Faith: The two kingdoms of existence
I was just looking back to the last time I wrote an Echo Journal column - for the March 19, 2020, edition. I wrote and submitted it about a week ahead of time - a couple of days before all our worlds changed, mine with the abrupt cancellation of the high school speech season and a move to doing ministry, including worship, totally online. This shift created a need for a massive learning curve.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there were 21 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Minnesota (as of March 11, 2020); we vaguely knew it was out there, somewhere. That was almost five months ago; it seems almost like a lifetime ago and a world far away.
For some brief shining moments, this crisis has shown the best of humanity - but it has also shown the selfishness of humanity.
One primary precept of Lutheran theology is what is known as the “Two Kingdoms” - I believe this is not limited to this strand of Christianity, but I am not an authority to speak about others (so I’ll make “I-statements”).
Some sources speak about these two kingdoms as the “Left Hand” and the “Right Hand” - frankly, I can’t ever remember which “hand” is supposed to be what, so I’ll use my preferred terminology (which is also fully appropriate): The Kingdom of the World and the Kingdom of God.
As I’ve noted in previous Echo Journal columns, my profession before becoming a pastor was being a math teacher, so I like interpreting these two kingdoms as two sets in a Venn diagram. The church lives in, but is not equal to, the intersection space (I’d do a “formula,” or, even better, an image, but I’m not sure if that would turn out); thus, the church exists both in the Realm of the World and the Realm of God.
I pause for some definitions and clarifications (these are not precise):
- 1. By church, I mean the people who make up the body of Christ, regardless of denomination. This acknowledges that there are other elements that may also be in the “universe” or either or both kingdoms that are not “church.”
- 2. While elements of a set can refer to an individual or systems that may or may not be sentient or animate, I’m going to limit myself to humans and human systems.
- 3. While the terminology of "Kingdom" or "Realm" has its basis in geographical, political and temporal entities, neither the “Kingdom of the World” nor the “Kingdom of God” should be thought of in those regards. Rather, both are defined by the relationship between elements of the set.
The relationships within the Kingdom of the World can roughly be defined by Paul’s idea of “works of the flesh” (see Galatians 5:19ff). I am going to shorthand this - every single element in that list is a variation on selfishness. Because, as “church,” we exist in this kingdom, we are subjected to selfishness; we are tempted by our amygdala to think only about “me.”
But, as “church” we also exist - and find our basic identity - in the Kingdom of God (see John 17), where relationships can be roughly defined by Paul’s instruction: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:4-5).
Do you want to live by your amygdala, or the grace of God made known through Christ? Let’s seek out more Kingdom of God values than “me first” values.