As a young African American male, I sometimes feel like death has the final word. It seems like every time I turn around another young African American male is being profiled, stopped, frisked, brutalized, or killed by a governing authority; another Latino/a is being deported or dehumanized; another woman is being raped or physically assaulted; another bomb is being dropped or another person is being incarcerated or sentenced to the death penalty by the powers that be.
These realities wear on me. They foster weariness, indignation, and dissonance within me, as well as a multitude of other Christians. While we know God is in the process of restoring all things, the reality is that as humans we are prone to walk by sight and not by faith. Walking by faith is extremely challenging, especially when living within the confines of arguably the most powerful empire in the history of the world. Nevertheless, we need to be acutely aware of the consequences of allowing our sight to order our steps and dictate our lives. When sight usurps faith, weariness swiftly becomes burn out, dissonance erodes into hopelessness, and we ultimately have an identity crisis. We forget who we are, what we represent, and our created purpose.
As Christians, we must remember that we are a people of hope. We have a message of hope and we are called to embody this hope. We know this hope because of the gift and revelation of the Holy Spirit. This hope gives us patience. This hope gives us confidence. This hope fuels our perseverance. This hope ensures us that the present cannot compare to the future. It reminds us that we must interpret the present in light of the promised future. As children of God, we should not be hopeless about what God is doing in this world because we know that God has begun a renewal process that is both ongoing and beyond our comprehension.
Due to the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we have a unique ability to imagine and pursue a hope that is rooted in the future glory promised to us throughout Scripture. Although we live in what is–a fallen world–we are called to function according to what will be. The Spirit emboldens us to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God even as we find ourselves situated within worldly empires as duel citizens, people summoned to be in this world but not of this world.
In this work, a theology of the Kingdom is vital.
The Kingdom of God is presently in the process of unfolding. It was inaugurated during Christ’s first advent and it will culminate with Christ’s second coming. The Kingdom of God is the world and everything in it (including humanity) being restored to its created intent. It is the restoration of all things, a reorientation of shalom within creation. It is a reinstitution of holiness, unity, and peace which creation was meant to know and flourish within. It is a Kingdom where righteous relationships and divine justice will reign, where oppression and evil have no place. In the Kingdom of God, peace, not violence, rules the land; love and mercy are its chief virtues. In the Kingdom of God, the lowly are exalted and the meek are blessed while the haughty and proud are humbled.
The Kingdom of God is the establishment of the only just judge upon his rightful throne; it’s the renunciation of all other false gods in order to enthrone the one true triune God, the creator of all things. In the final future, under the rule of the only legitimate God, Satan will ultimately have to concede his defeat–which already occurred in Christ’s resurrection–and sickness, sin, poverty, and death will cease. In the final future, the leaves of the tree will be used for the healing of the nations and nothing accursed will be found anymore.
The Kingdom of God is actualized through God’s power at work both within and beyond us. As Christians, we’re called to partner with and participate in God’s ongoing work of restoration within the world. We do this by learning to surrender our lives to God as a living sacrifice and by learning to live with the same mindset that Christ incarnate had–placing the interests and good of others before our own self-interest (Philippians 2). As followers of Christ, we’re told in Romans 8 that we will be joint-heirs with Christ if we are co-sufferers with Christ. Therefore, choosing the interest of others before our own self-interest, participating in God’s ongoing work of restoration through co-suffering with Christ, and living sacrificially by loving justice, showing mercy, and walking humbly with God are all ways that we partner with God in ushering the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
In light of this, Paul encourages us to understand our present pains as a refining glory, as part of what it means to be transformed into new creations, as a piece of being conformed into the likeness of Christ. The Spirit gives us a “foretaste” of future glory. Perhaps this can help us understand that we have not yet experienced the fullness of the glory or justice of God. Therefore, if what we have experienced in the Holy Spirit is only a foretaste, then we can conclude that the Christian life does not end with our experience of salvation but rather just begins. The foretaste is meant to point us to the future and give us hope as we suffer and struggle in the present. We, with creation, groan and long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering (death and decay).
The Holy Spirit empowers the oppressed and enables those of us living under the weight of oppression and injustice to affirm both our humanity and dignity in the face of systems and structures which seek to strip us of them daily. The Spirit provides substance for our sojourn and undergirds this theology of the Kingdom. This theology reminds me that in spite of evil manifesting itself in individuals, particularly through isms (racism, sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, militarism, etc.), that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places.
This theology also connects me to a broader tradition, a remnant of believers, rooted in and compelled by Luke 12:4. This tradition reassures me of the temporal authority of the powers that be, it reminds me that following Christ means bearing my cross daily, going beyond my sight, and being willing to endure crucifixion for the sake of the Kingdom. This theology of the Kingdom and the communion of saints who have emerged from it, hold me accountable. They reaffirm the essential nature of walking by faith, in the power of the Spirit, and living unashamedly for Christ, despite the personal cost.