Already And Not Yet

“Already” and “Not yet” are elegant, accurate descriptions of the kingdom of Jesus Christ — whether you’re a post-, pre-, or a-millennialist, and whether or not the Christ-followers in your life live out his teachings or spread the hope they promise.

All of us hunger for the time when “all things are made new,” when our Lord’s victory over sin — the “already” — becomes a visible reality to a world still choking in the grip of evil, the “not yet.” Lamentably, those of us who call Christ Lord have failed miserably to articulate, much less live out, what a world subject to Him and His Gospel would look like. We often live as though nothing of particularly life-changing effect has happened, not a whole lot ever really will happen, and if it does, it doesn’t have much to do with the people around them — especially those who, because we don’t like them, we’re pretty sure God doesn’t like them, either.

It’s not a question of eschatology. It’s a question of true discipleship, whether we live lives devoted to being righteousness and not simply “right.” Christ’s kingdom, the Way of the Gospel, and the fruit evinced in the life of the believer holds to a fervent conviction that love expressed in relationship — His with us, ours with others — is the foundation of all truth, virtue, and kingdom action. And in a Christian culture that too often derides love and calls for its full expression as “weak” and “worldy” — simpering accommodation to the world around us instead of our primary gift to it — the Church has to work to manifest the Kingdom Way in every part of our lives. Professing belief and proclaiming its truth can never be absent from the practice of self-sacrificing love for the glory of God, but they cannot be enough.

I’m indebted to Stephen R. Lawhead, the author of “Byzantium” and “The Pendragon Cycle,” the series I’m reading now about King Arthur, for his description of what a world — here and now, and yet coming — would look like under the full influence of the Spirit of Christ and His people:

“I have seen a land shining with goodness where each man protects his brother’s dignity as readily as his own, where war and want have ceased and all races live under the same law of love and honor. I have seen a world bright with truth, where a man’s word is his pledge and falsehood is banished, where children sleep safe in their mothers’ arms and never know fear or pain.

“I have seen a land where kings extend their hands in justice rather than reach for the sword; where mercy, kindness, and compassion flow like deep water over the land, and where men revere virtue, revere truth, revere beauty above comfort, pleasure, or selfish gain. A land where peace reigns in the hearts of men; where faith blazes like a beacon from every hill and love like a fire from every hearth; where the true God is worshiped and his ways acclaimed by all.”
(Lawhead, “Arthur,” 1989 Harper Collins)

I can imagine that all some of you might get out of this is a need to snidely remind me that Lawhead uses “his” and “he” instead of the inclusive “theirs” and “their,” and so my response is that I don’t believe that he intends to exclude or demean women and their activities in what he calls “The Kingdom of Summer,” given that it’s the sage and healer, Charis, who consecrates the young Arthur in the work to which he’s been called. Lawhead is notable for his obvious respect for women and their wisdom, neither placing them on a pedestal nor belittling them, and certainly, as many authors writing of medieval fiction do, never assigning them literal or metaphoric blame for sin and evil in the world.

Rather, what he does is remind all of us what the “plumb line” truth of the Spirit-filled life and world does, and will, and ought to, look like. Any “Christian” minister, church, organization, or movement that demonizes, hates, maligns, or dismisses others — a rank bigotry that often is disguised as being “on fire for the Gospel — falls short of Kingdom life and truth. There’s no preoccupation with class or racial division, no harassment of others, no leering preoccupation with “bedroom sins,” and no preening, masculinist faux christianity that reveres Christ as male more than Christ as Savior.

If all of us determined each day to protect each person’s dignity and proclaim the loving truth of Christ Jesus, I think we’d see tremendous results — results that, as they must, begin in our own hearts and then spread to the waiting, wanting, wounded world around us.

One Response to “Already And Not Yet”

  1. Ashwin says:

    I think you know this already, but there is a hymn articulating the same thing:

    “How sweet, how heavenly is the sight when those that love the Lord,
    In one another’s peace delight and so fulfil the Word.”

    The rest of it is here:
    http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/nt/857

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