Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
I’ve always struggled with how the logic of God’s Kingdom works. Where is it explicitly? How does one experience it? How “much” of it is actually here? And most practically… what is my responsibility to participate in it? I suppose I can answer all of these questions in a marginally satisfactory way. But the intellectual answers still beg tangible expressions, in my community, at Church, and in a broken world. I suppose this is what the life of discipleship is about…getting “used to” our salvation as Martin Luther would say (although I can’t say I’m much of a Lutheran in terms of my doctrinal positions on sanctification). For these reasons, Jesus’s opening declaration in Mark’s gospel has always challenged me. The time has come. The Kingdom is here. Repent and believe the gospel. (I thought the gospel was expressed three years later on a Roman cross?– subject for another post).
The Kingdom is here. It was then and is now. But how? What is our relationship to this “Kingdom” and how does it manifest itself? What is our role? This is the classic already-but-not-yet eschatological question in Christianity. This question recently resurfaced for me in the delivery room as my wife labored for our new son, Levi. Throughout the labor my mind continuously mulled over Romans 8. I simply couldn’t get Paul’s words about labor, delivery, and the work of the Spirit out of my head.
18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Emily groaned with anxious love and holy anticipation of Levi’s arrival as contractions increased through the birthing process. The pain was bearable because of the impending reality of Levi’s delivery. My mind kept thinking about all of creation groaning in the same birth pains. It is no secret things are broken… we’re in pain awaiting relief. (PSA: Some phenomenal references to this concept in mewithoutYou’s “O’Porcupine”) We are enduring this present suffering because of the promise of New Creation. We are walking through this awkward middle ground “between two worlds” to use the phrase made famous by theologian John Stott. The inaugurating act of God’s Kingdom through the work of Christ has happened. But the work is yet to be complete. We still await consummation. The day when God will wipe away every tear from every eye. We haven’t yet received our “full inheritance” as children of God. We are but “first fruits” of new creation as Paul says. Small tastes, little glimpses, bits of the Kingdom “crowning”. After all, Paul says emphatically that we are indeed “New Creations” in Colossians. Those who are “in Christ–New Creation!”New creation is here and now. We inhabit it in Christ. It is a product of the forth-coming Kingdom of God. That is to say in a classical Edenic formula: God’s people, in God’s place, enjoying His blessing. But we still aren’t totally there. We’re still east of Eden.
It is common in evangelical circles that Kingdom language is accompanied with an asterisk. We need to avoid a “social gospel” after all. We have to make sure we aren’t “doing” anything to merit salvation or our work can’t be a necessary component to God’s Kingdom arrival. We must not confuse “kingdom language” with “gospel” or “salvation” language. These are often separate or at least subordinate concepts in the larger taxonomy of justification or salvation. I.E. we (humanity) cannot be the ones bringing God’s Kingdom to fruition. This must solely be an act of God. These asterisks are important in their own right–I suppose– so let me offer an image that helped me make sense of our role in God’s grand plan to “set the world to rights” as NT Wright would say. The image of midwifery really helped give me a tangible example for our relationship to the forth coming aspects of the Kingdom of God.
I helped Emily in the delivery room in various capacities that included getting very involved in the labor process. These activities helped prepare for Levi to arrive. I wasn’t in active labor. I wasn’t bearing the child. But my work, love, and support, aided the birth of a new life. A new creation. I couldn’t help but be in awe of this beautiful word picture as I saw the gift of new life enter a broken world. A women groaning in love. A husband helping in anticipation. Wading through water and blood, pain and joy, giving birth to new life. So maybe, as Christians, we are more like midwives to new creation–God’s Kingdom arrival. We aid the Holy Spirit in His Kingdom labor in creation on behalf of Christ. We support the birth of the New Age into the very one we inhabit. We groan with creation as we wait for our full delivery from sin and death. We are midwives of New Creation as it crowns into this age and gives birth into the age to come.