For my final post of this old year, I’ll be finishing my series on the kingdom of heaven – though, of course, infinitely more could be said. I’d started this study for myself to gain a better understanding of this oft-used and oft-confusing idea of the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God. I think I’ve learned something but the best way to test potential acquisition of knowledge is to apply it. So let me try to bring what we’ve been discussing and hopefully learning to bear on some common (and commonly misunderstood) Scriptures.
First, it may seem like with all this sewing and bread making that Jesus is a pantheist, but “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). This seems fairly dualistic and many have taken it so: the kingdom of heaven is about this airy-fairy existence in the sky after the earth passes away where we all float around on clouds with harps and robes. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds more like hell than heaven. I don’t think Romans 14:17 means that the kingdom of heaven is about a wraithlike afterlife where bodily needs like water and food are no more – the primary analogies Jesus draws to the kingdom of heaven are earthly things like yeast, seeds, pearls, people. I think what Paul might mean here is that the kingdom of heaven is not about the individual act of consuming but about relational ways of being in the already-not-yet world. God created the body and God is the God of the living so it wouldn’t make sense for God to require us to deprive it of essentials for life.
The kingdom of heaven is not a “matter” of eating and drinking because, remember, the kingdom of heaven is about provision. Having enough for one’s needs will not be the issue in heaven as it is on earth. God’s desire is to provide for us, not that we strive to provide for ourselves things and in ways we cannot. We cannot guarantee a harvest, we cannot make enough produce grow. But if we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33) – food, water, righteousness, peace and joy. So what is it we are seeking when we seek the kingdom of God: waiting, potential, goodness we may not yet see, treasure, among other things. We are not seeking streets-of-gold perfection for the kingdom of God is, in its “now” form, among us – where two or more are gathered, there conflict, disagreement, misunderstanding and imperfection, among other things, will be also. We are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) – we are completely spiritually bankrupt apart from God. Personally, I can’t strong-arm my way through a quiet time without the presence of God more than about three minutes.
So why is the kingdom of God for us? It is exactly righteousness, peace and joy that we need and the kingdom of God, though also about waiting and hiddenness for now, is also about provision. The kingdom of God is for those who cannot find righteousness on their own (and there are a lot of us, aren’t there?), who cannot find or make peace on their own and who cannot manufacture joy on their own. Some of us may be able to provide food and drink for ourselves; no one is righteous on their own.
Speaking of righteousness, Jesus provides both a warning and a comfort (if that’s the right word) for those who pursue it: ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). Those who are sought after for righteousness’ sake are not sought for being righteous themselves. The kingdom of God is the place where God lives and rules; it is about God. And it is clear that God is on the side of those who cannot get to God on their own, who cannot get enough ____ (food, water, righteousness, peace, joy) on their own. The kingdom of heaven is not opposed to the earth; God made both. The kingdom of heaven is opposed to the kingdoms of earth, which divide and assign food and drink to some while forgoing righteousness, peace and joy whenever their power is threatened. But while wheat grows up with weeds, while all fish are being caught, we do not pray for eternal division. We pray that the kingdom of heaven, which now looks small and maybe indistinguishable from the kingdoms of earth, will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea.
And so we pray for God’s will on earth, in its gasping bondage to decay, to be done as it in heaven – yet slow and small, seemingly insufficient now but will rise to treasured oaks of righteousness over the whole world.
Happy New Year!