I originally wrote this for a friend’s blog last month. Decided to post it here as well.
The Kingdom of heaven is like becoming a husband.
Allow me to explain.
On August 14, 1999, I stood before everyone I know and love, in a rented tuxedo, and made a covenant vow to love Sunny until parted by death. We said some magic words, swapped some rings, kissed….the whole thing was over in about 20 minutes. And just like that, I was a husband.
But in the weeks and months to come, I realized how much I had to learn about my new title. Although I was already a husband, it quickly became evident that I was not yet the husband Sunny deserved. Or, to put it another way: I had no clue what I was doing. So even though I already had the title of “husband”, I had much to learn about the way of husbandry.
Thankfully, my wife possesses the spiritual gift of excruciating patience. She was patient with me as I lived into that which I was not yet embodying.
And slowly, I became what I already was.
I became a better husband the first time I made her mascara run by making an insensitive comment – something I’ve done far too often in 16 years of marriage. But that insensitive comment was redeemed by the power of God, becoming a catalyst to produce godly transformation in me. I learned to be more discerning in the things I said. And that’s just one example. I became a better husband the time I accidentally broke an entire boxful of her porcelain figurines, knick-knacks, and family heirlooms. (I can tell you that story some other time.) I became a better husband through years of exposure to Sunny’s innate goodness. I’ve never known anyone who wants to do the right thing more completely and more often than my wife. And no matter how long we’re married, I suspect I’ll always be in the process of becoming a better version of myself as I continue to learn to love Sunny well.
Am I a finished product? Absolutely not. Sunny would be the first to tell you that I still have a long way to go.
But I’m grateful that marriage has been the crucible in my life to bring me into proximity to this already / not yet reality. For I believe this dynamic to be at the very heart of what Jesus has to say about the Kingdom of God.
Scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel to be widely circulated among the earliest believers. In Mark’s expression of the Good News, the first words Jesus speaks are concerned with the nearness of the Kingdom.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of god. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14)
The first words Jesus speaks in the first Gospel to be recorded are about the nearness of the Kingdom.
Near the end of his ministry, the Pharisees ask him when the Kingdom would come. He replied:
The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
Jesus spoke of His Kingdom as a present reality in the first century. Disciples of Christ participate in this Kingdom, His present reign. Through faith, Christ’s disciples are invited to participate in a Kingdom where peace reigns – where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isa. 2). In Christ’s Kingdom, the “natural” order of enmity is redeemed and reconciled (Isa. 11), as wolf and lamb live together in perfect shalom. This Kingdom life is the product of faith; in a very real way, followers of Christ participate in that Kingdom now, a Kingdom where the first are last, the least are greatest, service is selfless and love endures. We experience the Kingdom already in so many blessed ways.
And yet, this Kingdom still awaits full consummation. Creation waits in eager expectation for a final revealing (Rom. 8:19), God’s final redemptive act to bring history to a just and glorious end. The last enemy to be defeated is death (1 Cor. 15:26) and we hasten the day when King Jesus eradicates death once and for all. John was given a glimpse of this glorious future reality in the final vision recorded in Revelation.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making all things new!” (Rev. 21:1-5)
In the Bible’s closing scene, the Apostle John peeks over the fence of mortality to see a new reality, the new Jerusalem, a place of complete communion between God and man, a city unmarred by the ravaging effects of sin, decay, and death. The scope of God’s renewing administration is universal. All things are made new by the power of His decree.
But that day is not this day.
In the last few weeks, we have been met with grim reminders that John’s ancient vision has not fully broken into this plane of existence.
On Stanford’s campus, there are plenty of tears still to be wiped.
In vigils throughout Orlando, the old order of death, mourning, crying, and pain continues to overwhelm.
In places like Louisiana and Minnesota…in places like Dallas and Kansas City…in Istanbul…in Nice, France…
We live with constant reminders of the not yet dimension of the Kingdom. Creation groans a bit longer. Evil is still pervasive. The present order of the sword has yet to be redeemed. Wolf and lamb are still caught in an endless cycle of violence. Shalom is not yet ours.
Scholars use terms like “prolepsis” to describe our present condition. That is to say, we live “between the times.” We live between what Christ has already done and what He’s yet to do. Our charge is to be the in-breaking of the Kingdom in the here and now while waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom yet to come.
The Kingdom of God, much like life itself, is both already and not yet. This is to acknowledge who we find ourselves to be in this moment while simultaneously recognizing that we’ve not fully arrived. It expresses something about how we are to value life lived today with a nod toward the hopeful anticipation of something more on the horizon. It’s acknowledging that I’m a member of a Kingdom that is both a present reality and a future development. It calls me to live faithfully as a member of this in-breaking Kingdom now with an understanding that the beauty of this life is fully realized in a Kingdom yet to come. It is this beautiful tension that most fully expresses the most fundamental truths of the abundant life that is ours in Christ. On my good days and, perhaps most especially on my bad days, I desperately need to be reminded that I am both already and not yet. This is a truth I hold most dear.
Which is how the Kingdom of God is like becoming a husband.