The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Musings on the Kingdom of God

There is one school of thought, in the field of biblical and historical Jesus Studies, that believes when Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about the present, the world, us, now. The Kingdom of God is here, on earth, but can only be seen and experienced by those who know how to perceive it. There are times in the gospels where Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a slow-growing phenomenon, that is present but not fully seen or realized until one day we have eyes to see it in our midst, and realize that it has been there all along.

I've been thinking about this, and last week there was a day when I walked out on the front porch in the morning, in my robe, and thought to myself: this is paradise. There are times when the world, my life, is paradise for me. I cannot imagine it any better, nor would I want to. But what gives me this feeling of completeness and contentment? It is the deep sense of faith, hope, and love that I have within me. Without these three (which Paul espouses particularly in 1 Corinthians 13), life would not be paradise. It might even be unbearable. With faith, I know that I have a purpose and that everything will be alright in the end. With hope, I have good things and rich experiences to look forward to; anticipation of good things to come is a key component of abiding joy. With love, even the most difficult and trying things become worth it, become sweetened. Faith, hope and love are not just the keys to the Kingdom in Heaven, they are the keys to the Kingdom of God on earth.

Of course, hell can be on earth too, but it may not be what we imagine it. When we think of hell on earth, we think of wars, death, torture, imprisonment, disease, poverty, hunger, and all such things. And of course, they are horrible. But the truth is, people can be happy (or at least have abiding joy) even when they've lost everything, are terminally ill, or suffer extreme poverty. We've all heard inspirational Chicken Soup for the Soul stories that tell about some horribly afflicted person who has enough joy and love to spread around. I think the real hell on earth is the total absence of the three virtues listed above. It doesn't matter how rich you may be or how comfortable your life is, without faith, hope, and love, it holds no joy. It is meaningless and empty. Again, evidence is easily found in stories of rich and famous people who have everything but are so desperately unhappy that they spend all of their time chasing temporary highs just to escape and dull the pain.

Furthermore, I think that there are many words to describe the Kingdom of God. A Buddhist might call it the realization of our "Oneness" with everything and everyone else in existence; to reach this complete, relaxed, Zen state, we have to let go of our desire for things we do not or cannot have, and learn to be content with what we do have--which usually turns out to be a lot more than we generally acknowledge. A big part of finding joy (or Zen, or whatever you want to call it) is learning to see God in everything; learning to love every person as if they were a member of your own family, learning that you are One with them, and they with you, in the great collective of Life and Existence.

I realize these ideas sound like the mad blatherings of some bleeding-heart idealist (because they are) but shockingly enough, I think there's a good chance that some of it is true. If the Kingdom of God is here, it's not only our job to learn how to experience it, it's also our job to help others find it--in other words, to *make* it. And, interestingly, the more we look outside ourselves and try to reduce the suffering of others, the more we find ourselves fulfilled as we experience first hand our own interconnectedness.

Peace out.


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