A friend and I have been discussing the promise of God’s power in the midst of threats to human flourishing and the struggle for justice. The discussion started right before COVID-19 hit California and a few weeks before the murder of George Floyd. As we continued talking and more events unfolded, our emails came into sharper focus. My plan is to post a series of our exchanges here. Part Four is another reply and reflection on God’s help in a time of pandemic.
April 19th, 2020
I think I’d like to reply to this interesting passage:
I remember you saying at some point that Jesus never taught us to divide the kingdom of God into “the already” and “not yet,” but to instead focus on, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Is that more or less accurate? I ask because we all see a pretty dramatic difference between our present world and what God will bring about when He makes all things new. So when it comes to the kingdom of God now, what can we expect?
I guess I think Jesus, by his life, showed us what to expect. And it seems his first followers experienced the kingdom of God in much the same way. There was a dramatic difference between their lives before Jesus and after, and there was also a dramatic difference between their lives and the lives of most other people. Wasn’t there? Like in Jesus’ life, sometimes this meant things changed around them, miraculous deliverances, their ability to do the seemingly impossible. And sometimes it meant that they experienced the sufferings and loss that others also experience (or even more so) but they were able to respond in an amazingly different way. We see this also in the lives of many more of Jesus’ followers throughout history. These real and dramatic differences make apparent the actual presence of God’s kingdom that Jesus said was “in your midst,” here and now.
But this does exist “in the midst” of so much that is not the kingdom of God. We look at all that and wonder why God doesn’t fix it, if he’s so loving and powerful. If it was up to us, we’d fix it, wouldn’t we?
We keep trying to fix it. We’ve found that we can do so much to change things around us, by working together and through technological advancements. We’ve solved so many problems, cured diseases, reduced pain, organized society, made human life longer, more comfortable, more well-ordered. We’ve been so successful that it seems we think that’s the whole point of life. (Or we hope that’s the point?) Then we wonder, indignantly, why God doesn’t seem to be dedicating himself to this project as eagerly as we are.
But even with all our medical, societal, and technological advances we are still so isolated, lonely, confused, enslaved by our fears and lusts–lost. We are not so capable at fixing this problem, though it is more fundamental. So we throw ourselves into fixing everything else around us and try not to think about our inner isolation and bondage.
Jesus made it clear that he was interested in addressing this more fundamental problem. This deeper, more important problem. He came preaching the freedom and deep connectedness that God’s love offers us. That comes through abandoning our own fears and desires and will, and depending on God to provide and protect and guide us. It’s not a problem we can fix. Only God can.
And through our life experiences, God is working to bring each of us to himself, to bring us to the point where we abandon our own strength and reach out our hand to God. What is needed to bring us there is somewhat different for each person, I think. So none of our lives are exactly the same. At some moments we need deliverance, and other times we need to go through the shadow of death. Sometimes we need the pain to be taken away, and sometimes we need the pain. Maybe to help us see more clearly, or help us let go. That has been my experience. I wouldn’t presume, though, to know what someone else needs at any moment. But I believe God can know and can provide the escape, or the hardship, that will help us most in the place we are in our journey to God. God offers this in love, with mercy, so that we will not be broken but be made free.
That does seem relevant to the current upheaval in our world. But everyone’s experience is different and it’s impossible to say what exactly God is doing with all these experiences in so many different lives. Except that he’s trying to draw each of us to himself. This is the goal, not perfecting our society or the environment in which we live. The kingdom of God is found in following Jesus, no matter what’s happening around us. It’s real. And it’s now.