The Kingdom with God in It

There’s been a lot of hubbub lately because one of the most successful and popular and theologically proper bands of our generation released a new record. That band is, of course, U2. I confess that I haven’t listened to the new record yet, but I hope at some point to listen to it. Frankly, I’m still listening to the last record (How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb) and discovering some of the pictures Bono created on it.

Anyhow, all the hoopla caused me to break out some old-school U2 the other day and rock out a little bit. Honestly, I enjoy the listening experience and even more the unraveling Bono’s lyrics. One of my favorite records of all U2’s work is the Zooropa project. I heard a story once, perhaps it is a bit apocryphal, that the music was written so quickly (I believe during the Achtung Baby! tour) that in concerts they at times had the lyrics written on paper. I don’t know if its true or not, but it sounds kind of U2ish.

In particular, I like the song The Wanderer which was written by Bono and sung by Johnny Cash. Here’s part of the lyrics:


I went drifting
Through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it.

Well, that makes pretty good sense, doesn’t it? I got to thinking: What sort of Kingdom have I hoped for? Do you ever really consider the Kingdom? When you think of Kingdom it is impossible to not think of Jesus, so when you think of Kingdom do you include a New Testament picture of Jesus? Have you ever thought about the things Jesus said and did? I mean, have you ever really thought about the manner in which God in the Flesh participated in this life, waged war against the power-brokers, and began the process of redemption?

We cannot have the Kingdom apart from the God who inhabits and creates the Kingdom. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrated” (1 Corinthians 1:19). That’s the substance of the Kingdom. And this Jesus? He went around upsetting people, calling them names (like ‘whitewashed tombs’ and ‘dogs’ or ‘rocky’ or ‘boanerges’), and throwing people into mass hysteria (“Hosanna!” one day; “Crucify!” the next). He didn’t seem to care too much about the sanctity of holy days (like Sabbath) or the holiness of sanctified places (like the temple).

He wrecked the pig-economy of the people in the Decapolis in order to save one man who had been written off as dead by the entire community. He slept during a storm while his followers worked at the oars. He made a whole bunch of wine at the very outset of his ministry (!). He even went so far as to defy Roman law by resurrecting from the dead. He hung around with ruffians and hookers. “The whores all seem to love him, and the drunks propose a toast” (Rich Mullins). And what’s worse than all this? Well, read the Sermon on the Mount. This Kingdom we are called to is one that will not survive apart from God. At the same time, we are not free to create a Kingdom in the image of any other God than the one who created it. Jesus is not for wimps. Mark Buchanan wrote the book: Your God is too Safe. He’s right.

Anyone who hung around Jesus was, at any moment, in mortal danger. He is the one who said ‘the Spirit blows wherever it wants to blow and you cannot control it.’ Jesus chose to demonstrate a reckless abandon for the things we hold so precious. “I thank you God I am not like that fellow over there. I do all the right things, at the times, and in the right ways.” “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Do you remember which one went home justified that day? We like rules because they help us control others; we enforce them because they give us power over others. Jesus poured out grace on all rule-breakers. We are not fond of grace. He had the nerve to forgive a man hanging on the cross next to him and, as many are fond of pointing out, that man had not even been baptized. Jesus–who can hold on to the Jesus of the New Testament?

They say they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it.

Of course we don’t want God in it. If God acts anything like Jesus (*smile*), then we would be thoroughly uncomfortable, totally out of sorts, totally beside ourselves with anger that such a God would act so undignified, so gracious towards those who flout the rules, so loving towards those whom we despise. Of course we want the kingdom. Of course we don’t want God in it.

“Don’t things get dangerous only if and because God is?”–Karl Barth, in a letter to his brother Peter, 1932 as quoted by William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 197

Of course we don’t want God in the kingdom.


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