Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reign of God vs. Kingdom

In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, I interpret Christian doctrine inclusively. Because distinctions are a good way of helping us to “get” new concepts, I’ve fashioned this table to contrast the inclusive idea of the Reign of God from the exclusive Kingdom idea.

Exclusive Kingdom of God --- Inclusive Reign of God

“Sudden eruption of God’s rule” (end of the world)--- Eternal Field of consciousness (Ground of being)
Literal interpretation --- Symbolic interpretation
Coming in linear time ---Eternal, timeless
Jesus judge and savior ---Universal ideal in each person
Access limited ---Accessible to all
Inconsistent with science; end of world, of physical law --- Consistent with science, with findings about space/time & consciousness
Territory of a male monarch with power over subjects --- Inner dimension with equal dignity of all
Christian frame of ideas --- Universal frame of ideas

August 4, 2012

The range of responses to the prior post delight me. A person who emailed me numbered them from 1 to 9 and said this:
"Some of these I probably would agree with (3, 5, 6, 7). A couple I don't know what you mean at all (1, 2, 8, 9) and would need an explanation. # 4, I really don't know what you mean."
Books would be needed to adequately answer Tule's comment question and this email set of questions, but I hope to partially answer them here, and I invite further questions. It's clear that, in my zeal to speak to the full spectrum of spiritual beliefs, I assume too large a degree of common understanding.

Here goes.
The historical Jesus often spoke about something that usually is translated “Kingdom of God” and traditionally is envisioned as a heaven reserved for people whom Jesus judged worthy at a cataclysmic end of the world. A respected theologian believed that Jesus preached “a sudden, final eruption of God’s rule into this present world.” Many Christians still imagine this “Kingdom” to be so exclusive that only believers in Jesus get in. This and other exclusive Christian claims are the target of my effort to bridge Christianity with other ways of imagining spiritual reality, religious and non-religious.

As I imagine the Reign that the Nazarene spoke of, it is the cosmic field of consciousness that mystics experience in deep meditation and people like Eckhart Tolle discuss. Mysticism is the direct experience of what’s called “God,” a term that unfortunately conjures up a god. Included in the mystic experience is union with this indefinable Ground of being or Source of all that is or could be. “Eternity” could be another term for it (no words do it justice), because Einstein’s discovery of the space/time continuum separates the timeless Source from timed creation.

I believe Jesus to have been one of the great mystic seers of history, but we don’t have to be mystics to have some experience of the Eternal Source. It is an experience of consciousness that transcends rationality and transcends the physical brain, although instruments can detect something happening. Actually all thought, all consciousness transcends physical activity. Apparently Tule disagrees with this.

Another email comment came from Vincent Smiles, the Professor of Theology who read my manuscript and whose expertise in scripture I depend on.

Dr. Smiles cautions against attributing to Jesus our modern consciousness and separating Jesus too much from his own time, which was saturated with apocalyptic expectation. That makes sense. I reach the conclusion that, whatever the man in Palestine meant 2000 years ago, we have to translate its meaning for us at this stage in the evolution of human consciousness. And Vincent says something similar but much more completely and more nuanced:

"In general, of course, I like and agree with what you are suggesting here, but there are a number of complications. We have to keep clearly in mind the distinction between the ancient voices as enshrined in the texts, and our modern sensitivities and interpretations. This means that we cannot in any sense replace “end of the world,” for instance, with “ground of being,” since the NT (almost certainly including Jesus himself) did understand the “kingdom” (or “reign”) to involve God’s imminent closure of history-as-usual. That is why there is a distinctively political edge to the NT, for all that politics as such was neither Jesus’ nor the early church’s primary concern.

"We, by contrast, have essentially given up on “imminent coming,” even though we still profess “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” When Jesus preached that “the reign of God is at hand,” he was not saying, “the eternal field of consciousness is timeless” (or the like); the evidence suggests that, in line with the tradition of OT prophecy, he had in mind some definitive action by God to interrupt the current flow of history and to bring it to fulfillment in accordance with the ancient promises to Israel.

"There was an inclusiveness in his vision that was, and remains, of decisive importance, which is why I mostly agree with what you are suggesting, but the issue of the “translation” of the ancient preaching and actions into present meanings is quite complex, I think. I think there has to be some negotiation between the “revelations” enshrined in the Bible, which are articulated in ancient idioms, and those same “revelations” as we receive and understand them in the context of our times and cultures. There is danger, in my view, in allowing either one to dominate the other.

"Specifically, I think it is important to strive for an understanding of God as active in human history not merely in a universal sense (“eternal field” etc) but also in particular times and places. “The Word became flesh” in a specific time, place and culture; if we view God only in terms of an “eternal field,” then, as I see it, we - very ironically - shrink God; she becomes just an amorphous idea, a concept, perhaps even just a “God of the philosophers.” Personally, I’d be just as happy with atheism. So, while I agree with the thrust toward inclusiveness, I think we need to strive for that in ways that do not compromise the specificity of Jesus – or, for that matter, of Buddha, Mohammed and so on."


I look forward to Vincent’s forthcoming book on science and spirituality.

1 comment:

Tule said...

Please explain what you mean in saying that the "Exclusive Kingdom" idea is inconsistent with science. Is this because we have no verifiable experience of consciousness apart from that arising from a physical brain?