Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are There Really Two Kingdoms?

Did God establish two kingdoms on the earth? Are governments established by God to do His will while the Church brings to earth the Kingdom taught by Jesus?

Jesus did indeed bring to earth a Kingdom unlike any kingdom the world had ever seen. Instead of growing as a result of a thirst for power, Jesus’ Kingdom is advanced through the humble who find more joy in serving others than being served themselves. His Kingdom knows no borders and considers no one an enemy. The citizens of this Kingdom know no fear and have no need to protect their lives or possessions, for they have a perspective beyond this life. They have a hope that, after death, a glorious resurrection will occur when the Jesus they adore returns to heal the world of the evil that has ravaged it. Jesus’ Kingdom is a bit intangible in the respect that it cannot be confined to the boxes we picture after long centuries of our ambitions and intellects being molded by the empires in which we reside.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this
world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews:
but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18:36)

Popularly, among Christians who correctly believe that Jesus called His followers to a different sphere of purpose than the kingdoms and governments, this statement is interpreted to say that Jesus' Kingdom is entirely separate from those "earthly" kingdoms. Thus, following this logic, God must have instituted two realms of functioning on this earth: the earthly kingdoms and the Kingdom of God. It also follows that God tells His Kingdom subjects to love their enemies and relentlessly show the world His love while also heartlessly overseeing the governments He set up, killing those He thinks deserves to be killed and bestowing the curse of power upon those He thinks deserve it. I question this. If God is Life, does He authorize death? If God is Redemption, bringing order from chaos, does He use chaos to produce order? Might Jesus have been saying that His Kingdom is, not removed from the kingdoms of this world, but run by entirely different methods, a green plant growing up around barren rocks, bringing life and peace to the world God still loves and works to redeem?

I was taught to believe, simultaneously, that Jesus commanded anyone following Him to love those who hate them, and that God ordained the government to protect us from maniac attackers. Is it possible to believe that love is strong enough to overcome evil on a personal basis, but too weak to triumph en masse? This seems oxymoronic to me. I struggle to believe that God is schizophrenic, loving the population of the entire world (John 3:16) and

not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2
Peter 3:9b),

yet orchestrating the violence done by either al-Qaida, Israel, or America. Is God’s personality contradictory, teaching us through Jesus that true justice is the recompensing to each person the love and mercy their bearing of His image requires, and yet brandishing the sword of national armies to wreak havoc on the nations that have displeased Him? As a result of Adam and Eve's sin, evil was loosed upon the good earth God had created. Violence and greed quickly appeared. Even then, God did not set up men over one another to restrain it. It was not until Israel demanded a king that God, unwillingly and with many warnings of the result of their choice, set up a ruler over them. This, combined with the proof of God’s nature as exemplified in His incarnation, Jesus Christ, has convinced me that the power and violence inherent in government shows nothing of God’s nature.

What, then, is God’s view of government and how does He expect His followers to relate to, and interact, with it?

Romans 13
1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing
authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are
established by God.
2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed
the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon
3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but
for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will
have praise from the same;
4for it is a minister of God to you for
good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for
nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who
practices evil.
5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not
only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
6For because of
this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to
this very thing.
7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is
due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
8Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves
his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

Is it a stretch to say that the kingdoms and governing systems are ministers of God in the same fashion as weeds and thistles are, things with which we struggle to see how God can be all powerful and yet not be the instigator of? God has limited Himself in that He will not bypass the choice He gave to man. If man chooses destruction, God respects his choice. This does not mean that, in releasing man to the wages of his choice, God is gleefully destroying him. Why, then, are we instructed to revere the persons in judicial positions who take actions so directly negative to the nature and plan of God? We humans are so bent toward our own means that, I believe, God saw our capability to turn the fresh breath of peace and true justice into a hatred for those violating these principles. I well know my own heart’s propensity toward loathing the people who are the cogs in the imperial machine who are killing my brothers and raping my sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jesus reminds us that we are not a rebel movement fueled by hate, only love for humanity.

Many people are quick to point out that Jesus' Kingdom values and love-your-enemies-command simply would not work on a national or international level, which must mean that God uses governments to preserve peace and restrain evil. What would happen if your country was attacked and you had no army to defend your citizens? Would not your country, along with innocent civilians, be annihilated? Let me ask a question: has the War on Terror, declared by President Bush after the 9/11 attacks, ensured America's safety? Has bombing Iraq and pouring troops into Afghanistan achieved any peace? Has the detaining of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay restrained evildoers? I venture to say that violence always breeds violence. As Jesus told Peter in rebuking him for using violence as an attempt to protect Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,

all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52b)

One report I read recently alleged that a terror suspect who had been released from Guantanamo Bay is now a high-ranking al-Qaida mastermind. This is supposed to prove that releasing the man from torture and humiliation was a grave mistake, that violence is required to restrain violence. Imagine, for a moment, that you were a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. Your life has never been touched by the Giver of Life. Upon your release, would you join the ranks of the country who subjected you to the treatment you endured? Would you not fight against them? Rather than restraining evil, the violence done by armies only spawns hatred against the country they represent and creates a greater danger of attack. Even from a political standpoint, the heroes who work toward achieving world peace are the men and women who refuse to harm anyone.

Anyone who witnesses the atrocities committed by governments in the name of peacekeeping and also believes that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God will hear in this passage the voices of the poverty-stricken, grieving, and dying inhabitants of those nations God is supposedly “judging”:

Romans 8
18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not
worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the
revealing of the sons of God.
20For the creation was subjected to
futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to
corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth
together until now.
23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having
the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,
waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope;
for who hopes for what he already sees?
25But if we hope for what we
do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

I am amazed beyond words at the privilege I have, through Jesus, to be a part of the restorative, life-giving Kingdom of God. I am eagerly awaiting the day when creation’s hope of complete redemption is glorious reality. Until then, it is the desire of my heart to alleviate the agonies of a groaning creation and to bring the Kingdom to earth by living the action of the heart of God: love.

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