Hope and the Kingdom of God

As I preach through Daniel, one of the overarching themes, of course, is that of hope in the face of opposition and persecution. Not hope in anything, but hope in a God who is ultimately in control and will eventual win.  As Simon Ponsonby recalls from the film Educating Rita:

Rita (played by Julie Walters) is a hairdresser by day and an Open University pupil by night, seeking to create a better future for herself. Talking to the English tutor Dr. Frank Bryant (played by Michael Caine), she explains why she wants to study, describing a family night out at the pub: "I did join in the singing but when I turned around, me mother had stopped singing and she was crying. I said, ‘Why are you crying mother?’ and she said, ‘There must be better songs to sing than these.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do—sing a better song.’"

If we do the work of the Kingdom without the hope of the Kingdom – a hope that “The Lamb Wins” – we are simply undertaking a form of spiritualised social care.  Undertaking good works, even those which reflect the kingdom. are not an alternative to the work of the kingdom with its hope in the future.  Which is why I read Daniel 2:44-45

"In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces: "The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy."

So just some thoughts about what happens when hope drops out:

1. “The Kingdom” comes to mean anything and everything. 
No longer rooted in the history of Israel and its fulfilment in Christ, the Kingdom can be applied as a concept to any number of activities that one deems qualifies as God’s ‘ethic’ for bringing justice into the world. There is a long history of such “ Kingdom abuse.” Separated from the eschatological fulfilment of this Kingdom in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom can become what David Fitch calls:

“just another Signifier that distracts us from God’s justice as opposed to building a politic of God’s justice and mission in and among our everyday lives.Indeed, it can become the means of another form of ideological complicity as we casually associate “the Kingdom” with various causes without discerning whether this is of Christ and His Kingdom.

2 “The Kingdom” becomes a Cause.
We are tempted to take control of history when the Kingdom is separated from the certainty that God is working to bring it to completion in history in Christ:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor 15:25-28)

As a result, the onus to bring in the Kingdom is shifted more onto what we do than what God is doing. It is only as we are confident of what God has in store for the world, that we can participate daily as his servants.  Only in practicing such a belief can Christians avoid taking on “the Kingdom” as another cause which we must fight for against those who disagree with us.

3. “The Kingdom” loses its “the already, but not yet” character
Hope says that something different still to come into the world. The Kingdom has “the already, but not yet” character of it. There is a tension: The Kingdom has come yet it is not yet completed. We are part of the new age, while continuing to live among the old. In it we are called to live under and witness to the Kingdom; Christ’s Lordship, his defeat of the powers, his victory over death, sin and evil. Something actually happened cosmically to the world in Jesus Christ yet it has not been fully manifested. If we lose this tension, we lose the sense of the Kingdom still to break in, and therefore the spiritual energy to engage in kingdom mission.

“There must be better songs to sing than these.”

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