Monday, January 11, 2010

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part V

So then, as the gospel and the idea of God’s renewed Kingdom burst onto the scene one has to notice that it is distinctly anti-Caesarian. The word Gospel itself is appropriated from the Caesar cult and used in a fashion that places Christ over and against the authority of Cesar along with many other titles and phrases that appeal to the total authority of the emperor.[1] One might dismiss such a claim as that necessary vocabulary that creates solidarity in the wake of persecution, but whatever the reason, the important thing to note, in searching for the meaning of God’s Kingdom, is that such anti-Caesarian ideas do not make political boundaries for Israel or the new covenant of Christians any clearer. In fact, one might say that it makes the promotion of political association quite a bit more askew. But consider for a moment what Augustine says in his thoughts on earthly kingdoms:

"[God] gives earthly kingdoms to the good or the evil so that his worshippers, who are still children as regard moral progress, may not desire these gifts from him as something great. It is the sacrament of the Old Testament, in which the New Testament is hidden, […] for even then spiritual people understood, though they did not yet openly declare, the eternity symbolized by these temporal things[.]"[2]

While the allegory in this thinking is grossly archaic and, perhaps, too sorely leaned upon, it is striking to note that even in this example of a much earlier time in Christian thinking, earthly kingdoms are seen in a much more diminished light to that of the realization of the “spiritual person” to the reality of a higher value – that such a person could survey from afar, proverbially, the metaphysical territory in which earthly kingdoms could potentially occupy and realize at the same time (and in the same time, no doubt) the self’s participation in and the efficacy overall of the other; by comparing the earthly kingdoms as an allegory to the heavenly, it creates a sense of immanent participation in the heavenly kingdom as a Christian covenant member while at the same time allowing for the potential of a coming fruition of that reality. Perhaps the reality of the Kingdom of God is manifested in a similar way so that it is always in contrast to any sort of actual political dimension as an independent sphere in which those participating (those covenant people) are both striving to see it come fully while also dwelling within it. Perhaps the use of vocabulary that strictly avoided giving political nod to Rome but appropriated it for a different idea of what Kingdom was to mean, by the early church, was really more meant to create something similar to the type of orientation Augustine speaks of; maybe the idea of the Kingdom of God was much less about political ferocity in earthly dominion and much more meant to create an existent paradigm based upon that archaic idea of covenant identity in orientation to the actual ruling Godhead.

So by this, one sees that in the Kingdom of God there is no earthly boundary created in which the new political messiah can thereby rule from a kingly or imperial throne, but what it does do is complete that work which the exilic psychological effect began in Israel’s orientation to God. That is to say, instead of keeping the covenant people on hold waiting for the re-installment of God’s earthly kingship, God reinstates that harmony that was lost with the fall and which Israel could not keep in their own monarchy. Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God, finishes the job of severing the political and human ideology which had suffocated Israel in her monarchy and reinstates the intended harmony originally meant by the installation of theocracy. The covenant identity that Israel has always clung to and which, even in the exile, defined her, fully lost the expectation of human institution through monarchy that kept it from the true harmony intended in theocracy; God, through Christ’s declaration, reestablished His own rule once again so that “what we are really talking about is a verb, an action – God ruling, God reigning.”[3]

[1] Shane Claiborne and Chris Shaw, Jesus for President (Michigan: Zondervan, 2008), 65-73.
[2] Augustine, Political Writings, trans. Miachael W. Tkacs and Douglas Kries (Indianapolis: Hacket, 1994), 35.
[3] N.T. Wright, Reformational UK.

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