fact, if material blessings distract us from the realities of sin and redemption, then a time of social breakdown may be a blessing in the long run.

          • The kingdom of God is something hidden, something separate from improvements in standard of living or enlightened philosophies, something that grows in each person, not in systems or governments. Like the yeast it’s compared to, it grows unobserved ….

            Beautifully said, and yes this seems so abstract, at times, so much so that it isn’t hopeful. Yet I believe this to be true.

            and occasionally is better for some pummeling….. and that would explain my marriage, owe you one, Damaris….

        • @Damaris: BINGO: as far as I can tell; and it’s the same dilemma for both ancient and modern man. Both groups have to confront the conundrum: you mean the Kingdom looks like THAT ?? I have some sympathy for what Adam is writing, but I think we poison our own well with our personal shattered expectations. If GOD hasn’t done that much with me, why should I expect HIM to do much better on the macro scale ?? Not saying that GOD”s reliability entirely rests on our success… but neither is it totally unrelated. If this message flat doesn’t work for me, then what message am I preaching ???

          I keep coming back to the Kingdom of GOD like leaven…. it’s not invisible, but to most eyes, doesn’t look like much. I think that speaks to the expectation element.

        • One day is as a thousand years.

          Problem solved.

        • If Jesus is risen and reigning, why, in two millennia, hasn’t the world changed? What’s taking so long?

          I think what we need is a nice civil conversation about eschatology.

      • turnsalso says:

        I’ve long wondered what exactly the Kingdom of God is actually supposed to be. All we have in Scripture is that it’s “at hand,” it’s “not of this world,” that we should pray for it to come, and a few analogies of what it’s supposed to be like in some way, and when people speak of it, it seems to mean nothing more than “just what I choose it to mean,” like Humpty-Dumpty has become an armchair theologian. Even the Apostles didn’t get it, asking Jesus if he was going to restore the Kingdom to Israel as he was ascending into heaven!

        Just what is this Kingdom of God we hear so much about? I don’t see how to have a meaningful discussion on why we don’t see more of it until we’ve agreed on what exactly it is.

        • Those are great questions. The answers are not self-evident, and are often abstract.

          Different translations translate Luke 17 differently. Is it “within” you – as in a “spiritual” thing? Or “in the midst” of you referring to something that permeates common life? Or “among” you referring to the person of Jesus? All of these?

          • If it’s “within you”, then connect with Andrew’s comments below: maybe Kingdom of GOD , and GOD’s presence within us are largely the same, or interdependent.

        • In the earliest tradition, the most eschatological, the expectation was that it was an immanent earthly kingdom to be ruled over by God. This was the view of John the Baptist and the view of Paul. The gospels and the later NT writings show a move away from this view towards a more abstract, transcendental interpretation. I take as the core message of the historical Jesus the view of Mark 1:15 –

          “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news.”

          Note that the earliest chirstian document we know, Paul’s first (?) letter to the church at Thessolonica was to reassure believers concerned over the delay in the parousia and worried over the first generation of believers who were dying before the appearance of the kingdom.

  2. “Part of the trouble with a good deal of modern debate on the resurrection is that it turns on the questions of ‘What happened to Jesus?’ or ‘What happened to the apostles?’ whereas the one thing we can say with confidence is that what happened to the world of men and women was the advent of the Church — of a new style of corporate human life —and of its proclamation of release from the prison of mutual destructiveness. The interesting question then becomes, ‘How is this phenomenon, the advent of Church and gospel, grounded in the conviction of the return of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead in such a way that neither Church nor gospel would make sense without it?'”

    –From Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel by Rowan Williams.

    I think this provides an illuminating link between yesterday’s and today’s posts.

  3. Those who expect to see God’s Kingdom in what we call “the Church” will have a long wait. The Church in the world today is a construct of MAN and not God. The Creator has been misplaced in the shuffle. Truly, “few there be that find it (Him)”.

    Those who hope, and try, to make any political system look and feel like their conception of God’s Kingdom are trying to build a modern day tower of Babel.

    We are all standing on the mount of transfiguration, and like the apostles we are saying “God, this is really cool! Maybe we should institutionalize this so that we don’t lose the vision.” But lose it we did.

  4. Christiane says:

    “Thou shalt send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created: and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”
    (from Psalm 104)

    I look at this Scripture and I think about the prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Amen”

    somewhere between creation ‘ex nihilo’ and the mess we see on our Earth, there once was something worth renewing

    that song ‘we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden’ resonates within us like a genetic memory . . .

    and a universal human longing for renewal is given voice in Tolkien’s writing: ““There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

    I expect we all long for that which is ‘to come’, but which also can be ‘made present’ by that power which is found even in the smallest act of kindness

    • turnsalso says:

      Tolkien’s fantasy positively glisters with the light of his Christian faith.

      (off-topic: look up the nuances that differentiate “glister,” “glitter,” and “glimmer”–isn’t English wonderful?)

      • Christiane says:

        well, English has so many ‘sources’ that it is chock-full of synonyms . . . Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, French . . . quite a mixture of languages that English has been drawn from, yes

  5. CM sez: “If Jesus is risen and reigning, why, in two millennia, hasn’t the world changed?”

    I’m reading the so called Old Testament straight thru for the first time in many years. It’s worse than I remembered. A lot worse. I can understand how young people can read this and turn their back and walk away. It’s all well and good to say this was done by primitive people thousands of years ago who just didn’t know better. We wouldn’t be here talking today if our grandfathers had not done exactly the same, massacre the inhabitants and take their land. We were still doing it openly a hundred years ago. Ask the next Indian you run into whether the Trail of Tears is over. It’s how empires work.

    Still and all, I believe the world has changed measurably for the better in the last two thousand years, noticeably in the last two hundred, and most noticeable in the last twenty. You might not accept my measuring stick for the world at large, but perhaps would be more in tune with the one I use internally. Speaking for myself, I’ve come a long way in the last twenty years, and I’m guessing you can look back and say the same.

    The problem in my view is that the world system appears to be gaining ground outwardly at the same time and in parallel with the growth of the Kingdom of God, which is not apparent unless looking inward. I don’t see this as something wrong that we need to somehow explain or find an excuse for, it’s just how things work in the world. As followers of Jesus we are here to learn our lessons and overcome our ego, not overcome our neighbor. You get one view if you insist on watching television. You get another if you look inside. If you are gaining ground inside, the world is changing for the better, no matter how bad it looks. That’s how the Kingdom of God works. It’s why we’re here.

  6. I like this explanation, but at the same time I’ve always understood the main overriding theme was God’s presence with humans – those whom he instilled his image into. The temple motif, the biblical theological concept of rest, and the kingdom of God are all very much tied into God’s presence with mankind. I’m sure others could make arguments for other overarching themes of the metanarrative of the Bible, but for me the strand that runs through the whole thing is God’s presence with us. Does this seem legitimate? Did I miss a bigger point you were trying to make?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Yours makes a lot of sense. It’s the Old Stories of Encounters with God and God’s Presence within reality.

    • kerokline says:

      I like that idea a lot. I also feel like you’re not alone in that kind of formulation.

      Bonhoeffer spoke of G-d’s power being his powerlessness. That His weakness on the cross was His, and now our, strength. If the narrative is “presence”, that makes sense to me, because it means the narrative of the cross is not G-d conquering death so that He can raise us up to heaven, but Him lowering himself until finally He can be with and bring His kingdom to us.

      How strange, then, that Christ, after coming back from the dead, could walk for miles with the apostles without being recognized? His literal physical presence is still not enough for us to know He is there.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > but Him lowering himself until finally He can be with and bring His kingdom to us

        Okay, but that is just doubling back to answer the question.

        We arrive at the same question – His kingdom is?

        • kerokline says:

          >We arrive at the same question – His kingdom is?

          I mean, that’s the question Bonhoeffer wasn’t able to answer. His letters spoke of a religionless Christianity, of a church whose influence and purpose had been dispersed into the secular world. Where Christians would wander powerless, just as Christ hung powerless on the cross. Where we would be in pain with those in pain.

          Which is a depressing view of the kingdom, but I think that’s what having your church capitulate to the Nazi’s does to you.

          • turnsalso says:

            It happened again. What IS the Kingdom in that scenario? Is it the state of aimless wandering to suffer with the suffering? Is it the good that comes out of this compassion? Is it something else? Every time the question is asked, it’s like we go off into a diversion without ever actually spelling out what it is. Just either saying what it’s not, or describing a situation where it might exist in some way.

    • Andrew, I like to trace the three-part promise of God as another primary narrative thread (Walt Kaiser at Trinity used to emphasize this): I will be your God, you will be my people, and I will dwell in your midst. Perhaps I overstated it today by saying this is the one.

      Good to hear from you.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world.

    NOT Eternal Hell, NOT Selling Fire Insurance, NOT Counting Coup on The Other Guy.

  8. The responses from the past two days have surprised me.

    Yesterday, the post was about using the tools at our disposal to access the scriptures in the fullest and (ideally) healthiest ways possible.

    Today’s post looks at the entirety of the text and commends neither a fanciful, pie-in-the-sky interpretation nor a hopeless, doom-and-gloom rendering — both of which are natural criticisms of evangelicalism run amuck.

    My surprise is that both of these have been met with what seems to be an unusual amount of skepticism, considering the audience. If we don’t want traditional evangelicalism, but pushing deeper into the text to understand it contextually and wholly still does not leave us satisfied… what is it that we are hoping for?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > what is it that we are hoping for?

      A practicable explanation of the claims of Christian eschatology.

      Answers that do not ultimately sound like the description of a drug one takes to-feel-good-inside amid pain and horrors.

      • And that’s what I think has been articulated here this week.

        But if it’s not doing the trick, I am wondering out loud what do we expect that explanation to sound/feel/look like? Is it even possible for us to recognize it?

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        Do you want your “practical explanation” to be in-universe, or would you be satisfied with more of a “meta” explanation?

        For example, in the late 1960’s. Star Trek predicted a superhuman revolt (led by Khan) for the 1990’s, yet this never occurred. If someone asks why, we can either explain in terms of this being a TV show, or we can try to “solve” the problem by saying that their conquest of the world was secret and involved Area 51 (as a recent Star Trek novel actually did).

        In the same way, we can either approach this problem in terms of traditional Christian theology, or step back and talk about texts and genres. In that case, we begin to realize that the Bible is no more “true” than Star Trek.

    • What do I want?

      I want to know the truth. To understand. To see clearly. And to follow that truth wherever it leads me. Even if it’s someplace I might not wish to go.

      • I want that too. Something that I’ve been thinking about lately however is that with all the great questions we have, and for all the answers we demand of God, I’m guessing that for many of them we would be unable to understand even *if* He were/wanted to explain. Imagine explaining to a creature living in a 2D flatland world what it means to look “up”…perhaps that’s the dilemma God currently has with us.

  9. dakatasue says:

    I have been reading Robert Capon recently. This is a quote from his book “Parables of Judgment”.

    “It is not that the mystery of the Creation occurs only at the beginning, to be superseded later on by the mystery of the Passover and then by the mystery of the Cross, the mystery of the Resurrection from the dead, and the mystery of the Judgment at the End. It is that those several manifestations are outcroppings of a single age-long mystery of Creation-Call-Passover-Redemption-Resurrection-Judgment that is fully present in every one of them.”

    He uses a picture of the Kingdom as the iceberg that is underlying everything from Creation to the End. That we see only the pieces of the picture that are the iceberg above the surface while the complete Kingdom continues hidden. The quote continues:

    “Just as each upthrusting of the iceberg is one and the same iceberg in a visible aspect, so each upthrusting of the mystery is a visible aspect of one and the same mystery. The Word who becomes incarnate in Jesus is the same Word who spoke the world into being from the start. The Lamb slain on Calvary is the same Paschal Lamb whose blood kept the angel of death from the Jews in Egypt. And the Judge who comes at the end is none other than the gracious vindicating Savior who rose from the dead…”

    If you haven’t read Capon I would recommend you give him a try.

    • Thanks for this, and i think there are a number of Capon fans here.

      Just a note that his view of the kingdom in his series on the parables highlights 3 things: lastness, leastness, and lostness. Also what he refers to as “left-handed power” – briefly, power *under* rather than power *over.*

      I think it is easy to start equating God’s kingdom (whatever all that entails) with various kinds of political “power over” systems.

      Ultimately, it seems that the kingdom’s nature is bound up in the Mysteries of the faith, and is not all that graspable, exvept by contrast and paradox.

      My .02…

  10. There are two distinct trajectories to be followed here. The vertical and the horizontal. The horizontal is observable but the vertical is hidden. It is the progression of the vertical that must concern us. Certainly they are related but outward behavior, church politics and other horizontal manifestations, while very important, are not the true signposts of the unfolding kingdom. It is the unseen progress on the vertical plane, the capacity for communion between human and deity, that is the true indicator of the unfolding of ‘His kingdom come.’

    “When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God will not come with observable signs. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is…”

    It has never been observable like a human kingdom. Only when sin and death have been fully planted as a functional reality will the flower bloom in full view. Until then, requiring eyes that see and ears that hear, I think we look in, not out, for progress. Poverty of spirit and purity of heart is where it starts. While we can’t ignore the cooperation between churches at the ecumenical picnic or the thriving food pantry downtown as positive manifestations, the true indicator of the unfolding is always hidden. It is the developing love, joy and unity of one personal spirit with God. One at a time. That’s what the angels are cheering on. That is where the kingdom is blooming. That’s where the action is. The two commandments left to us were given in order with the primary one being love the Lord your God….

    • And what was the Lord your God’s primary and sole commandment?

      • Of course that goes without saying. Everything in context.

        • Therefore the goal of the Christian’s life is…?

        • But to answer explicitly, his primary commandment was to love Him with everything in our being. The next one was to love our neighbor the same way. It’s a circle of course but the post is about discerning the signs of the kingdom.

          • I don’t know if it’s a circle really. Love him with everything in our being. Ok. And what does that being whom we love want us to do? Love others.

            It’s a straight line.

            Trick is what that love looks like. And I’d argue passionately it does not mean forcing others to love Him.

          • Forcing anyone to do anything is a bad idea. Love does not involve coercion.

          • –> “Forcing anyone to do anything is a bad idea. Love does not involve coercion.”

            God put his power in his pocket when he sent Jesus to die for us.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””horizontal manifestations, while very important, are not the true signposts of the unfolding kingdom. It is the unseen progress on the vertical plane,”””

      so… the sign posts of this unfolding kingdom cannot be seen? The unfolding is an infolding? And it is a kingdom with no domain.

      I mean this very respectfully: but this is not an answer, it is a cop out.

      This is not what the new testament describes or implies, it is a complete rereading in light of the absence of anything like a clear answer.

  11. David Denis says:

    There seems to be a tension between proposition and depiction.

    We want to say “The Kingdom of God is…” But all Jesus seems to offer is “The Kingdom of God is like…”
    While the Kingdom of God seems to have been the central motif of Jesus’s preaching, in general (I have not done an exhaustive survey of Jesus’s words in this regard) the Savior seems to avoid making flat propositional statements about the Kingdom. We want propositions that can be chained into arguments that can lead us to a defined, comprehensible conclusion. A deduction that can be expressed mathematically, or at least in some kind of logical proof.

    Instead, Jesus seems to prefer to draw pictures that we can look at, meditate upon, admire and interpret. Fields with weeds and wheat intermixed. Seeds scattered by a farmer. Laborers hired at different times of day. Parties with guests, parties without guests, parties with some people who didn’t expect to get in as well as though who refuse to go in. Lost coins, lost sheep, buried treasure, and blooming bushes. Conniving managers, ungrateful bastards, holier than thou prayers, barn-building ranchers, mugged Samaritans, and wealthy dead who are full of regrets.
    I suspect the frustration is our rationalist selves that want everything defined, distinct, unambiguous and without either overlapping tectonic plates, nor holes big enough for asteroids to pass through. There is an assumption that because we can make definite statements about certain parts of reality, that therefore all reality must also be subject to a similar type of understanding. I’m not sure we can expect that. There may be great swathes of reality that defy logic as we currently grasp it.

    So when we say “The Kingdom of God is not of this world” I read that to mean that the Kingdom defines its territory on a different basis (human hearts vs. physical geography), defines its economy on a different basis (sacrificial humility and suffering vs exchange of value in transaction), defines its authority and politics on a different basis (love vs power), and so on. “Not of this world” does not mean an ethereal ghostly presence like a kingdom of fog existing in a nether realm. Instead it implies a different layer of physics, a kind of spiritual quantum realm that exists and undergirds all, but that as far as we can tell, seems to operate under a quite different set of rules.

  12. Some rally good dialog here today and yesterday. Bravo, iMonkers.

  13. Eckhart Trolle says:

    2012 has passed. So why are there no aliens, as X-Files predicted?

    • They’re out there…

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        Some possible explanations:

        1. Mulder miscalculated–they’re actually coming in 2016.
        2. It happened in a way that was imperceptible to most of humanity.
        3. “Aliens” was never meant literally. *We* are the aliens.
        4. The (mostly imperceptible) 2012 landing was just a very quiet advance force, but eventually we will all see them descend from the sky.
        5. Think of all the ways the world has changed since 2012. Doesn’t that prove aliens?
        6. The invasion was cancelled due to __________ .
        7. ???

    • I’ve been trying to get into that show, since I wasn’t allowed to watch it growing up, and man, is it very 90s…

      • Some really good episodes, though.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Agree, it is much like Dr. Who. When it is good it is really good, and there is a lot of not-so-good in between.

          But older shows can be interesting as an encapsulation of a cultural moment.

          • Doctor Who exists before Eccleson?

            (we shall never talk of Rose, ever)

          • For shame, Stuart – are you not an unrevonstructed, fundy Tom Baker fan?

            I wish they could bring back Romana, actually…

  14. The discussions here are outdoing themselves. This is a 21st century church in operation, imperfect, forging ahead. Where else are you going to find interactions such as today? We make sport of Patheos with it’s T&A advertisements, and yet it has a lot to offer. But for the most part what it offers is the 20th century church. This is so far beyond that the mind boggles.

    Even Eckhart joins the party like a yapping Chihuahua taking on all comers. Sorely outclassed today, he makes me wonder if he is not Bart Ehrman in disguise, desperate for human contact. And he is treated with consideration and toleration, marks, amongst others, of the 21st century church. I expect there are limits, as there were with Jesus. So far, so good.

    The minds here are respectable, but not unique. The hearts are impressive. Where else? I dunno. What hath Michael wrought?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      For all my frustration with theologians and preachers – I do love it here. The writing is top-notch and the commentators are all world class [including those I never agree with]. It is truly unique among the interweave.

    • –> “And he (Eckhart) is treated with consideration and toleration…”

      I think so, too.

      Reminds me of an online gaming group I interacted with over fifteen years ago, back when most interaction was done through message boards. I was pretty much the lone Christian conservative voice among my team’s 100+ members. Every now and then in our non-game-related board (called the Dungeon Tavern), religion would come up. While a few people were respectful of my views, most of the group would slam me with very intense, emotionally-charged and borderline-hateful responses.

      I rarely see that response here to those who come with ideas counter to Christianity. Some are ungracious, but most of us are seeking to understand.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      Actually I’m really N.T. Wright in disguise, giving vent to all my buried subconscious frustrations.

      “Outclassed”? No doubt, but if you’re wondering why I didn’t have much to say about the article, it’s because I basically agree with it, within the limits of its exegetical framework. Yes, this is more or less the theme of the Christian Bible. With adaptations, it could be made to fit the Jewish Bible.

      Patheos is a mixed bag. It is very American (its front page is often a reaction to whatever happened there recently; also look at its mix of religions), predominantly liberal in terms of the themes it emphasizes (e.g. racism), and favors popular clickbait. It does have some good articles, though.

      • turnsalso says:

        >”Actually I’m really N.T. Wright in disguise, giving vent to all my buried subconscious frustrations.”

        I KNEW IT!