Monday, January 11, 2010

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

This, then, is in striking contrast to the theocracy proposed by the original Israelite nation and all of the parameters in its physical manifestation. Robert Bolin touches on the heart of this issue in a striking example from Joshua when, seeing a generation of Israelites preparing for exile and editing its scriptures to prepare for that challenge, he says, “The story of Achan [in Joshua] offers a vivid example of that situation which is viewed negatively in the expression, ‘in those days there was no king in Israel; every one did what was right in his own eyes.’”[1] For, in the gospels portrayal of God’s Kingdom, the faculties of a formed nation are no longer susceptible to the whims of the frail hearted, unfaithful, and anarchistic people, the brush painting Israel here, that was supposed to remember Yahweh at its headship, nor was there to be overt allegiance to the authoritative entities of the earthly realm. No, for God’s Kingdom there is no political union which has any distinguished flag or country to defend, but from its earliest, Christian community “[…]enacted an integrative covenant, embracing Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, men and women, slaves and free.”[2] In truth, the patriotic is replaced by the faithful and passionate servant; the nation is formed, not by those who are appropriated simply by being born in a geographical section of the earth or by a particular ideological affiliation, but they are that vast population of believing individuals who are united in theocracy by their devotion to Christ as the king of the whole of the cosmos versus any human and diminished authority. And seeing Christ at the headship is only natural in this scenario, of course, since “all the options laid before Jesus by the tempter are ways of being king[…] the title is meant messianically and not metaphysically” – Christ takes up the seat of authority proclaimed by Yahweh in Theocracy and he does it in a manifested and immanent manner appealing to His citizens’ identity and not simply their patriotism.[3]

Again, this appeals to the paradigm of being and becoming. While the believer is able to take up the identity of covenantal orientation to God, she also anticipates the coming realization of the fullness of God. Christ’s parousia is that culminating event that brings history to fullness in harmony with God as Christ ushers in “his return in heavenly glory[,]’” but to the believer, the end can never admonish the present.[4] By struggling and growing, by striving and pushing, the believer is not forsaken in the covenantal identity in the present, she is wholly and fully accepted within those parameters, but she is also continually striving to become what is demanded of her in the Kingdom light so that her identity is “[…] a truth which you celebrate in worship and which you then have to go and work for in the world.”[5] The individual believer continues to strive for the realization of what she is completely meant to be by the imitation of Christ, but in His sacrifice, she, as well as the entire following of Kingdom dwelling believers, is at once and always accepted as fully integrated within that system much like – in a fitting metaphor – a prince is not a king but is continually anticipating the time when he will become king, though, in so doing, he never forsakes his royal identity at any point. Not that the Christian desires to usurp or inherit the divine throne, obviously, but she struggles toward becoming that further progression in identity which aligns itself in likeness to the Divine King. In this one sees plainly “that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal but a divine reality […] that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality” – it is not contingent upon our own earthly musings or ideology but wholly on the our professed identity.[6]

This, of course, leads right back to the idea of Israel’s concentric circles and God’s divine presence. In the covenantal paradigm, by this measure, Israel was not producing and practicing the rites of a people group who were desirous of the their deity to come and take over the ruling duties of their nation as an expected and hoped for event in the future, but they took up the identity of a covenant people and lived according to that identity as God ruled over them at the present time; Yahweh was already in their midst as a leading figure in the presence of the Tabernacle. So, even though the dwelling place of God’s presence is disjunct from the holy temple and replaced by the believing heart, how the Kingdom of God manifests, as professed to the Christian, is a similar idea, because “The original meaning of the term basileia [or the word here referenced for kingdom in Greek] is the fact of being king, the position or power of the king, and it is best translated office of king, kingly rule (e.g. Aristotle, Politics 3, 1285b, 20).”[7] The Christian covenant believer is not waiting to enact the covenant identity until some sort of eschatological telos, but she lives in an immanent reality so that it “is not that earth is a kind of training ground for heaven, but that heaven and earth are designed to overlap and interlock.”[8]

[1] Bolin, Joshua, 230; Joshua 7.
[2] Thomas Kazen, “The Christology of Early Christian Practice,” in Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 127, no. 3, ed. James C Vanderkam (Fall 2008): 601.
[3] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 24-25.
[4] Stephen Harris, Understanding the Bible 6th Edition (Boston: McGraw-Hill Co., 2003), 406.
[5] Wright, Reformational UK.
[6] Dietrich Bohnhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: HarperCollins, 1954), 26.
[7] Brown, New International.
[8] N.T. Wright, “On Earth as it is in Heaven”; available from ; Internet; accessed 11 October 2009.

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