Yesterday I read the following quote:
The kingdom of God comes like a long walk home.
(For those who want to know, it’s actually a slightly edited version of a quote by Brian Zahnd.)
This really connected with something I’ve been thinking about lately, so I thought I’d take a few moments to unpack it.
To begin at the end, if the kingdom of God is a kind of homecoming, then it follows that the kingdom of this world – the world system as currently configured – is not our ultimate home. We are made for life in a different kind of world.
Of course, many Christians have been taught that this other world for which we are made is out there “somewhere beyond the blue”. For the moment, it exists only in our imagination as a kind of ethereal idyllic realm. Whether you refer to it as heaven, paradise, “glory” or whatever, the idea is the same: this is the place where we’ll get to spend eternity no longer weighed down by the sin, pain and corruption of this present world. The negro spiritual captures it well: This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through…
But this idea of the kingdom of God as a metaphysical realm that exists in some heretofore unseen dimension has zero biblical support. In fact, listen to what Jesus was constantly announcing as he walked through Galilee and Judea two thousand years ago: “The kingdom of God is at hand!” In other words, stop waiting and looking for some future idyllic state – the kingdom of God is right here, right now! The great signs and wonders performed by Jesus were nothing less than signs pointing to the inbreaking reality of this radical new arrangement of the world that was and is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is seen not only wherever blind eyes are opened and crippled legs are straightened. I believe it’s also seen wherever people voluntarily lay down their rights for the sake of others, wherever people take up their crosses in self-denial and self-giving love. This is the present reality of the kingdom at work in the world today.
Much as the kingdom is already breaking in, clearly we’re still living in a world that’s badly broken, a world in travail, a world in which pain and sorrow often seem to outweigh joy and satisfaction. This is evidently a world in which God’s kingdom is not yet fully realised. Two thousand years after Jesus, the kingdom may still be breaking in, but we’re forced to admit that it has not yet fully broken in.
So this is the reality in which we live: between the kingdom now and the kingdom not yet. Even as we celebrate the green shoots of the kingdom in our midst, we look with longing to the day when all things will be made new and God’s kingdom will be the all-encompassing reality for everyone.
But here’s the thing: this kingdom dichotomy may be relatively easy to wrap our minds around as a kind of abstract theological theory, but when it comes to the reality of our day-to-day lives, it’s much harder to accept and integrate.
Let me explain.
Even after following Christ for the best part of thirty years, I’m still no stranger to fear, insecurity, shame, guilt, and all the rest of it. This is a source of great frustration to me. I hear and read about this wonderful freedom that Jesus promised his followers, I strive after this freedom, and I try to convince myself I’m free. But the reality is, I’m only partly free. Yes, there is a freedom that I know Christ has brought me; but there is also much from which I am yet to be freed. And, as a good Pentecostal (though really I’m probably not a very good Pentecostal any more), I long for that sacred moment, that decisive Holy Spirit encounter in which all remaining vestiges of fear, insecurity, pride, shame, guilt, pain and sorrow will be washed away. Heck, I even feel jealous when I see others who appear to experience greater freedom than I do.
And this is where we come back to our original quote: “The kingdom of God comes like a long walk home.”
When I pine and strive after the immediate, one-hit fix, I am thinking and operating as the kingdom of this world thinks and operates. I am acting as a consumer: I’ve paid my fee, and I’m entitled to expect the full results, right now! If they aren’t forthcoming, I have every right to be disappointed and frustrated.
This is not the way of God’s kingdom, either as an organic whole or for each of us as individuals. Just as the eschatological realisation of the kingdom takes place over a long horizon, so too the realisation of the kingdom within each one of us is a long process. It is breaking into my heart, but it has not yet fully broken in. It is healing my wounds and casting out my fears, but there is plenty to go at and it’s going to take time. I have begun the journey, but the destination is some way off. The realisation of the kingdom in and through my life is an unfolding journey, not an event or even a series of events.
When I demand that God snap His fingers and give me complete healing from every sorrow, ill and defect, in effect I’m treating God as a heavenly salesman. But God is no salesman; He’s a master craftsman. He takes His time because He knows that the end result will be “very good”.
And so, just as we live corporately between the now and the not yet of the kingdom, I also live in the tension between the now of sins forgiven and love shed abroad in my heart and the not yet of looking forward to that day when everything that is corruptible and pain-inducing will be at most a distant memory.
It’s a long road, with many ups, downs, twists and turns. But there is one who faithfully walks with me all the way. And I know I’ll eventually get home – and what a day that will be! In the meantime, when the frustration of the not yet begins to surface, I will try to think about what Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi:
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.