Before going any further it must be stated that every last one of us has been given, by divine providence, a “kingdom” that’s all our own. A private bubble floating along atop the river of humanity. An existential “My Space,” if you will. It may be miniscule or we may’ve blown it up to gigantic proportions in our minds but it’s still a kingdom regardless of its imagined size. It’s the realm in which our personal choices determine what happens in the short run. It’s our sphere of influence. Is it mostly an illusion? Yes, but it’s also part of what it means to be an unprecedented, one-of-a-kind human being. Dallas Willard wrote, “…It is nevertheless true that we are made to ‘have dominion’ within an appropriate domain of reality. This is the core of the likeness or image of God in us and is the basis of the destiny for which we were formed. We are, all of us, never-ceasing spiritual beings with a unique calling to count for good in God’s great universe.” When I ponder that concept I can’t help but be further overwhelmed by God’s generosity. Because we’ve been given the gift of free will God is literally trusting each of us to employ wisdom and therefore prudently rule over our private lot, limited as it may be, inside His awesome creation. We actually have a say in what goes on in our lives!
Now, anyone who’s raised a child knows that granting them a modicum of control over certain things is an important aspect of their overall development. Mature oversight and guidance is crucial, of course, but in many instances it’s highly beneficial to let them do it even if they fail. Otherwise a wide variety of critical lessons go unlearned and they’ll most likely suffer unpleasant or disastrous consequences later on because someone always did it for them. Down the line they’ll become all too susceptible to bad influences because they were never taught to step up and think for themselves. In case you haven’t noticed, that particular deficiency is rampant in today’s society. Folks, especially the younger set, think they have no control whatsoever. They feel like they’re at the mercy of random ill winds that constantly blow them hither and yon like dead leaves in autumn. Often they, as David did, succumb to despair and desperately beg for divine intervention. He cried, “Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am frail! Heal me, LORD, for my bones are shaking! I am absolutely terrified, and you, LORD – how long will this continue? Relent, LORD, rescue me! Deliver me because of your faithfulness!” (Psalm 6:2-4). Alas, angst is nothing new. But I digress.
God also gave mankind a more expansive “kingdom” called Earth that we’re collectively to be in charge of. One need not venture very far into the Bible to confirm it. Right after God created Adam & Eve He gave them a big job to do. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird in the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ It was so” (Genesis 1:28-30). Whether we like it or not, this planet is our domain. In addition, God implanted inside each of us a spiritual yearning to perform our custodial task in close, interactive cahoots with Him. Part of us knows we must rely on God to give us the power and ability to reign over terra firma efficiently. He didn’t intend to be a distant observer; He wanted to be deeply involved in what goes on down here.
Sadly, we humans can act so smug over what we’ve been able to accomplish via the mechanical, electrical and nuclear power inventions we’ve devised we begin to think we don’t need God’s help at all. What we blind ourselves to when we do that is the spectacular improvements we could’ve made by now if we’d worked in conjunction with the magnificent Creator Himself. Looking back through history it would seem we’ve perhaps been way too eager to be the planet’s caretakers. Willard wrote, “Apart from harmony under God, our nature-imposed objectives go awry. The social and individual chaos of human desires sees to it. Much of our time and energy is spent trying to dominate others or escape domination by them, from ‘office politics’ to tribal warfare to international relations on a global scale.” In other words, we’re easily distracted bipeds. Anyone with a functioning brain can readily deduce that, all things considered, conditions have deteriorated and continue to deteriorate on our watch. The “fall of man” in the Garden of Eden was a long fall, indeed. We’ve made such an unsightly mess of things only God can fix them. And one day, when He’s ready, He will.
Yet, despite our insolence, God still lets each one of us have our own tiny kingdom wherein we have the unrestricted freedom to invite Him into the throne room or not. If we’re faithful to respect and acknowledge His sovereignty He’ll gladly lead us along the path of righteousness. If we choose to banish Him from the premises He’ll leave us to rely on our own wiles. Those in the former category will find that, by submitting to God’s omniscient wisdom and unconditional love, the arena of our “dominion” will actually grow. You see, life’s a precious gift and those who live theirs in harmony with God’s master plan will come to know what an abundant life really includes. In Jesus’ parable of the talents those who put their gift to good use were rewarded in the end. “For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 25:28). What we must get through our thick skulls is the fact that God’s still in the business of creating and it’s His delight to invite us to be a part of the ongoing process. Frequently the biggest obstacle in the road to fulfillment is our tendency to place unwarranted restrictions on our Heavenly Father’s abilities. Our Savior taught, “…For God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Here’s how it works: Those who work with and obey God will be blessed by Him and reap eternal benefits. Christ put it thusly, “…The king will say to those on those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). The implications boggle my mind.
In sharp contrast to our “mini kingdoms,” God’s kingdom is infinite in size and, therefore, beyond our comprehension. He possesses the all-encompassing “override” option, too. Nothing can thwart His perfect will. The Scriptures inform us, “Your [God’s] kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations” (Psalm 145:13). His kingdom’s existence has never been in jeopardy. We humans can wreak our worst havoc and still fail to put a single dent in it. That’s because God’s kingdom is in no aspect limited to being merely a social or political reality. As a matter of fact, the social and political realm (outcroppings of men and women’s fickle hearts) is the only place in the whole of creation where God’s will isn’t currently being strictly and irresistibly enforced. It’s the “on earth” territory mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer that sits in opposition to the “in heaven” kingdom where God’s will dominates. The implication is that God’s kingdom isn’t necessarily welcome in “the hearts of men.” We can voluntarily invite it in but God will never force it upon us. But that’s beside the point, which is this: The “kingdom of God” existed long before the universe ever did. Jesus Christ didn’t invent God’s kingdom and bring it with Him. What He brought was a new way for us to access and enter it. In addition, when He told us to ask the Heavenly Father “Thy kingdom come” He wasn’t saying we’re to pray for it to come into existence. Not at all. He was teaching us to petition for God’s kingdom to reign supreme in the hearts of His children and all unsaved hearts where it’s currently barred.
I find it informative that our Lord and Savior had to depend on metaphors to describe for the benefit of His hearers what the kingdom of God is like. I take it to mean He was acutely aware that if He were to offer specifics nobody in the audience would “get it” and He might as well waste His time trying to convince them the earth wasn’t flat and that our celestial orb revolved around the sun. Frederick Buechner put it this way: “As a poet, Jesus is maybe at His best in describing the feeling you get when you glimpse the Thing Itself – the kingship of the king official at last and all the world His coronation. It’s like finding a million dollars in a field, He says, or a jewel worth a king’s ransom. It’s like finding something you hated to lose and thought you’d never find again – and old keepsake, a stray sheep, a missing child. When the kingdom really comes, it’s as if the thing you lost and thought you’d never find again is you.”
Plainly stated, God’s kingdom is wherever God is. Yet men and women, not being robots but free-will creatures capable of rebelling, can opt to step away from and remain outside of God’s kingdom. There’s only one thing that can resist the love of the Heavenly Father – the stubborn, conceited will of an individual. God bestows upon every person the freedom to reject Him and rule over what they’ll foolishly consider their own self-made realm. But when they die they’ll be totally on their own in a place void of all the God-given senses they took for granted. All that God has created, from the massive galaxies filled with blazing stars down to the subatomic particles all matter consists of, will be absent in that blank nothingness. They will finally be free to manufacture their own universe only to realize they haven’t nearly the wherewithal or resources to do such a thing. They will be the God of zero. I can’t imagine a worse hell but it is the fate of all who intentionally spit in the face of their Creator.
Despite that tragic inevitability billions of people continue to choose to ignore the Holy Spirit’s open invitation to become an integral part of God’s stupendous and exhilarating master plan. As Christians it’s our duty to inform unbelievers of what they’ll be missing out on for all eternity to come – the exhilarating adventure of serving in the glorious kingdom of God. Jesus lived among us, not only to atone for all our sins, but to show and teach us the kind of life for which we were created to enjoy. Rather than jam the truth down our throats, He delivered the “good news” in a calm and gentle yet authoritative manner, allowing us to decide for ourselves whom we’ll follow. Christ made it clear to us that by relying on His word and promises we’ll know the privilege of blending our petite kingdom into the immaculately holy kingdom presided over by God Almighty. We will, at long last, be home.
In my previous essay I went to lengths to highlight the fact that our Lord spent the first three decades of his earthly life as an ordinary citizen. Just “one of us.” But then suddenly, when His time had arrived, He revealed Himself as being the gateway to experiencing the only life worth living. He even insisted that “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He then put His money where His mouth was by suffering a torturous, gruesome death followed by His walking out of the tomb Easter morning as He predicted He would. He took on our biggest fear – death – and conquered it. Because of His supreme sacrifice all human beings have the opportunity to be a part of the kingdom of God, not in some hazy, still-to-come future era, but in the here and now. Jesus announced, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). No more waiting. It’s ours for the taking.
Now, the Bible gives us only brief previews of the wonders we’ll behold on the other side of the Pearly Gates. Those “sneak peeks” are probably all our fragile, dysfunctional psyches can handle at this juncture. However, excitement-inducing anticipation over what lies ahead is something we’ve all grown up with. It’s the fabric of hope. And surely God has plenty of surprises in store for us. But what Jesus preached was that God’s kingdom has come. Willard declared, “The reality of God’s rule, and all of the instrumentalities it involves, is present in action and available with and through the person of Jesus. That is Jesus’ gospel.” The writers of the New Testament reiterate that the kingdom of God isn’t something we accept on faith now but will have to wait to enter into somewhere for real “down the line.” Just the opposite. They stress that the kingdom already has flesh-and-blood members who are already busy expanding it into the lives of the lost and the hopeless. Make no mistake, though. It’s not a material kingdom. “God is Spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Thus His kingdom is entirely spiritual. The apostle Paul said, “For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Just because God’s kingdom isn’t made of molecules doesn’t mean it’s unreal or that it’s not in this world. Truth be known, there’s nothing more actual and pervasive in existence. It’s the source of all that is good. Take Jesus’ hand and enter in.