I was immensely encouraged by the wise comments on “the saved and the unsaved” last week. My hope in writing last week’s entry was to demonstrate that the image of the Kingdom of God as an exclusive club is simply bogus. There is just no support in the Bible for this line of thinking. As soon as you start to think you can categorize people as insiders and outsiders, another verse comes along to challenge your certainty.
But if the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven – Jesus uses both phrases – is not a club, what is it?
Jesus does not offer definitions. Instead, as John Sherk notes, He gives analogies. He says God’s Kingdom is like yeast that a woman works through large amounts of flour to create dough. (Luke 13)
Or it’s like a seed scattered on the ground that, day and night, sprouts and grows, even though we don’t know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head, until it is ready for harvest. (Mark 4)
Or it’s like a mustard seed – the smallest of seeds. Yet when planted it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch it its shade. (Luke 13)
Or it’s like a hidden treasure in a field, found accidentally by a trespasser who sells everything he owns to raise money to buy the field. Or it’s like a flawless pearl found by a merchant, who sells everything he has to buy it. (Matthew 13)
And then there are the stories: the Kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants; like the owner of a vineyard; like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son; like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet a bridegroom; like a net lowered into a lake; like a farmer sowing seed on good ground and bad.
And finally this: “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you – or “among you,” some translations say. (Luke 17)
My imaginary Kingdom
I love all these analogies. They bespeak a Kingdom that is both small and great; ordinary and precious. It is hidden, and yet has a far-reaching impact. It is in us, among us, and yet beyond us too.
I do wonder, though, whether the phrase “the Kingdom of God” is an analogy worth exploring in itself. It certainly corresponds with my own perceptions and experience. In the Kingdom of God in my imagination, there is an inner circle of people close to the King, eager to do his will and enjoy his company. Some may be chosen by the King, others seek out the position. They live close to the King, converse regularly and are intimately acquainted with his thoughts.
There are also the solid citizens who do not know the King personally, but are keen to uphold their citizenship responsibilities and work for the Kingdom’s welfare. Some are born into the Kingdom and remain loyal to it. Others are born into the Kingdom and take its benefits for granted. And then there are immigrants and refugees – people who came out of curiosity or desperation and became citizens. I am one of these. I took out citizenship because I saw hope of a richer and more grounded life than in the Kingdom of my birth. But there are also visitors such as the Three Wise Men – people who come and see, but return to their birthplace.
It would be naïve to suggest that this Kingdom does not have enemies, both within and without. Within, there are those who claim citizenship but whose words and actions so undermine the King that they bring the entire Kingdom into disrepute, discourage immigration and lead loyalists to the King to live in exile. And there is the enemy without – the Bible calls it darkness – that ensnares and enslaves, and infiltrates even the King’s inner circle. But it does not follow that every other Kingdom is an enemy, and there may be potential for alliances wherever goals coincide.
Friends, this is a rather fanciful riff on the Kingdom of God. But I am wondering whether there is an analogy – either one you have read or one you have imagined yourself – that has special resonance for you.