Like a splinter in our souls, thoughts of a reality larger than our physical world keep us restless. Despite all the suffering and pain in this world, we have a suspicion that every tear has been recorded somewhere, that life might be a sacred experience, that we are supposed to be Someone’s beloved.
An ancient wise man wrote, “I have seen the burden God has laid on men.…He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:10, 11). Until we re-discover and re-enter this larger reality, the splinter planted into our hearts will hurt at every turn.
For Jesus, the world was a profoundly spiritual place. His first words of public teaching were a declaration of His belief about reality: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
Today, the word repent—with its tired familiarity—conjures feelings of threat and humiliation. But when translated from the Greek word the Bible uses, repent literally means “thinking higher” or “thinking about your thinking.” Jesus wanted us to reconsider the way we see the world. For Him, humanity was divided into two groups; not male and female, not rich and poor, not liberals and conservatives, not this ethnic group and that ethnic group, not “us” and “them,” but between those who were aware and those who were not.
Jesus would say, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). He was, of course, not talking about the deaf but about those whose perceptions were confined to mere physical reality, the unaware ones. So to repent meant and still means to learn to re-enter reality and become aware of the reign of God behind all life. Once that happens, Jesus knew, the attempt to contain the kingdom of God in the physical world would be like an attempt to place one’s house inside its living room.
But the spiritual world does not pinch us, pull us or hammer us. Instead it whispers. It appears at the edges. It is hidden in our daily lives, but gently sustains everything we do. The outrageous claim of Christian faith is that God is always with us and that whatever is hidden about God is obvious in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Reportedly, three days after His death Jesus came back to life. Although this central claim of Christianity has been disputed regularly, most historians agree that His followers were “resurrected” from their despair. The life of the early Christian church represents history’s greatest turnaround. The Christ event sparked a fast-growing community of people who shared, loved and even died better than anyone else. Their compassion, inclusiveness, nonviolent ways and love not only for their friends but also for their enemies was unmatched in history. To these followers, the kingdom of God had become a reality more obvious than the empire of Rome.
These first followers of Jesus believed all the evil poured into the suffering and death of Jesus was transformed into goodness. Resurrection taught them that no good done in this world is in vain. Those who follow Jesus expect and insist that all lovely and good things work together with our pains and losses to weave good into this universe.
Paul, one of the first theologians of the young movement, wrote in a moment of spiritual ecstasy: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). He is saying that when in the great scheme of things my life is needed to bring some good in the kingdom of God, when my loss may contribute to some gain in the kingdom of God, when I need to hurt so God can restore something in this world, then a follower of Jesus throughout history would say, “God, help Yourself to my life. I want to participate with You in caring for Your kingdom.”
This leads us to realise the enormous value of every human life. Although we are made of dust, God calls us to see ourselves for who we really are, kings and queens in our domains, full of power and beauty—each one of us able to affect the world around us and make a difference in the larger kingdom of God.
So what does God want from us? Simply this: to learn to live with one another. We don’t live in parallel worlds. Our kingdoms and queendoms are intertwined.
Obsessed with individual happiness, our society urges each one of us to “be anything you want to be.”
But when we live exclusively for our personal kingdoms, our world shrinks. In the kingdom of God, this is literally impossible. We realise we cannot blindly follow our own ambition. Our choices affect other people. Our behaviours affect our contemporaries, our legacy will affect our descendants.
In the time of Jesus, throughout history and still today, when people really hear this call to enter the kingdom of God, the beauty of His teachings takes their breath away: “To live this out I need new eyes, I need new ears, I need a new heart. This is like being born again! Not of earthly parents, but of God!”
And that’s why the early church offered baptism—an opportunity to die to our old ways of perceiving the world and come out of the water washed, with new eyes, new ears, a new mind and a new heart, sane for the first time. Through baptism we declare, “I am a part of something larger than myself.”
The call of Christ is far more than a call to Christianity. When they live up to their divine calling, churches are communities that remind people of the realities larger than churches, bigger than Christianity and more important than Jesus—the kingdom of God for which He died. To live under the reign of God, one must ultimately move beyond one’s personal spirituality into a life greater than one’s own.
God is leading a revolution. Its manifesto is “to overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Although this revolution can appear weak, foolish and ordinary, it is the mightiest, most profound and extraordinary endeavour going on. This divine conspiracy of love to which all people and all religions are invited works like yeast added to dough, or like a small seed that grows into a great tree (see Matthew 13:31-33).
There is a way to step into this dream God has for our world. In the Western world, we have developed processes that work in a linear fashion, progressing from Step 1 to Step 2 to Step 3—and so on. But no-one can logically argue any of us from the “physical kingdom” to the kingdom of God.
It is possible to taste the life in the kingdom even without believing in God simply because all reality belongs to God. Life is a gift and God is present with us whether we believe it or not, available like air that keeps us alive or like a lover who doesn’t give up. Rather than beginning with an argument about God, one can begin a journey without God by tasting a life in the kingdom. One can open one’s life to it, walk into it, put it on and experience it.
It’s like entering one’s home and speaking loudly, checking if someone is there. One must risk feeling absurd and shouting to no-one. But whoever makes this leap of trust will emerge from a dream that seemed real while dreaming, waking up to the reality of God’s presence, into the soul’s true home.