Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Christians and the World, Part III: The Mind of Christ and the Peaceable Kingdom

For the Christian, the mind of Christ is inextricably linked with on-going creation and with acts of mind and will that affect the world order continuously and powerfully, calling all that is to an order of justice and righteousness. The divine mind of Christ, creator of the cosmos, thinks continually, not futile musings, but powerful, creative actualization of events cosmic and earthly.

As Christ thinks, so things are. His thought is no mere abstraction, but thought, will and creation are interwoven into one powerful entity known as the Trinity.

Christians are told by the apostle Paul that they have the mind of Christ; that is, as Thomas a Kempis points out, they are to be an imitation of Christ; an expression of the divine image as exhibited and actualized in the person of Christ Jesus.

It follows that each believer is not a being who is divided into the spiritual and the material; is not a being who is divided between the earthly (body) and the divine (spirit/soul). Division of the material and the spiritual has more to do with neo-Platonism and gnosticism than it does with Christian belief.

Each believer is called to be and is in fact a unity who in mind, body and spirit participates in Christ’s continual effectuation of justice and righteousness, both within him/her self and within the society in which he/she lives. Any split of the Christian’s being; any compartmentalization, any division into the material and the spiritual is a distortion of our reflection of the perfect unity of the Trinity--God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Mind of Christ effectuates and upholds a moral order, an order which is written into the very cosmos. Christians seek through righteous and just actions to effectuate the moral order of the cosmos within human society. The Kingdom of God is the template for earthly societies. Christians seek to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to earth. That is the reasons Christians should refuse to heed the siren call to separate themselves from the society in which they are placed. Preaching separatism is not only faulty theology. Separatism spells disaster for Christians and the society in which they live.

Those Christians who are nervous about involvement with a world afflicted by evil, or those non-Christians who object to the idea of Christians’ views on the Kingdom of Heaven might want to know what the Christian’s vision of the Heavenly Kingdom brought down to earth might look like. Perhaps it looks like the "Peaceable Kingdom" painted by Edward Hicks, whose enchanting oil paintings–he painted over one hundred versions--depict with charming and endearing simplicity the vision of the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah. (For a visual of Hicks 1834 version of the "Peaceable kingdom, go to the following link and enlarge the picture.)

To the left of the painting, Hicks, a Quaker, depicts William Penn negotiating a treaty with native Americans in accordance with the larger vision depicted in the center and right of the painting. Peace is achieved among humans. Although the lion and the leopard appear startled or at least puzzled to be in the company of animals they usually would eat for breakfast; among them, too, all is peace. A little child, the symbol of innocence, is leading, just as Isaiah wrote:

"The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the
yearling together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like an ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand
into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea."

There is scarcely a person who loves peace who would not wish the earthly order to resemble such a tranquil scene. One would even venture to say those who would wish to destroy societies which bear even a faint resemblance to the "Peaceable Kingdom" are the definition of evil.

The vision of Isaiah has inspired leaders of many nations, among them Martin Luther King, Jr., whose "I Have a Dream" speech echoes the longing for a world order in which all races live at peace with one another. His vision was a profoundly Christian vision. The list of those who share the vision is long.

But what is often left unnoticed is that Isaiah 11 indicates the divine messenger of God, whom Christians associate with Jesus Christ, brings the "Peaceable Kingdom" into reality by fighting for it. The "Suffering Servant" with whom Christians identify and whom they imitate does not achieve righteousness and justice without fighting the evil powers which mitigate against the establishment of the "Peaceable Kingdom."

Isaiah writes the servant is empowered by the Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel and power that comes from a humble acknowledgment of his dependency on and love for God. The servant of God believes in a divine, perfectly moral order which transcends and informs his actions. He adheres to the eternal verities of justice and righteousness and is willing to fight for them on behalf of the oppressed, the needy and poor.

As Isaiah writes:

"He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he ill judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist."

In other words, the Peaceable Kingdom must be fought for, as there are forces which seek to keep it from transpiring; forces which would trample the poor and needy underfoot.

While there are many Christians who decry the use of any force to achieve peace, believing fighting for peace is an oxymoron, such must come to terms with the God of the scripture, whose church militant and whose chief commander, Jesus Christ, are portrayed time and again as warriors against evil. While Christians are cautioned that their primary weapons are not like those of the world; nonetheless, they are called to confront and combat evil wherever it rears its ugly head. The Christian is called to combat oppression of the poor and needy, the helpless and the despised of the earth.

The concept of the holy warrior has been much abused in the past and continues to dismay those committed to pacifism. It is entirely true that the militancy of the church has in the past been misdirected and sometimes disastrous. But by and large, the church has repented of its errors.

In fact, the current swing of the pendulum toward isolation and total pacifism has been equally if not more disastrous, for the retreat of the church into itself has resulted in a distancing from the world and its problems. The Christian subculture has wound up ministering to itself and to certain approved ministries, which while they may be completely worthy, are often too narrowly defined.

The result is that whole sections of the "world" have been cordoned off, including the political order. Governmental structures have often been considered regarded as unworthy of inclusion in the fight to extend the "Peaceable Kingdom" as they are seen as "of the world" and therefore inherently evil.

But that is not how Isaiah and the other great prophets saw matters. For them, the "Peaceable Kingdom covered the entire earth, infiltrating and transforming all societal structures. That is why the prophet Amos, who was an inspiration to Martin Luther King, excoriated the people of Israel, citing their contempt for justice and righteousness in governance, their trampling underfoot the oppressed, even selling them into slavery; the corruption of their courts, riddled with bribery, deceit and with lawyers’ tricky and devious stratagems. That is why Amos called on the people to restore justice and righteousness to their entire society, declaring, "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream."

It is up to every Christian to find just where his or her primary battle for justice and righteousness might be. Only one’s relationship to God can determine what God calls one to do to effectuate in some way the "Peaceable Kingdom." But each and every Christian must beware of exempting any part of the world order from the fight for and establishment of the domain of the "Peaceable Kingdom."

The battle to actualize Isaiah’s vision "Peaceable Kingdom" has been engaged from time immemorial. It remains for Christians to heed the call to participate in it.

No comments:

Post a Comment