This is continuing a line of thought from two previous post on systems. Read part one here, part two here, and part three here if you haven’t yet! These are more academic and less casual than my usual posts, and they are more for my own personal reflection as I sort through a lot of these things than they are for you (no offense). I hope you enjoy anyway though! 😉 -e
Many years ago, I got my third tattoo at a ghetto shop in Pennsylvania. It was the result of many months of thought and learning about the kingdom of God; it’s a passage from the Lord’s prayer across my heart: “your kingdom come.” Pretty simple, yet profound. In the years since getting it, I have not once regretted putting that phrase over my heart, as I believe it is the sole goal of every Christian: To advance the kingdom of God and pray that it come swiftly.
Now, while the tattoo itself has reflected a constant truth I have held close to my heart (pun intended) for almost a decade, my understanding of this concept of the kingdom of God has certainly deepened. Perhaps more so in the past several months, as I have reflected heavily on this notion of systems.
A few days ago, my dad sent me this fantastic yet intense article on capitalism, the kingdom of God and the early church. The author, David Bentley Hart, essentially argues several things over the course of several paragraphs: The teachings of Jesus are extreme. They are not small, anecdotal bits of wisdom meant to gently correct us in our 10-minute daily devotions; they are system-overhauling, paradigm-shifting teachings which are meant to essentially wreck the way the world lives in favor of introducing kingdom concepts. He points out that many English translations modify the original Greek to soften the blow of what the early writers were actually saying. Hart also argues that Capitalism is the most humanistic and secular form of economy, isolating individuals, creating competition, and creating a culture of selfish accumulation. He points out that the early church as described in Acts 4 most accurately looks like a Christian form of communism because everything was held in common and no one was in need. He also argues that wealth itself, not just the love of wealth, is sinful.
Yesterday I brought the article up to a business- and finance-savvy friend of mine while driving him home from the airport to get his take on the anti-biblical nature of Capitalism. By the end of our conversation, I arrived at the same conclusion I had before, and to be honest, it is nothing new. In fact, it is the very first prayer ever prayed communally by the Church: Maranatha, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
A simple salve for the problem of capitalism would be for Christians to push for communism, because ideally, it solves all our problems. No poor people and no super rich people. Similarly, many Christians have earnestly sought to live communally in Christian communes where things are held in common, no one is in need, and the elderly are looked after and provided for. There are problems with that model as well, which I won’t explore here, save to say that this effectively removes Christians from the rest of society and leaves the rest of the world to rot. It’s sort of a hipster way of singing the old gnostic hymn, I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away. When I die, hallelujah by and by…
The world is bad and corrupt? Ok, let’s just leave it behind and fly away to our own little utopian bubble.
The problem is, no matter where we run in this world, or what systems we try to implement, our world is fallen, broken and corrupt. It is ruled by ‘the spirit of the air,’ the evil one who wishes for the destruction of humans and their flourishing. It convinces us to desire things which ultimately lead us down twisted paths toward our doom. It makes sin look appealing and allows us to justify our transgressions.
No matter where you look in human history, you see people attempting to create a system which is most effective for the highest number of people. Even the American experiment was founded on the principles of freedom, democracy, and equality, but it has become a popularity contest. The founders who fled European oppression were looking for religious freedom, and some would argue, a theocracy where God would rule over His people. The same idea governed the Holy Roman Empire, the title of which demonstrates the marriage of Church and State (Holy + Roman), which again led to violence, conquest in the name of God, and torture at the hands of inquisitors.
No matter what system is implemented by human hands, people will be neglected, overlooked, hurt, or brainwashed for the very simple reason that humans themselves are flawed and imperfect. No one has complete wisdom to see every possible outcome, or complete vision to see every single person and see that their needs are met. No one has the ability to set laws in place which prohibit waste, encourage environmentalism, and maintain a functional and just economy. In essence, no one has the ability to cure the human heart of its twisted and selfish desires and quiet its fears and envies.
For years, I puzzled over the original prayer of the Christians. Why were they so desperate for Jesus to come quickly? I feel like I’m doing pretty well…Plus, I want to get married, so I sort of hope Jesus takes His time in coming back.
The more I zoom out from myself, however, and am able to recognize that I am not the only human on earth, and that there is ongoing injustice, persecution, hunger, disease, and pain in the world, the more I am able to honestly pray with the early believers. The more I see that systems are rigged toward the elite and wealthy, the more I lose hope in human systems and in any sort of satisfaction in this life. In fact, I am coming to the conclusion that this world and her systems are utterly hopeless and beyond repair by our own hands.
The only solution for a complete system overhaul and healing of the world must come from somewhere else, as we are not going to find it within this world. The only hope is a new system, not conceived and enforced by men, but by a higher power. In light if this realization, it changes the way I read Christ’s announcements of the coming of the kingdom. For the longest time, I saw it as a ‘bro-ish’ motivational message, that I got to be a part of the revolution for the kingdom, like one of the men fighting alongside William Wallace in Braveheart. It pumped me up to lift a lot of weight and shamelessly tell people about Jesus (not bad things in and of themselves). Or perhaps it could aid me in looking like a better Christian who was stoked about this idea of the kingdom. In other words, because of my upbringing in a postmodern, consumeristic, individualistic culture, I saw the coming of the kingdom as pretty Ethan-centric. This, of course, is diametrically opposed to the message of what a kingdom is by definition. A kingdom is not made up of one person, or even one friend group, nor is a king a ruler over just one person. It is much, much larger than that.
We may read books like Jesus Calling and think of Jesus as nothing more than a soft-spoken counselor type who wants to cuddle us to sleep every night and hear all of our complaints. Then we get confused by passages in the Bible where Jesus seems to lose His almighty temper or say harsh things to people which seem unnecessary. It’s a “Jesus-for-me” Christianity.
But after looking at the world through the lens of systems, I’ve realized that Jesus is announcing that He is taking the throne. He is implementing this new system which will ensure enduring peace, justice, and satisfaction for all. He, who can see everyone in every hidden corner of His kingdom, will look after His people with fairness and impartiality. This is why those who are oppressed by human systems have a much better understanding of the implications of the coming of the kingdom than we who are comfortable, self-serving, self-providing Americans.
The way His system works will be perfect. It will bring healing and food. It will not be a hand-out system of welfare, but a kingdom where everyone will do good work and be satisfied by what their hands have done. In a semi-Marxian way, His kingdom will reconnect men with the labor of their hands. The more we can think about the hope we have in the coming kingdom (or system), the more excited we will get to hurry the coming of Christ. And it is in this way that we may eagerly, not reluctantly, pray Maranatha, Come, Jesus, and be the Lord of our system.
Because when a good, loving and perfect God is the ruler of our system, what could go wrong? I eagerly anticipate this kingdom more and more; not only because I myself will be healed and made new, but because the entire world and all of her systems will be as well. And that is something worth celebrating.