The context for this blog: I was asked by a friend to input a critique of a chapter about Christians and work-based theology. Like so many such attempts, it owes more to motivational speakers and business gurus than pioneers that bring humble insight.
For me, the kingdom of heaven has to do with being attentive to a King, more than learning the techniques of a kingdom. If I know this King, I will automatically do right, no other worries should impede.
Faith is the clarity by which we see God as God is, not as we would like a god to be or as others told us god is. (There are some poor-quality gods on the market today) Faith is a gift based on a revelation, and the effort to then treasure this and not contaminate it or vaporise the moment.
There is a consistent problem in our era of thinking:
1. Spiritual Commodification - example "faith" as some god-crypto-coins we can cash in at sanctified pay points or against situations. Faith-in-stuff is just Charismatic idolatry.
2. Magical thinking - learn the hidden, secret rules, that only Christians can get, then apply them and Shazam! (and there goes most of theology into the trash can)
The magical infestation test is this:
Are these rules just common sense? Anyone instinctively should be able to recognise this as good. No special sense is needed. It may be nonsense.
Do you need God at all? Or, do you believe in the rule as a power in itself?
Manipulation: Just taking any scripture at face value, taking a stand on it, believing that the scriptures or the word itself have a mystical power that can be mastered.
Motion: Believing that the act of prayer, irrespective of any bigger context, wields a sure-fire power to alter circumstances.
Chosen Fallacy: Believing that you are special, granted powers by a calling, or anointing in yourself to do great things.
It is the “Depart from Me because I never knew you” syndrome in its many varied guises.
3. Legalism x.0 - Modern Pharisees reduce their own tricksy laws and rules as a conditionality for Shalom. This is particularly true of condom Christians, so nice, so safe, without edges - all learned behaviour - perfectly shiny looking on the outside, full of the Evangelical edit and Pentecostal rinse-aid, perfumed, air-conditioned, but with no depth of the soaking presence of God. Anyone can learn to be 'nice'. God is hairy and knows about filthy feet.
Does this 1-2-3 stuff above work? How do I explain the success people proffer using these principles and the above techniques? Sure it will work. Lots of stuff works. Profane mediocrity has low standards.
The problem is that commodification or magic thinking or the latest version of legalism is just not God’s truth. It may work, but will not deliver the results that reflect any Kingdom of God. It may open us up for other spiritual sources, mostly empty religion, or just prove in the end to be disillusioned nonsense, ultimately depressing for us, or those we teach this stuff to.
Anything that I can do, and at close scrutiny, is not utterly reliant on the living actual breathing God’s presence, cannot be the Kingdom of God. I’ve come to a place of exhaustion with the words ‘Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of God’. To me, it sometimes represents stale memories when this holiness should inspire thirst, excitement and motivation.
We have to learn that the Kingdom of God is exactly that - It is Gods. If God is a present reality in, on and through us, then God-stuff happens. It is easy, effortless and has no reflection on us at all. God is doing what God does, He cannot do any different. Not much about us. The ego and all the versions of the false selves hate this because it gets no stage lighting. This is why we have to daily, momentarily fix ourselves on God.
The Kingdom of God is not a thing; a system; an event; or a particularly acquired mindset. The Kingdom is all God and God-self. Not a God-system, where membership gives you the insiders goody bag of privileges, impute all the associated status of belonging- or club-prestige, power of heavenly loyalty-card points and an unlimited Shekiniah Card, accumulated by a lifetime frequent flyer mile achievement rewards, imputed on little old me for doing sod-all else but joining the club. This is a fake grace, it's grace without a Person that reveals themselves to us and demands us to keep on responding and pay attention. Maybe all that Sin is, is just simply ignoring.
There is no such thing or thing such as love, God is Love. There is no such thing as truth, God himself is Truth. The same is true for Light, Life and Goodness. There is no power in the universe aside from God (at least not any that we should want to entertain) but the Spirit of God Himself is Power. Authority is not disembodied, to be stolen and appropriated as a jacket over a chair's armrest. The opposite of commodification is personalisation and incarnation. God in Person. That is why he keeps on telling us to love God. The only commandment, expectation or thing ever asked of us.
If we love God, how can we not love ourselves or love others, neighbours and even enemies? Love is not some deed of effort, it is a reflection.
When I feel out-of-love for myself and push others out and reek metal vengeance on enemies, then I am not in proximation with God. If I am not in approximation with God, then I have problems and complaints about myself, other people and those stupid they - enemies.
The only valuable effort we make is to repent and choose to worship, that is it. Worship is not cheesy karaoke singing, it is a mental letting go and grateful acceptance and wonder at the ultimate Other, not as a mental concept, a conjured up good belief, but as an actual living Being. And this I have found is blooming hard. I have good days, I have bad days. Far from having good seconds and bad seconds.
But, where does God ever tell us any different?
When our lives orbit God (relate all-around God, all that God is the incarnation of, God as a Person), then we shine God. It is finding God, or allowing us to be found by God and sticking to living in that light and not slinking off into the shrubs to listen to snakes and then make underpants.
When I read or hear the modern zeitgeist, I simply wait for when, in spite of all the initial protestations and promises, the whole thing curls back into either Spiritual Commodification, Magic Thinking or guilt-tripping us to try the Do-It-Yourself of Legalism X.0 a bit harder. Or the loveless condemnation of all and sundry.
For years and years, I walked in the despair that I know in my heart of hearts that all God says about God had got to be true. The Spirit bears witness, nature around declares.
But at that time the system of God seemed broken to me. I was a fully signed up club member, but in actual reality, the stuff of God came out pathetic, weak in an unbearably unsatisfyingly paltry way. Then the Shekina-Card delusion evidentially set in.
At the time I lived and worked among many people that were rightfully unimpressed with us Christians. And so was I.
So, I decided to call myself a Christian atheist for years. (Atheist in this instance reflecting a non-working faith, absence of any adequate working, or evidential faith in a deity, and the deity for me was the Christian God - I tried the other deities but they are not culturally appropriate for my body).
I never thought of myself as an agnostic because the Greek word agnostic in Latin is an Ignoramus. Never felt like that. Nor did I ever feel like a sceptic - I am hopeful.
But, I slowly got over this Christian Atheism thing, because I started to understand that my version of Christianity was not about the actual Christ at all, but the things of the Messiah, it was all about Club-Messias, and Club-Messias was a faulty construct, in much need of demolition.
Club-Messias is all about the ‘programable’ deeds of Jesus. It's like writing software to virtualise your beloved. Particularly in Me and through Me in that deceptive way that makes Me patently different and superior to the other losers (not that I admitted to thinking this way, but I probably did), doing stuff for Him, or doing His stuff - Booyah!
All fine on the surface, until I looked long and hard and truthfully. It had little to do with the actual person of Jesus. In Club-Messias, Jesus is just the enabler. Certainly less about just living with Him, even though the self-deception at the time said it was all that.
It is just that old garden of Eden conceit that ‘I will be like God, knowing (good and evil)’ schtick. Where one becomes a little Jesus-like-superman-person, out there naming animals, water-canning paradise, like some kind of mental Mr Bean. Where it is all about becoming Me- Him. The Ego-Jesus. At last, I am something, I am a Christian. Well done me, now make space for me, I'm special. Pathetic!
Now I think of it this way. Lose me, Gain God, Abide in God, See God, Behold God, Pant like a Deer for God, Clothe up in God, Fellowship with God, Worship God, let love be perfected for God. Get out of the shadows, stop mimicking God, and cease striving and wrestling with God. Stop doing Jesus's stuff. Present yourself, Hope in God, Love God, and Believe in God, as God is, not how I would like God to be.
Then out of that place, from that basis of relationship, pretty much do anything. Don't hold back or be scared. Take some risks. But, stay rooted in the presence of Jesus. This life lived in oneness, undiluted, un-improved, no me-additives, no extra I-flavouring, sans any sugar or salt from my Ego-glands - bear fruit, fruit that remains.
Out of this state of relationship, anything can be done. Mostly this anything is that one and only thing that you know you like doing, that you have a marginal affinity for, and right now is that thing to get on with. It changes day by day, it is organic and it is unpredictable like the wind. You are not in control of it, and you may barely understand it. Note: This is how I talk to myself - so this is not me pointing you out
Then open yourself up to the people that waft in on these currents. Listen to them, love and serve them as if they are Jesus himself.
But, never care too much for either these things you do or for the people wafting in. They need God, not you. The stuff you do is a part of a much bigger going on. And co-dependent self-righteousness will catch you in that filthy net of people-pleasing, smug works, false glories until you burn out as an angry resentful little stump of a has-being.
Panic only when you know you are back in the bush making excuses and underpants, feeling anxious. Then the tough effort starts. Get up and go to His garden, look for Him. He will receive you always. And it will be OK.