The Kingdom of God
“The Kingdom of God is within you,” announced Jesus (Luke 17:21). In certain circles, especially people who call themselves Christian, this statement is said to have absolute authority due to the speaker. Folks who assert acceptance of this authority accept this statement as most certainly true. The question of authority, though, is less important than the truth of the matter. Is it true? Do I have experience of or have in me the Kingdom of which Jesus speaks? Do you? Can you recognize it? What might it be?
For starters, how about a thankful heart? Are my experiences and your experiences of a thankful heart—the feeling that wells up and floods our hearts unbidden when we become aware of our gratitude for life, for friends, for whatever—are they the Kingdom of God within? I vote for that. What other examples reveal the Kingdom of God within? Feeling and creating love for neighbor? Being cared for by a neighbor? A friendly word in the marketplace? Noticing and greeting a child in public? The quality of heart and the change within that comes with praying for our enemies and for those whom we do not like? These things come to mind, the last being pretty much unpracticed by me. They are actual experiences showing us that the Kingdom of God is real and that it is within and what it is like. It is not subject to outside powers. In the Kingdom there is choice and freedom. In the Kingdom within—in which we can live, flipping the metaphor—authority is ours. We are whole and beyond the judgments of comparison and its ilk.
This Kingdom of God within is actual and clear, even though we may not take advantage of it. The Kingdom within is a “clear and distinct” reality, ala Descartes; it is a fact in the same certain sense that ignorance and death are facts, ala Paul Holmer. The various visions of the Kingdom of God as community or social order are less clear and more problematic. No type of kingdom, government, ecclesiastical organization, or society has succeeded as the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not as solid outside by a long shot as it is inside. But, let it be clear that difficulties outside do not disqualify nor diminish nor make less real, the Kingdom within. In recognizing the reality of the Kingdom and the truth of the assertion of it, we are clearly supported by the opinion of Jesus.
Among the joys available in the Kingdom, especially when one lives in a civil society, is praising and appreciating one’s neighbors. The ten commandments are highly recommended by many and are clearly useful. Following them enhances the Kingdom. I have read that Luther said that eighth commandment—not bearing false witness—means “You shall speak the best about your neighbor, in the market, in conversation, and elsewhere, and likewise in court.”
Nothing stands against the Kingdom of God accept our stupidity, cupidity, ignorance, and the like. The hazards of mortal life and of human civilization raise doubts about the significance of a Kingdom within when all about us is death and destruction and multitudes of human evil. That is true. Still, I’m not the one who said the Kingdom is within. If Jesus is right, the Kingdom he describes knows no opposition. It is present and actual. As Luther said of a number of catechetical matters: “This is most certainly true.”