Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Will Jesus Win?

Kingdom Hope

            Betty Bates, my mother-in-law, died last spring.  At the time we did not guess that her daughter, my wife Karen, would die of cancer a few months later.  I have had two occasions to think about hope in personal terms, not only as a philosopher.
            Death stamps a final “incomplete” on our earthly projects.  Karen left music compositions half-edited, letters to her grandson and granddaughter half-written, and photo projects still in the planning stage.  The addition to our house, mostly Karen’s idea, is still not quite finished.  (I need to remind the builder to send an electrician.)  Mundane hopes focus on such earthly things.  As Karen’s cancer advanced, she confided to a friend that she hoped to live until the birth of our second grandson, due in January.  Death frustrated that hope.
            Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely fundamental to Christian faith.  If Jesus was not raised, he writes, the gospel is false and we are still in our sins.  Further, he says, the resurrection of Jesus grounds the hope that we will be raised.   On the basis of this doctrine, it is entirely proper for Christians to hope for a personal afterlife.  Betty and Karen both died in hope that they would see people they had known and loved in heaven.  They hoped also they would be known.
            Christian hope is personal, but not individualistic.  The headline message of Jesus’ preaching, according to the gospels: “Repent!  The Kingdom of God is near.”
            To repent means to change one’s whole life, a reorientation of one’s values and aims.  One aspect of repentance (not the whole) is to change one’s thinking.  To a degree, the call to repentance is a call to change one’s mind.  Repentance means we need to learn to think in kingdom terms.  And one aspect of that task is to consider how the kingdom affects our hope.
            The “kingdom of God” obviously involves a king and people who are subjects of the king.  It is a social concept.  To live in a kingdom has implications for relationships between the king’s subjects.  We must treat each other as the king commands.
            [An aside.  In political imagery, we sometimes contrast the subjects of a king or emperor with the citizens of a democracy or republic.  I prefer the latter to the former; probably you do too.  We think citizenship in a republic recognizes human dignity in a way no king or emperor could do.  Consider, though, how different the kingdom of God is.  According to Paul, it is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 14)  In the kingdom of God, we are all “children” and “heirs” or “brothers/sisters” of the king.  The “children” of the kingdom of God enjoy a dignity greater than citizens of earthly republics.]
            Justice marks the kingdom of God, right relationships between people.  Jesus will come back to rule, to put things right.  In biblical words: oppression of the alien or the weak or the orphan will end.  In modern terms: fraud, price gouging, loan sharking, mislabeling of products, deceptive contracts, shoddy workmanship, red-lining, racial profiling, cheating of all kinds—all this will end.  Justice will reign.
            The earth will be restored.  Biblical visions of the afterlife include a “new heaven and a new earth.”  “The lion will lie down with the lamb.”  “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.”  Again, in our modern terms: pollution of air, land and water will end.  People will live cooperatively with other creatures.  We will use the earth without misusing it.  We will be gardeners, not exploiters.
            It’s all just a metaphor, right?  Maybe, but maybe not.
As I meditate on the scope of the kingdom metaphor, a truth bears down on me: It’s not about me; it’s about Jesus.  The kingdom of God belongs, in the primary sense, to God.  The kingdom of God is something God is doing.  I am drawn into it as one of billions of others.  I am a part, however small, of the true story.
            The true story, the real story, is not about me; it’s about Jesus.  The story of the kingdom of God is a story with beginning, middle and end; a story with a plot.  The main character is Jesus.
            The end of the story is something we hope for.  By faith we enter the kingdom now as a present gift of God.  But Jesus has not yet returned.  Opportunities abound for mockers to ridicule our hope.  There is plenty of room and time to experience doubt.
            So here is a feature of Christian hope that I had not sufficiently considered: we hope that Jesus will win.  We hope the kingdom he proclaimed will in fact come.
            Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

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