A Kingdom of God Apologetic

Consumer warning: The following may mess with your faith.

Christianity has a lot more in common with other ancient religions of the world than most people think. It all depends on your view of a single word in the New Testament, the Greek word “Zoe.” In most English translations, it’s defined as “Eternal Life,” which is then further translated to mean the afterlife, wherein human kind lives forever in a good place or a bad place, depending on one’s behavior in this life. “Salvation” is then free to be interpreted as a rescue from the fires of eternal hell.

The word is better translated as “the life of God,” which opens the door to fellowship with the people of the world, for Jesus didn’t die just for those who believe, although believing is certainly a part of accepting this grace of living the life of God. It’s the connection with things unseen, sacred, and especially eternal that speak of how we are ALL connected to the basic simplicity that is life. If you have life, you have God, because God is Life. It’s in this same area, however, that those humans with the ability to do so have warped this basic fact into something ugly that pits brother versus brother in a relentless game of one-upmanship in pursuit of the “right” position in the afterlife.

“I’m going to Heaven, and you’re not” is the statement of fools who are in it primarily to save their own asses at the end of the unbridled pursuit of happiness in this life. Fools are easily manipulated, however, and this is the topic of my new — although unpublished — book, “Life on Life’s Terms: Overcoming the Weakness of Christian Counseling.

The problem is that “Heaven” isn’t some place far off to which one aspires upon death. Heaven is here, right now, but religions that have at core the desire to manage people within the culture, it’s smart to make people work towards a righteousness in the afterlife. It keeps them competing with each other and from objecting too loudly over the poor conditions they accept as their unfortunate lot.

The most basic method of evangelism, regardless of who’s doing the evangelizing, is to provide the listener with a way to save themselves from the fires of hell in the afterlife. This is why the opening question of the discussion is very often, “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?” Absent this knowledge, the door is then open for the evangelist to provide their specific formula for survival at the end. If you were a serf in medieval times, there were very few options available for people who suffered under the oppressive taxes and rules provided by the Lords and the church. So the teaching that one’s current lot in life will matter nothing when it comes to the joy and celebration of entering in through the pearly gates served an important role to the hierarchy, namely to calm the masses and maintain the status quo.

The Christian version is especially distorted, because in addition to providing a soothing balm for the underclass, it also gives those farther up the hierarchy the license to advance themselves in this life. If this ticket to Heaven is indeed from God, after all, then how could those in positions of power be convicted of anything other than believing the same thing for themselves? If the end justifies the means, then the means must not really matter, and this is an easy message to sell to the rich, who in turn will gladly support the messengers. When we see the advancement of the rich, we can know in our hearts for certain that the church isn’t far behind, for their money — at least some of it — is there to help assuage any disturbing guilt that might be present.

So, what happens when the people of God figure out that this Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t refer exclusively to the afterlife, or may in fact have nothing to do with it at all? That which separates Christians from others is, at core, a wager that the Kingdom is a future world and not part of the present. On this hangs much, including almost the entirety of Western history and civilization. Salvation, in the language of believers, is the necessity of being saved from damnation and hell in the afterlife, known in the vernacular as “Eternal Life” or life everlasting.

Zoe differentiates from two other Greek words used for “life” in the New Testament, Bios, which deals with life in the physical (biology), and Psuche, which refers to the mind and the soul (psychology). Zoe, however, is the big one, the life of God, which must cross over from the eternal and include the here and now. Otherwise, nothing alive would have life, the Zoe that is the life of God.

How can humanity, which exists within the dimensions of time and space, possibly comprehend that which is beyond? We can’t, so we do the next best thing: we anthropromophize everything to make it more closely resemble us and our world. It provides understanding and context for certain studies of the Bible. Unfortunately, this shifts us from being created in God’s image to God being created in ours. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but we’re not actually human beings on a spiritual journey; it’s exactly the other way around — we are spiritual beings on a human journey — and nothing will change your life quite like this revelation.

But, the real problem here is how these Kingdom opinions are then used to advance a more self-serving agenda, that this Kingdom means here and now prosperity for those who believe. My old boss Pat Robertson wrote his views on this in “The Secret Kingdom,” which was actually a self-help manual for believers, and it still carries heretical weight today.

Frankly, we’ve had our fill of this self-centered view of personal faith, and we need to look beyond the church, beyond the faithful, and beyond even the Bible in trying to discern what Jesus meant in stating that the Kingdom of God is at hand. If we can permit ourselves to set aside the teachings of the church (not God) for even a moment, this mystery becomes a whole lot less mysterious. That’s because a great many of these scholarly efforts all heap tons of baggage on the concept of two different and differing worlds existing at the same time and in the same place. If we could bring ourselves to simply stop and consider the essence of Jesus’ message, it would likely change a great deal about the entire Christian narrative.

Challenging the apologetic propositions advanced by the church over the centuries is often dismissed as a fool’s errand, but it’s always a useful exercise to challenge our own assumptions. It’s what gives us a seat at the discussion table in our increasingly postmodern world.

Let’s begin with the words of C.S. Lewis in his genuinely insightful book, The Screwtape Letters. Here we have a senior demon, Screwtape, giving advice to a young demon, Wormwood, on how to bring about the ruin of his human “patient.”

Dear Wormwood…Humans are amphibians– half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change…

Wormwood is made to see that keeping his patient away from the “eternal object” and toward the ups and downs of life, the “changes” of existing in the flesh, is the way to keep him riled up and dissatisfied. So, the idea of blending the two worlds to assuage the self-centered desires of humans (including and perhaps even led by Christians) is not an idea born of God, and this cries out for our attention. If a “personal relationship” with Jesus means comfort, safety, and protection as we seek the true reward of eternity in Heaven, then it is indeed every man for himself.

I object to those who connect this world with the otherworld of which Jesus spoke. Jesus, the most perfect human to ever walk our planet, the guileless One, the miraculous One, the gift of the highest gift-Giver, the One sent to rescue us from the ravages of life under the sun, the anointed One — and much, much more — didn’t come to us as a conqueror, for that is the way of those locked into time and space. Of necessity, therefore, He spoke of this other world, what He called “the Kingdom of God/Heaven.” We’ve over-spiritualized everything about this and have attached worldly things to it in an effort to be relevant ourselves. The sum total of everything He taught was that we could exist in the world without being married to it and thereby find immunity from being bounced around by events, experiences, and those around us.

It’s here, too, where the concept of the fall humankind and the redemption offered by the sacrifice of Jesus are made manifest, because awareness of our spiritual nature is blocked by our self-centeredness, which was the real “sin” of Adam and Eve. In order to exist happily in the world of the spirit, one must give up selfishness, and therein lies the rub. When caught up in the zero-sum game of competing for worldly resources, it’s very nearly impossible to think otherwise, for the seeking of personal gain is anathema to the goal of spreading the love and life of the Creator.

Let me be perfectly clear here: there are no rules for living in the Kingdom, because it is not influenced whatsoever by how we approach it. The Kingdom of God does not require any sort of process to get there, because it’s already here and available to everyone, thanks to the sacrifice and death of the Anointed One. The only requirement for us is to believe, and that’s the faith that we’re called to express (and which, without works, is dead).

An old Zen axiom applies: “He who is in the sun and in the fire and in the heart of man is One. He who knows this is one with the One.”

As such, Christianity ought not require that its “members” follow Jesus, for He came to us as a doorway, not a leader of day-to-day living under the sun. This mistake in the study of Christ is understandable, because humans will always default to the self, that creature who, at best, can only try to better their own place in the world. Christianity is human-created belief system designed at core to advance the system throughout the world. Among many, many others throughout the globe, just ask the Cherokee Nation about how they were treated by these white Christian “explorers.”

And, Jesus never said that we should bear suffering in this life, because we’ll be rewarded in the next. That’s because “the next” is irrelevant when it comes to life on earth. No, the message of Jesus is how we can live today, in this life, without being miserable when the mountain top becomes a deep valley in the dimensions of time and space, and so forth.

But it seems old Screwtape’s advice has been well adapted in modern times, for humanity is certainly busy chasing its tail and not the Kingdom.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.