The Kingdom of God
Contemporary studies of peace emphasise only some of its aspects. In this chapter it is asked whether or not peace should be viewed as an integrated whole.
In an encompassing portrait of peace there would have to be reconciliation between peace-search at the larger and the smaller scales; between the many definitions of and approaches to peace, and a resolution of the question of ends and means. Both the secular and the religious aspects of peace would have to find a place within the framework. The role of the human and of the divine with regard to peace would need to be made clear. An inclusive model of peace should be open and based on free participation without being coercive or violent, if it is to be consistent with the ideals of peace itself. All this becomes possible if peace is envisioned in the context of the religious concept of the Kingdom of God.
The idea of the Kingdom of God is implicit in the major theistic religions, while many of its practical values and principles are enshrined in non-theistic ones such as Buddhism. Thought on the Kingdom is most explicit in the teachings of Jesus Christ, who lived and preached the good news of that Kingdom. The Kingdom is central to Christ’s teaching, as is so evident in the Lord’s Prayer, in which Jesus asks those who would listen to him to pray (with heart, with mind and life itself) for its coming. For these reasons the Kingdom of God is examined here in essentially Christian terms. It is trusted that the reader, for purposes of the discussion, is able to put aside preconceived notions, judgmentalism and prejudices, if any, about Christianity, Christians and their shortcomings as individuals or as visible and organisedcollectivities, and to try to look beyond these.
The implications of the Kingdom for society here on earth either were never fully explored or put together, or were lost sight of for a long time. The Kingdom does not feature in today’s thoughts and dreams for tomorrow, whether the designs are those of politicians, planners or peace researchers. This is not entirely due to secularisation, because in the case of Christianity, greater emphasis came to be placed upon Church, which is the community of the baptised, than on the Kingdom, which is more inclusive, and shall I say, more catholic. The origins of this process can be traced back to the time of St. Paul. While Church itself is about community connected to, and hopefully, faithful to Christ its head, drawing nourishment from and empowered by Christ; and although in the very concept of Church there is a beautiful vision of peace, down-to-earth thinking on and concern for the Church was and is largely about a threatened and endangered community subject to assault from without and within.
Characteristics of the Kingdom
According to the New Testament of the Bible, the Kingdom of God has salient characteristics. Firstly, it is a Kingdom in which God is God, the Lord and Creator of all, in whom all things visible and invisible have their existence, whether or not everyone within that Kingdom recognises or believes in such a Being. The Kingdom is not of this world (defined as that which ignores, rejects or has no need of God), because it is of God and is dependent on God. It is, in this sense, a mystery whose meaning is yet to be unravelled. That Kingdom is near but has not arrived. It is in our midst, although as yet incipient, because its presence and its values are not fully enshrined within us, individually or collectively. The Kingdom is very much for the here and now, even though its fullness will only be realised eschatologically, that is after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God is emphatically for all, not just the few. Everyone has a place in it, regardless of race, language, colour, social standing, religion and even belief and virtue. All are invited to full citizenship within it and participation in all its riches and benefits. How each responds is left to the free decision of the individual and the collectivity.
The Kingdom of God is not concerned with power and politics, with control, manipulation and punishment. In this, it is most definitely not of this world, in which these are considerations of paramount importance for and in societal management andbehaviour. Within the Kingdom there is no place for violence, whether direct or indirect, whether physical or verbal, structural, cultural or moral. Nor are vindictiveness or retaliation acceptable, even though in the incompleteness of that Kingdom and the immaturity and sinfulness of people such practices are commonplace here and now on earth.
The Kingdom is founded in the mystery of the One God, who is Self-giving Love, the Trinitarian Community of Love, Eternal Newness and Nowness. The Kingdom is founded in God’s unbounded love for humankind and for all creation, and in the intrinsic and inalienable dignity of every human being, regardless of a person’s belief, life-performance or response to these realities. All people of goodwill are invited and re-invited to strive to bring about this Kingdom, through proclaiming and living out its beliefs and values. The Kingdom is primarily about the relationships that exist and should exist between people and God, and among people. Christ’s entire Sermon on the Mount teaches on the quality relationships intended to characterise the Kingdom. Religion and Church are to be catalysts for the Kingdom, which has to grow in people at all scales of being.
The Kingdom is the realm where people are called to co-operate, in freedom, with God; where God respects and co-operates with people. Such co-operation is through fidelity to the dictates of a sincere and informed conscience, which needs to be continually educated and refined. In the Kingdom each and every person is called to fullness of life, expressed in loving-kindness, justice, service and generosity, compassion and mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing, patience and expectancy, gentleness and peace. Love becomes the central value, and God’s grace the enabling power, not legislation, human endeavour or good-will of themselves. The earth is seen as God-given and good, to be lived in, to be tended with care and in stewardship and its fruits shared justly by all.
The Kingdom is very much about a new world order marked by such relationships and therefore is of global and ongoing significance. In that kingdom there is no longer a chosen people, for everybody is equally precious. It is not confined to any particular period, place, political regime or ideological system. All human organisational systems are seen to merit allegiance when they clearly and unambiguously foster the values and right relations which should characterise the Kingdom. Otherwise they militate against the Kingdom and must be identified, spoken against and replaced by structures and processes that help build the Kingdom here on earth. This cannot take place where each individual or group claims to be the ultimate authority on what is right or wrong, on what is true and what is false. There needs to be someone to whom authority has been given, and whose legitimacy is demonstrable, to weigh the evidence and decide on the fundamental values to be upheld and the direction of the change that needs to be effected.
The Kingdom is based on freedom with its awesome responsibility: to choose one way or another, either to accept both the Kingdom and its promise, or to reject or compromise them on the altar of self; to work towards its fruition here on earth, or to impede and delay the process. That is why although the Kingdom is in our midst and also within us (Luke 17 : 21) it has not been fully realised. The coming of the Kingdom involves a becoming, through a love, hope and discipleship. The process is at work, for the leavening has begun. Many believe that because of human indulgence in its own frailty the Kingdom will not arrive. But come it will, those with faith recognise, because the Kingdom is God’s project for his people, which not even sin can frustrate. With it will come peace in its fullness, however bleak the present moment and auguries for the future may seem to be. The prophet Habakuk anticipates, in the Old Testament of the Bible, the unshakeable nature of Christic confidence and trust in God, which Mary, the mother of Jesus gives fresh and joyous expression to in her ‘Magnificat!’ in the Gospel of St.Luke.
Mistrust or Confidence
Woe to those who say,
‘Let him make haste and speed his work,
That we may see it;
On with the plan of the Holy One of Israel!
Let it come to pass, that we may know it!’
The light shines in the darkness
And the darkness has not overcome it.
(John 1: 5)
Even though the fig does not blossom,
Nor fruit grow on the vine;
Even though the olive crop fail
And fields yield no harvest;
Even though flocks vanish from the folds
And stalls stand empty of cattle;
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord
And exult in God my saviour.
The Lord my God is my strength.
He makes me leap like the deer.
He guides me to the high places.
(Habakuk 3: 17-19)
My soul magnifies the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness…..
His mercy is from age to age,
On those who fear him.
(Luke 1: 46 – 50)
The ideal citizen in the Kingdom is not one who is clever, crafty or competent, but one who has the spirit of a little child, who is humble and who does not carry into today or the morrow the hurts and the hates of yesterday, and who is therefore receptive and open to the liberating grace of God and to the wonder and awe of the moment, unfettered by the past or fear of the future.
To point to the Kingdom of God as offering the most appropriate model of peace may invite question and even ridicule, for many accept neither God, nor the Kingdom idea, nor have any faith whatsoever in its eschatological promise. Some, in their respected goodwill, maintain that an inclusive paradigm with no mention of God might be better. And, to many who are all too painfully conscious of human limitations (and who is not?), the Kingdom is no more than pie in the sky, a naive, futile distraction.
Nonetheless, the Kingdom paradigm is more inclusive than others that model peace. It accommodates and affords sanctuary not only to theist and non-theist, but also to those who reject or scoff at the very notion of the Kingdom of God, or who are oblivious of it. There is room for assent and dissent, for those who accept and abide by its values and beliefs and for those who will not. There is room for those who cherish the Kingdom and for those who would wittingly or unwittingly undermine it, although the final coming of the Kingdom is not in human hands but is the Divine prerogative. The paradigm takes into account the secular and the religious, the mundane and the mystical, seeing hope in all these. There is more to it than could be found in any other which regards peace primarily as an absence, whether of violence or of evil itself, or where peace consists in something, whether this be social, political, economic, technological &/or psychological, or the acceptance and application of a set of laws, a code of behaviour, principles or ideals; or a combination of these. The Kingdom of God cannot be fashioned by the conventional wisdom, or by anger and protest, by post-modern humanism or by new age spiritualities which spring from the minds and feelings of men and women, or by religion which places faith more in philanthropy, social service and social critique than in God. It will not come tofulfilment where any of these are substituted for or given priority over prayerful listening and trusting obedience to God.
To seek the Kingdom is to work towards peace on earth in all its forms and at all levels of being, as an immediate, a short-term and a long-term project, without ever giving up. Success is not the criterion to go by. The evangelist, Matthew (6: 33), expresses it this way: ‘Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what God requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things’. The Kingdom, then, is the setting and the stage where the drama of life, bothnatural and supernatural, temporal and eternal, is enacted, and options for peace and its converse are continually exercised. Reiterating, this is because although the Kingdom of God is eschatological, it is also for the present, for people as they are and for what they have the potential for becoming. Indeed, fulfilment is for all of creation, as St. Paul makes known in letter to the Romans (8: 21), and not the human alone.