Friday, December 5, 2008

"Thy Kingdom Come"

Anyone who has ever read the Gospels is familiar with the phrases "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" (one or the other of the two expressions occurs nearly 100 times in the NIV New Testament). And your church may well be one of the many that each week pray "Thy Kingdom come" as they recite the Lord's Prayer. Yet how many of us, living in today's free and prosperous societies, are really as eager to see the coming of the Kingdom as were the early believers? Is our honest reaction to the idea of Christ's return "the sooner the better," or do we secretly hope He waits at least a decade or two so we won't be kept from enjoying the dream trips or perfect retirements we're saving for? Do we really look forward to seeing all evil and pain permanently driven out, or do we harbor misgivings that a perfect world might be a little boring, devoid of drama and excitement?

In this current world (not to mention in any great work of fiction), success and satisfaction depends so heavily on winning against powerful odds that, notwithstanding the pleasure we take in a day to relax or a "happily ever after" ending, many of us find it hard to imagine permanent rest as an altogether good thing. Someone has even written an allegory where the hero goes after death to a place where every wish is instantly granted--and eventually comes to realize that he is not in Heaven but in hell. No, most of us don't really want to spend forever lying on a couch eating bonbons, or "sitting on a cloud strumming a harp."

But is that really all there is to Heaven? After all, there was work--presumably including some hard work--in the world before the Fall (Gen. 2:15). Nor does the thrill of competition and challenge require real enemies as opponents: ask any child who has had a wonderful day playing outdoors with friends. Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the children and the childlike (e. g., Luke 18:16); wouldn't the experience of Heaven, then, be like a child's concept of the perfect day--full of freedom to play hard, to laugh with pure delight, to enjoy the company of friends and to make all the noise and expend all the energy one pleases? The eternal, dour church service many people imagine as Heaven--which seems superior to hell only in being the lesser of two evils--could hardly be more different.

We don't yet know many specific details about Heaven. But we can be certain that those who go there will never compare it unfavorably with the present life.

There are kingdoms of wealth
And kingdoms of power
And kingdoms where pleasure reigns,
But only the Kingdom
Beyond this world
Is free from the sin that stains.
Each of us would rule
As a king or queen
And would build our own throne of pride,
But the greatest Kingdom
Has but one King,
And we must be servants inside.

There are kingdoms of greed
Where deluded souls
Would see God grant their every whim;
There are "pinnacle kingdoms"
All built on show
And in going out on a limb;
There are kingdoms galore
Where for earthly gain
People bow to the devil's ways;
But let me fix my eyes
On the Kingdom of God,
Who alone is worthy of praise.

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