01 October 2009

living in the 'not yet'

the kingdom of God being here on earth already but at the same time not yet present was emphasized to me a lot while i was in college (university). it's a concept that captures the paradox that God has already come to earth and He is present now working in the world but at the same time there's a lot of things wrong in the world now and we are still waiting for Christ to come again. at certain times during the year, the liturgical calendar focuses more on the messiness of the kingdom that is not yet come (like during advent and lent) and other times the focus is more on the kingdom that is already here (like during Christmas and Easter). other times, things around us make us more attuned to either the already part or the not yet part of the kingdom. and in the last few weeks, the community has been made aware of the messiness of the not yet - that things are wrong (mis).

in the chapel we've been reading from 1 Kings (we try to read through the Bible in chapel every 9 years or so). to say that what we've been reading is not really spiritually uplifting is putting it mildly. although reading Jeremiah wasn't necessarily better with all of the warnings and accusations, at least it was poetry and the average person might be able to recognize a message therein for oneself. yet, for the past three weeks, the majority of the morning readings in the chapel have been the following: "so-and-so became king. he was horrible, following in the sins of Jeroboam, doing this and this and this (if he's really horrible, he is told that if he (or his family) dies in the city his body will be eaten by dogs). the rest of what happened during his reign can be found in this or this book (which can't be found). then, so-and-so became king." it's depressing - and at times even disturbing. and what kind of message does one get from there? well, it appears that following in the sins of Jeroboam could be quite detrimental to one's health, so I'd stay away from doing that if i were you. the most hopeful element in the story is that if these messed-up kings could be part of God's work, one realizes that God is capable of working in and through even the most messed up people today. and even that isn't all that hopeful. we are thankfully getting to the Elijah and Elisha stories now, which still chronicle the messiness of the kings and the people of Israel but at least we get to see God working in his prophets. but thus far the book of Kings has highlighted a lot more of the "not yet" nature of God's kingdom.

another area where the messiness of living in the 'not yet' can be seen is when things go wrong in the house. br Luc captures well this sense of wrongness (mis) in a write-up that he does for a church magazine. the following is a rough translation:
"Last week we had to forcefully remove someone from the house. Thankfully that doesn't happen often. The decision that this man could no longer stay occurred in the appropriate way - the pressure that we applied was weighed and well considered. In the end, the police were called in. That was unfortunate: this wasn't really productive for the man asking for help and as for us, we had no desire to make any charges against him. It felt like one huge failure. I am well aware that not every person who comes here for help will result in a happy ending of eventually getting their own place. Sometimes it just doesn't work out the first time and the person should find another form of help that can help them achieve their desired goals. In those situations, the decision to stop giving help is something that you can have peace about. After all, it opens the door to another means with better chances. This time, however, it was not an open door, but a dead-end street which would lead only to problems. In a piece like this, you'd expect a nice sentence here about how hope is still part of the situation or something like that. But you won't read that here; I have no idea how this can turn out well - the force used only made the situation worse. I know and believe that in the end things shall be different. Until that time, though, it sometimes goes horribly wrong."

and even as much as it is good not to forget that we do live in an already time - we can and do have hope found in knowing that God is working and the kingdom is also already here - it is also good to remember that sometimes it doesn't feel much like things are going well or that God is working or even that we can hope for more. and then it is helpful to recognize the wrongness for what it is - the not yet that we live in still.

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