The Kingdom He Has in Mind

Again he [Jesus] asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?”               Luke 13:20 (HN)

– Henry Neufeld

If Jesus had been aware of a nearby republic with a good constitution, universal suffrage, and a bill of rights, would He have used republic instead of kingdom?  I don’t think so for this simple reason: God’s kingdom, God’s rule is not democratic. Only one person gets to vote–God! Even our free will, and I do believe in free will, is limited in exactly the ways that God chooses. Our very freedom is a product of his will, and he doesn’t give anyone the vote on it. And when the one vote that is allowed in God’s kingdom is God’s perfect vote, who would want it to be otherwise? The difference between divine and human government is well expressed in the following quote from the Federalist papers. I attribute it to James Madison, but there is apparently some doubt:

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions”                          (James Madison, Federalist 51).

If we substitute “God” for “angels” we can add not just a pure virtue in government but omniscience, or as I prefer to phrase it, God’s completely adequate knowledge. God knows everything He needs to know.

It’s very easy to try to make God’s kingdom into something we’d like it to be. We like democratic government, civil rights, and a sense of our own power, so we try to make God’s rule sound like something that is familiar and acceptable to us. And in the 21st century, that’s a democracy or republic. But God–thank God!–doesn’t think that way!

In the time of Jesus, when Jesus talked about a kingdom, the most obvious referent was the Roman Empire. For Jews in Palestine, that would not evoke goodness, freedom, liberation, empowerment, or any other nice thought. It did evoke inexorable, unstoppable power and absolute rule. And thus it can evoke God’s kingdom. The part of the metaphor that Jesus was using was not the nature of the government, or of the particular rulers, but the simple fact of power and authority. “God is going to take that absolute power out of the hands of those who have it and are misusing it, and take it into his own hands,” he was saying. The apparently absolute power of Rome would be replaced by the truly absolute power of God.

In thinking about how to express this best in modern terms, I came up with three ideas:

*    Go ahead and use kingdom.  Generally, we have enough knowledge from history and fiction to understand what absolute monarchy is. *    Use dictatorship. That is what God’s rule actually is, after all. Even though He dictates freedom, we get what He dictates that we get.
*    Use “God’s Republic” . . . and then say that God constitutes the legislative, the executive, and the highest court, all in Himself!

When we’re done realizing how absolutely in charge God is, let’s remember the things that God dictates: that we be free to dream, to dance, to live, to hope . . .

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