Thy kingdom come…
(Understanding God’s Will)
With the second line of The Lord’s Prayer, we arrive at the heart of the matter: God’s kingdom. To understand how Jesus views his Father’s kingdom, we first need to do some–thing that will seem strange. We must take all discussion of “Heaven” off the table. There will be no talk about heaven with a capital “H,” the place we think we’ll go to (if lucky) when we die. We’re just not going to go there.
Why? Because as soon as we see heaven and hell as proper names, as specific places where rewards and punishments are meted out, the acceptance of Christ and all associated good works become petty acts of bribery. The afterlife must remain unknown, because the quality and strength of our faith, as well as the morality of our actions, depends on the mystery. For this reason, Jesus calls us to attend not to the dead1 (who are beyond our reach) but to those who are living and can feel our touch.
It is by nurturing the living God in ourselves and others that we make the Father’s kingdom come.2 But what exactly is this kingdom if it is not what we normally take for heaven? The Gospels provide us with plenty of clues. But also many false leads. We need to be careful when applying our winnowing fans.
We should remember that the tribes who handed down the story of Jesus believed that a final day of judgment would occur during their own generation.3 That is why the apostles are so despondent after Jesus’s death. They thought he was going to physically deliver Jerusalem from Roman authority, and then rule over an earthly kingdom.4 But Jesus had something different in mind. He wanted his disciples to view the Lord not as a King on High but as a secret spirit living in us all,5 with the power to reveal a kingdom already here.6
Therefore, we must sidestep any reference to the end–time theologies7 that were prevalent during Jesus’s day, and which today have made best–selling authors of those who exploit fears of being left behind. After all, how is it that we will find ourselves raptured into the sky or see Jesus surfing down from the clouds,8 when God’s kingdom, we are told, cannot be witnessed by the eye because it lives within us?9 The answer is, we can’t, and won’t. The gates of heaven are unlocked when our hearts and minds work in unison to discover God’s Word,10 which is alive all around us.
That is why Jesus insists on talking in parables when describing the kingdom: because parables make us think. They don’t dictate hard and fast answers. Jesus, like the river guide, leads us upstream to where the fish are, but insists that we make our own catch. The problem though is that we often feel stranded upriver without a pole!
But Jesus doesn’t actually leave us…
The Lord’s Prayer. To continue reading, click on page 2 at the bottom.
- “Leave the dead to bury their dead; but go yourself and carry far and wide the gospel of the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:60 [↩]
- By that in the good ground are meant those who, with a good and honest heart, keep the message and patiently bring forth its fruit. – Luke 8:15 [↩]
- I tell you that even the present generation will not pass away, until all these things have taken place. – Mark 13:30 [↩]
- But we were hoping that he was the destined deliverer of Israel. – Luke 24:21 [↩]
- I tell you, as often as you did it to one these my brothers and sisters, however lowly, you did it to me. – Matthew 25:40 [↩]
- If it is by the help of the spirit of God that I drive out devils, then the kingdom of God must already be upon you. – Matthew 12:28 [↩]
- Tell us when this will be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the close of the age. – Matthew 24:3 [↩]
- Then will be seen the ‘Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. – Mark 13:26 [↩]
- The kingdom of God does not come in a way that admits of observation, 21 Nor will people say ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ for the kingdom of God is within you! – Luke 17:20-21 [↩]
- In the Beginning the Word was; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God; 3 Through him all things came into being, and nothing came into being apart from him. – John 1:1-4 [↩]