This is a second half of a very old post: Thinking Kingdom. I was surfing through my drafts and realized it was relatively complete and post-able… and it was better to have it up than just not posting anything.
Time to revisit kingdom thoughts. When I think of kingdom, I think of trying to put down chaos and evil. When we put in place rule and order, we are trying to get ourselves to a peaceful place – a just place – a righteous place. How do we fight evil in this world?
The question of fighting evil in this world is a good one 🙂 Evil, by definition, is bad. Because “bad” is universally known, across the world you’ll find people trying to fight evil, albeit in vastly different ways and with different understandings and perspectives. I think what I’m trying to understand is the Christian perspective on this fight- that the fight is a cosmic battle which takes place in a political world and, for us as combatants, starts at home.
“Cordovan Spain has sometimes been taken to be the only place where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together in peace–But it only lasted until…outside pressure from the larger religious communities intervened. sigh.
“…we all need to be earnest in our prayer:–Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven.”
What a heartbreaking story about the difficulty of realizing spiritual truths in a political and very… human… world! And it it is a question about spiritual truths, and about who are enemies really are.
What does Paul mean when he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…”? If our struggle primarily involves putting to death the works of the flesh by living in the Spirit[Rom8:13], this has consequences for how we think about our enemies – who they are and how we fight them.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” — Eph 6:12 (NIV)
The “authorities” and “powers of this dark world” in this verse are throwbacks to earlier chapters in Ephesians, where Paul reminds us – quoting Psalm 110 – that God has elevated Jesus Christ far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, placing all these things under his feet. The Messiah of Psalm 110 has in fact conquered and subjected the rulers of the wicked world – but in this case, they are spiritual rulers and authorities and not the expected or desired political ones.
Paul’s reminder to us in Eph 2 is that we used to be slaves to these powers – targets of the wrath of God – yet, by the mercy of Jesus Christ, we are no longer. Once slaves, now freed, we are soldiers and equipped to fight against these powers. However, our fight takes place by putting on our new self (Ch 4:22) and allowing the transformation of our behaviour and relationships accordingly (Ch 5). We have been made into Christ’s body; he is our head.
This is difficult for me to understand as a North American person, who generally sees the things that happen as coming from human organizations and initiatives. Here in North America, we are taught to think materially, politically and culturally, but not really spiritually. This shows up in how we try to fix our problems. We give money to causes. We lobby for political campaigns. We know that the answer to the world’s problems is that Education will change Attitudes and then Intolerant Behaviour will vanish.
One realization changing my perspective on these things is learning in the middle of personal pain that I can spend my entire life surprising myself with my own wickedness. I lie, I manipulate, I lust, I take advantage of people, I am bitter and I hate people… I am selfish and scheming and narcissistic, lazy and evil. I don’t ever have to look at anyone else to be shocked or horrified by scandalous behaviour. I am my own tabloid.[tab]
The purely political approach is doomed to fall short. It is incomplete, insofar as it ignores reality and neglects spiritual dimensions. It can’t work, because although we are made in God’s image and have significant mandate, power and authority to work good in the world, we are also children of wrath. We are servants to evil powers and authorities. All the honest trying in the world cannot change this. I see the Apostle John trying to wake us up: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15).
Our culture’s most honest, fervent and passionate answers to the question of evil lack ultimate traction. They don’t actually address evil, per se. To quote Dallas Willard,
“T. S. Eliot once described the current human endeavor as that of finding a system of order so perfect that we will not have to be good. The Way of Jesus tells us, by contrast, that any number of systems — not all, to be sure — will work well if we are genuinely good. And we are then free to seek the better and the best.”[ren]
That God has decided to establish his kingdom spiritually rather than politically has significant advantages – not least that it transcends national, cultural and geographic borders. It comes with the cost, however, that we have to acknowledge unhappy things about our own souls. Most particularly, it calls us to be stripped of all our pride, for us to come to the acknowledgement that we ourselves have nothing to brag about.
When I go back and read the original BBC article about the idea of the Caliphate, which started me thinking about this, I see the general problem of, “How do you build a good kingdom with bad people?” Actually entirety of the Jewish Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) addresses this question, often in grisly detail. The short version is that the political kingdom collapses.
What I see presented in the BBC article is that, right from its very inception, the Caliphate was undercut by rivalries and factions. It was unable to deal with the problem of building a righteous structure from perverse and wicked blocks. Incidentally, this is the same problem our own secular societies are facing. We’re doing our best to build a good kingdom with wicked people, and with our own manifestations of evil, we’re failing.
A greater tragedy is when we in the Christian church decide to abandon our understanding of evil and become trapped in a material way of thinking. A material way of thinking is useful for diverting our attention away from our souls and our inner wrongness – it allows us to focus on what we do rather than who we are – but it leaves us toothless against evil.
It also allows us to divert our attention from troubling theology. And the theology which the Bible presents is troubling to me.
For instance, it is very tempting to say, “We all in this world share a common enemy, which is evil.” Saying this allows all people of all faiths to come together, to join under a common banner of good. right and justice. It allows us to fight evil together. It sounds right. It feels right. It makes me happy.[caveat]
The Bible doesn’t present a common enemy. [devil] What the Bible presents is that when we are outside God’s kingdom, we are enemies of God. Now, the character of God is to love his enemies (which is how he can command us to do so, and not be hypocritical), but, when we are outside his kingdom, we are still his enemies. God is perhaps the only One in all of history who doesn’t ultimately wish to destroy his enemies or ultimately take delight in their downfall… but he will destroy his enemies with absolute certainty.
To say that all peoples are enemies of God seems monstrous. It feels monstrous. The one thing that makes it seem less monstrous, for me, is to see and understand within my own soul, how I have made myself his enemy. In other words, when I know how bad I am, how bad I can be, it gives me pause to acknowledge that perhaps God is right and I am wrong – that he is not monstrous… but that I am.
To frame our countries from the perspective, “We are monstrous, slaves to monsters seeking to build monstrous kingdoms, but there is another, stronger kingdom at work – there is a light in the darkness, that knows no borders…” makes understanding things like ISIS or Jian’s escapades or my own moral failures a different question entirely.
And when we talk about living in peace with others, we have the difficulty of saying, “I was God’s enemy, but now, because of his love, I am no longer. I see that you are his enemy still, and I love you, because he does.” I say the “difficulty” because I find it a big struggle to come to this understanding honestly, truthfully and whole-heartedly, but when I read my Bible it seems to be the understanding I must come to.
- For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. — Rom 8:13 (NIV)↵
- I am my own tabloid, but I am not fun to read, because only other people’s tabloids are fun to read. Our own tabloids are tragic. We always feel dirty when we pick up a tabloid, because it is wicked to find entertainment in someone else’s tragedy. But it is fun.↵
- Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002), 15.↵
- It makes me happy… except for the fact that it requires us to say that the enemy ISIS is fighting (for example) is the same enemy we are fighting, which is simply wrong.
Saying, “we all have a common enemy.” is a nice thing, but it doesn’t work when someone disagrees with you. As soon as someone says, “you are my enemy,” then you don’t have a common enemy, unless you have a moral basis for claiming that your understanding of who your enemy is carries more weight than theirs. ↵
- Yes, there is a devil, and he hates and seeks to destroy humanity, but the biblical picture of world history is NOT that humanity is united against their common enemy of the devil.↵