what would happen if a person read and understood the biblical narrative for what it is…rather than what we want it to say? what if…rather than taking our preconceived notions about the world and then trying to get the biblical narrative to match up with it…we actually read the biblical narrative for what it says…even if it is uncomfortable and contradicts what we think…what we believe…or how we live?
the truth is…we don’t do this. we hardly believe or have the understanding that the biblical narrative might tell us something radically different than what we have grown up believing historically and/or culturally our entire lives. even further…if someone were to actually read the biblical narrative and then come to the understanding that it stands in stark contrast to how we actually believe, think, or act historically and/or culturally…would that person have the courage to challenge those ideas and beliefs? and even if someone were to challenge those ideas…are we so engrained in our history and culture that the average Christian would just ignore what they hear?
ought the United States be a Christian nation…and is it encumbent upon the Christian to use power and influence…political or otherwise…to help make this country Christian?
ought a Christian in the United States support war…even if the United States views it as justified?
ought a Christian fight for prayer in school, for the 10 commandments to be posted in city courtyards, for creationism to be taught in school, etc.?
ought the Christian use wealth to accumulate more and more and say that God wants to bless them to possess more?
let us Christians take a step back together from the board we have had our noses against and see if there is a bigger picture that we have not be able to see before that may give us some insight into how the Christian ought to answer those questions…
as we look at the Bible as a larger narrative story from the beginning (in the old testament) to the end (through the New Testament)…we see something very interesting. we see God entering into a partnership and blessing the Israelites to be God’s holy, chosen people…so that they may be a blessing to the whole world and be the image-bearers of Yahweh in the world.
as we read throughout the old testament narrative…the israelites continually turned away from God through idol worship and through the oppression of their own people. unfortunately we see the results of their distancing from God and God’s ways. kingdom after kingdom (assyrians, babylonians, persians, greeks, and romans)…enslave the israelites…persecute them…and scatter them all throughout the middle east.
in many ways…you can almost hear them saying, “i thought we were to be God’s chosen people…God’s holy nation…the Kingdom of God…but we are hardly that. we are poor, oppressed, mistreated, hated, and enslaved. will there ever be a king that will restore the Kingdom of God as it was in the time of the great King David…who will once and for all restore this Kingdom and judge the pagan nations.”
the anticipation of israel through the great prophets was that this coming messiah would restore them to national prominence and would once and for all vindicate God’s people from the pagan rulers and nations. they completely thought the Kingdom and the coming messiah would be political and governmental…that it would be a bricks and mortar kingdom.
as Jesus is introduced in the New Testament narrative…he begins announcing and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. everyone (including his disciples) believed that he would be the next King David…that he was going to restore israel (the Kingdom of God) and judge the pagans nations. we see the misunderstandings and the missteps of the disciples all throughout the gospels…as they believed the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of was governmental and political. we get hints from Jesus that a governmental and political kingdom was not exactly what he had in mind.
“The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!”
“But if it is by the finger of God that i drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come to you.”
“My Kingdom is not of this world. if my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that i would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is…my Kingdom is not of this realm.”
“The Kingdom of God does not come by your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘here it is’ or ‘there it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.”
througout his ministry…Jesus told people what the characteristics and attributes of people in his Kingdom are like. this Kingdom life, which always looks and acts like Jesus, loves people self-sacrificially, not just friends but also enemies. this Kingdom turns the other cheek and chooses to not respond with violence. this Kingdom chooses to walk the extra mile. this Kingdom does not just give the coat off our backs to someone, but also our shirts. this Kingdom chooses to repay evil with good. this Kingdom never stops forgiving people even when they continue to betray us. this Kingdom is full of the meek, the humble, the selfless and the poor in spirit. this Kingdom does not depend on political, governmental, or economic systems. this Kingdom unites and does not divide based upon religious systems, rules, regulations, traditions or dogmas. this Kingdom has one Lord and King whose followers look and act like in him in everything they do.
once again…it is a group of people who no longer have allegiance to any other governments, systems, or political party except allegiance to the way and life of Jesus. in this Kingdom we are not defined by…nor do we fight for…any kingdom of the world…rather we extend the Kingdom of God by the way we live our lives (for this Kingdom does not have power by words…but by actions). the Kingdom of God is not dependent or contingent upon any other system or kingdom of the world. that is why Jesus was not interested in Jesusifying the roman empire or changing the relgious establishment of the day. he invited people into his Kingdom…which invaded their hearts and minds. how can this Kingdom be destroyed when it is in people’s hearts an minds…it can’t.
every time in recorded history that christianity has become the official religion of a political party or government…it has done more damage than good. Christians should get comfortable with the idea that it is NOT important for america to be officially a Christian nation. sure there can be Kingdom-minded people within america (and we are)…but the notion that we need to get the government “back” to what it was (which i am convinced it never was)…is not something i believe is important.
think of the broader message we send the world if we are a “christian nation.” here are a couple of examples:
if we think it is important to make our nation “Christian,” we tell the world that it is ok to fight and war with people when they are our enemies…rather than blessing those who curse us…turning the other cheek…not resisting evil…not repaying evil with evil…etc (all of which Jesus told his followers to do). by this example alone…we cannot ever claim to be a jesus-following christian nation…because Jesus would tell us (like he told peter)…to put away our swords. also…don’t try to go old testament on me…because it won’t work. Jesus was born and raised into the eye for eye, tooth for tooth, tit for tat culture…and raised the standard for his followers. you can not defend retributive violence and claim that the we operate by the old testament law…sorry.
also…if we were a nation that is truly Christian…we wouldn’t torture people that are “enemy combatants,” and we wouldn’t be so blood hungry to capture and/or kill specific enemies. rather…we would pray for and love our enemies. counter-cultural…yes! so is the way of Jesus…
we tell the world it is ok to consume more and more and more…and get richer and richer while the rest of the world gets poorer. the Kingdom of God does not look like that. it looks like living simply and thanking God for our daily bread and sharing what we have with others. the rich do not get richer and the poorer do not get poorer…rather…in God’s economy we care for each other (people sharing what they have…not the government taking and redistributing).
we show the world…by the way we throw our power around…that Christianity needs to be a powerful political force to get our way in the government and in our society. we impose (and then throw a fit) when we can’t have prayer time in school or at graduations. we cry if the 10 commandments are not in the court house lawns. we get upset when creationism is not taught in schools. we judge the world and throw our weight around like big bullies…and i just do not see this in the Kingdom life of Jesus. i don’t read about him organiziing, politicking, parading around with picket signs, or enlisting legions of people to get petitions signed. he was preoccupied with inviting people into his Kingdom…not any other kingdom…God’s Kingdom.
we try to legislate morality…from a high position…rather than change hearts from a low position. somehow we have elevated our own status and diminished the status of more “egregious” sinners. yet…i find the Kingdom that jesus talked about was not about who was highest but lowest…not first but last…not who took the positions of honor but the empty seat in the back. if we are to ever have the reign of God in our hearts and minds…we have to quit trying to change the world through legislating morality…rather than change the hearts of people by putting the love of God on display through our words, actions, and deeds.
it is incumbent upon us to seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. we don’t seek nations…governments…politics…politicians…or any other kingdom of the world….we seek the Kingdom of God right now. the Christian has to read the scriptural narrative with new eyes…not cultural eyes. we have to be awakened to the fact that there are characteristics of our “cultural Christianity” that DO NOT look like the Kingdom that Jesus preached about and the life that he has called us to.
oh how great it would be if we could lose everything we hold onto and just find this Kingdom life…which coincidentally…jesus said it was like a great treasure hidden in a field. which gives me the idea that it will only be found by those who are looking for it.
looking forward to the discussion…