I love those moments when there’s a glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth. For me they tend to consist of odd juxtapositions or a proximity of unliklihood. I’ve seen them during a community conversation on homelessness when a former boss of mine sat in a discussion group with a young man who had transitioned off the street. Another time when I got to pray with a young woman in recovery, and there was a great sense of purpose and renewal for her as we prayed. Yet another glimpse was when I noticed a young man from the street, who’s also a regular at church, smiling down the row of chairs towards a woman holding and playing with a friend’s baby. I associate these moments with the Kingdom because they’re moments when social or earthly differences just don’t matter. There’s a kind of beauty that animates these moments, and I find myself simply in awe of ‘Now.’
The “Now / Not Yet” Kingdom of God is a notion that has surfaced (again) relatively recently. I know of it through the Vineyard church; others know of it through the writings of George Ladd, and the Blumhardts before him; or through popularized catch phrases that pepper sermons and conference brochures. John Wimber of the Vineyard appropriated the Already/Not yet Kingdom motif into his ministry, finding a strong theological underpinning from Ladd’s work. There are still plenty of folks who find it virtually inconceivable to think that what God did through Jesus of Nazareth–heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons–could in any way be true for today. After all, God has given us rational minds for medicine and technology to heal and keep death at bay (and let’s not mention demons, they don’t exist). The crazy thing about the Kingdom is that it is both “at hand” (as witnessed to by healings), and “coming” (as anticipated by Isaiah and John’s Revelation). It’s God’s kingdom, so there is nothing we can do to bring it about, yet we must live as though the kingdom were very present.
Too often the Already/Not yet Kingdom is interpreted in terms of persevering until Jesus comes again. The message that life is difficult, but we can rejoice because King Jesus will come again, has everything to do with the Not yet Kingdom, and very little to do with the Already, the Now, the Living God. The interpretation of Kingdom theology takes on a rather meagre vocabulary–now becomes the time to persevere, to pick up the scraps of joy lying amidst the wreckage of our lives, to plead to God for safety and some security. Yet what kind of faith does that leave us with?
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Are we brave enough to take him at his words? Can we trust this three(in)one God that we cannot even comprehend? And what does abundant life even look like in the midst of grief, loss, tragedies and death? How can we know if we don’t fully embrace the Now of the Kingdom alongside the Not yet?