Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. So far, we have explored the statements of God as ‘Our Father‘ and “Holy” which can help us form a social justice theology. This week, we will look at the declaration of God’s Kingdom and the petition for His will in the same vein.
In the days of John the Baptist’s ministry, John went about preaching and admonishing those who were within earshot of his words to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand. John understood that in the coming of Jesus, the way that the world worked was fundamentally changing. The sovereign rule and reign of God was once again being established in the way that it was in the beginning.
In the early days of his ministry, Jesus told his followers to repent in light of the present kingdom. And then he went about exercising the rule of this kingdom – healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. He begins to right the wrongs of the world, ultimately challenging the stronghold that sin has had upon all of creation. But then he asks for his disciples, and us, to pray for His kingdom of come. He is signifying that the fullness of God’s kingdom has not yet been realized. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God in His first coming, He will complete it in His Second. In between these two realities, Jesus invites us to be a part of the larger work of God in bringing it to pass.
God chooses to use completely inept human beings to carry out His will. He chooses to use people like us, who often get confused about whose kingdom we are building, to actively pursue and usher in His kingdom. He invites us to play a role in that kingdom, not a role where we dominate and rule over others, and not a role where we bully others into believing and thinking that way that we do. Says Soong-Chan Rah in his book, Many Colors: “We are called to pursue God’s kingdom together in partnership and not under the duress of paternalism.”*
As theologian N.T. Wright suggests, God is asking us to begin to imagine what this kingdom might look like and celebrate that redemption, that healing and transformation in the present and anticipate God’s final intention.** Presently, war, famine, genocide, rape, trafficking racism, acts of rage, destruction, sickness, and death, exist in every society throughout the world. As humans, we simply have never experienced life without these realities. We don’t know what it is to live in peace, to live free of pain, to live without fear of someone doing us in simply because of the color of our skin, who we associate with or our political agenda. But imagine living in a world, where none of these things are possibilities.
Imagine a world where we will never feel the need to arm ourselves, and therefore, are more than willing to relinquish any gun rights that we ever thought we had claim to. Imagine a place where children go to school and come back home in the evening, a world where women and girls are not treated like commodities to be bought and sold, but are respected, loved, and cherished. Imagine a world, where there is no competition, no need to fight over resources because there is plenty to go around and no one is hoarding, a place where people let go of offenses, and at the same time, people are not offending. These things seem so out of reach and are so unlike our present circumstances that we face on a daily basis. They seem like some utopic vision, not rooted in reality. But the fact of the matter is, this is God’s reality. This is what He is bringing the world into. This is what His kingdom will look like. This is what we are praying for and inviting others to be a part of as they begin to see through us glimpses of this reality being realized.
Which really fits nicely with the next piece of this prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But what is God’s will? It is certainly not this. It is not imperialism and empire building under the guise of Christianity. It is not bigotry, not revenge, not greed, not even tolerance and cultural relativism in the name of political correctness. This has never been God’s will. We are a far cry from it. Far! Do we not remember that there was a garden and in that garden an act of unfaith and rebellion took place that changed the entire narrative of human history from that moment on?
Prior to this act, we enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. We were naked and vulnerable before God and before each other and were not ashamed because we had nothing to hide. Everything about God’s creation, including us, was right and pure. This was God’s will. God desired that we live in this holy relationship with Him, each other and even the environment around us. And then the unthinkable happened. We decided to disobey God. We became full of pride and felt that we could no longer trust what God had to say, and so we did our own thing. Ever since then, we’ve been walking backwards, trying to get back to that original point before we acted out of unfaith. And we’ve failed miserably. But God, in spite of our arrogance and quite frankly, ignorance, is in the redeeming business and is in the process of bringing all of creation back to where we need to be in God and with each other. This is God’s will. This is what we are praying for, that his perfect will be accomplished in the earth.
God’s will is bigger than our little lives. So often we pray these prayers that are so focused on us, and our needs, and we miss what God is doing in the world. We’ve been taught to ask God what His will is for our lives, and on the surface that sounds really good, godly in fact. But I believe we are missing something big. Here we are asking God to reveal His will for us, meanwhile, our world is being torn a part by injustice. Is God really that into us, our individual needs and circumstances? Does He really design His will around our individual passions and gifts? Or are we just that narcisstic?
Or perhaps we are apathetic to the needs of those around us. Unless we feel our Christian liberties (or American liberties) are being violated or we think we are being persecuted in some way, we are mute and turn a deaf ear to the suffering around us. Why? I point at the inept and sometimes altogether bad theology that has forced its way into church history. This has led to a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God, the will of God, and our role in bringing both to pass. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Steve Kang and Gary Parrett, in their book A Many Colored Kingdom, explains it this way:
While what Conde-Frazier and her colleagues describe has been characteristic of church history, God is able to redeem this colored past and bring about a new reality through us. In spite of our flaws, He continues to invite us to take part in proclaiming His eternal kingdom. He invites us to imagine and to proclaim:
- Peace between Israelis and Palestinians including the sharing of resources and land
- An end to the Syria conflict including a stable government
- The complete eradication of racial injustice
- The toppling of the sex trafficking trade
- The salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus as their personal savior
- The end to crony capitalization and other economic structures that disinvest communities
- The reconciliation of peoples who have once been divided
- A people of God who are prophetic and in tune to what the Spirit of God is doing in our churches, community and world
In a society and world that is so dysfunctional, God’s reality will always seem unattainable and unrealistic. Fortunately for us, He has called us to be in this world, but not of this world. If we are of this world, we will get lost in the rules and customs of the ruling elite. We allow their stipulations to dictate our actions and their fears to keep us from hoping, dreaming, and imagining something different. But being a people not of this world, we are constantly proclaiming the reality, the fullness of the Kingdom of God unafraid of the consequences that sometimes come with speaking truth to power. And it all starts with one little prayer – Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Come back next week for part V of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it.
*Soong-Chan Rah. Many Colors (Chicago: Moody Publishers) p. 121
**N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope (HarperOne) p. 201
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