Orthodox theology can pop up in some very unexpected places. One hot night in July, the talented Jesus People performer Barry McGuire (of New Christy Minstrels and “Eve of Destruction” fame) was performing and talking about salvation. Looking out at the vast audience, he introduced a song by saying, “God took His Kingdom and He tucked it away in an invisible place where people could only see it with their heart.”
Barry was speaking to Jesus People in Los Angeles at a World Vision Benefit concert in 1979, but the words could equally well have been uttered by any of the Desert Fathers in Egypt or Palestine centuries ago. It was as the Lord said when He stood humbly before Pontius Pilate and faced down the powers of this age: “My Kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).
God, of course, could’ve designed it otherwise. Certainly it would have made Jesus and His Gospel more acceptable to His fellow Jews if He had. They were looking for a Kingdom that was of this world—a time when “every man (read: “every Jew”) would sit under his vine and fig tree”, a time when the nation of Israel would be exalted to a place of supremacy over the Gentile nations, when the hated Pax Romana would be replaced by Pax Judaica, and when the Jews would enjoy the place in the world then occupied by the Romans. If the Kingdom had looked like that, doubtless Israel would’ve signed on right away, and multitudes of Jews would’ve lined up and come crowding into the baptismal font. The long and terrible estrangement between Israel and the Church would never then have occurred. All who lament that estrangement might sometimes be tempted to wonder if God’s plan to make His Kingdom invisible were the best idea after all. What would it hurt (we might ask ourselves) if God had chosen to present us with a visible Kingdom, a Kingdom which was more of this world, a Kingdom with national borders and a political component? Would that have been so bad? Might it not be worth the price if it avoided the long and costly estrangement of the majority of His chosen people?
In taking stock, we need to think not just of the cost of losing Israel, but of the cost to the Gentiles (i.e. the rest of the world) as well. Sympathy for Israel is good, but what of sympathy for millions of Gentiles—equally children of God and loved by Him—who yearned to know the one true and living God? If the Kingdom were of this world, and consisted of a Pax Judaica, then these Gentiles would never have come to know the healing of their hearts which comes only with the infusion of God’s love through the outpoured Spirit. Their place in a Pax Judaica would have been as hewers of wood and drawers of water, as second (or third) class domestic servants to the reigning Jews, and their role would have been defined by their usefulness to Israel. Gentiles might be okay, but the rights and privileges of Israel come first! Israel must live! If you doubt that this would be the scenario, ask any Palestinian living in the State of Israel today.
By making His Kingdom not of this world, God made it equally available to all who lived in this world. Because God is the Creator of all men, His plan was always to redeem everyone. The salvation of the Gentiles (i.e. the vast majority of the planet) was always the plan. These Gentiles were never intended simply to be appendages and servants to a small (Jewish) minority. As the very Jewish St. Paul said, “Is not God the God of Gentiles also?” (Rom. 3:29) If that is so, then surely He must deal with all His children alike.
There are, after all is said and done, only two alternatives: either the Kingdom is of this world, or it is eschatological. Either its reality is visible or it is invisible, national or spiritual.
If the Kingdom were fundamentally a worldly and national reality—one defined by borders and laws and defended by armies (and armed might is necessary to preserve national identity), then that reality, of necessity, has all the dichotomies, rivalries and moral compromises that come with being a nation built into it. All superpowers have their spies, their CIA’s, their “Black Ops”. All eventually are involved in their own My Lai massacres, their own Viet Nams. All are subject to terrorist attack, and inevitably respond with oppression and the Big Stick. The unregenerate human heart always produces these actions and reactions. It is what being worldly is all about.
But if the Kingdom were fundamentally an eschatological and spiritual reality—one defined by participation in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit—then there is the possibility of truly transfigured life. Then regeneration is available to everyone—even Gentiles—and the reborn have the possibility of avoiding resorting to the Big Stick and of being caught up in My Lai. Insofar as Christians live in the world (and vote in its elections and serve in its armies) there will be the risk of being participants in the world’s darkness. But (and here is the point) the Kingdom as Kingdom remains untainted and transcendent. As St. Paul said, “The Jerusalem above is free” (Gal. 4:26). And since it remains free, it can offer the world’s sad and weary children forgiveness, healing and transformation.
God indeed took His Kingdom and He tucked it away in an invisible place where people could only see it with their heart. Other kingdoms will rise with pride and will fall. This Kingdom alone remains, exalted in its humility and unfallen and unshakable. And all who are willing and repentant can see it with their heart and enter in.