The Oxymoronic Kingdom of an If-Then God
by Jane Tawel
November 4, 2017
I read recently the following quote, by a German theologian, written before the full onslaught of Fascism and World War 2, but during that frightening dawn in the 1930’s, when it “dawned on” people of conscience that they must speak out love and speak up truth in equal parts to the whole world, not just the small religious circle they might spin in. More importantly, Eberhard Arnold, as many have done, tried to live at least moments of his life, based on the words of The Christ found particularly and peculiarly in the Beatitudes. This quote by Arnold seemed apt for a different place and time — mine.
” In today’s world situation it is essential that here and there among people there continue to exist rays of light and hope, spiritual realities by which the unity of God’s peace and the brotherliness of true justice are recognized. This is our only task.”
Eberhart formed a community of believers who thought it should be possible, or at least attempted, to live “on earth as in heaven”, by following the instructions in the Beatitudes of Jesus.
Jesus carefully spoke words that would be apt for any place and time. He did so because that is the way God’s Kingdom is set up — for all people in all places and all times. The Good News of that Kingdom is that it is a message from a Cosmic Messenger for “every tongue, tribe, and nation”. The reality of what it is like to truly live in God’s Kingdom has been true for all times– not what we should hope for sometime in the future, but in an eternal Now — from the Creation to the end of what we call Time.
When I read the beatitudes of Jesus or study their meaning, I am always struck by something new. There is a mysterious depth to their seeming simplicity. One phrase that struck me today, in the following words of A King named Jesus, is “because of me”. That is His right as a King — to ask the citizens of His kingdom to do things because of Him. The other thing that strikes me is the passivity to which we are to do the things The King wants us to do. I am working on “If -Then” sentences with my students. I have found that most of what is called God’s Kingdom life is based on this grammatical and philosophical construct. If – Then. In the Beatitudes, as also happens in some English sentences at times, the Then comes first, and the If follows.
The first thing Jesus says is: “Then you will be blessed, If you are part of the kingdom”. If I interpret the idea of being “blessed” as being “full”, then in The Christ’s words, we could stop right there actually, because any thing we desire to fill us up, is ours in God’s Kingdom. This is because The King of God’s Kingdom, has all the power, all the riches, all the glory, all the fame, all the world at His fingertips to give and take at His command. Of course then, as so often happens in His teaching and preaching — that wild-man Jesus goes off-road! Because being filled in God’s Kingdom, according to the Beatitudes or “Blessings” of Jesus, involves being filled with mourning, and poverty, and meekness, and emptying old me so I can have more of being filled with God. Ouch! Not what the Wall Street News or most local churches can afford to preach today. Definitely not what I hear any other kings telling their citizens.
I tend to throw around this word, “blessed”, like many people do today. I want my family and friends to: “Be blessed”. I often sign my emails, “Blessings.” But every time I read the Beatitudes, I am stopped in my tracks — Do I really want people I care about to be “blessed” in the way Jesus says they should? Mourning, meek and persecuted? Do I pray for that kind of “blessing” in my own life? I know what I mean by using that word, but do I know what Jesus means by using that word? Kingdom blessing doesn’t look much like your typical 401k or the sitcom life we all seem to idolize lately. There was an old hymn that had this line: “Take this world, but give me Jesus”. But we have mostly stopped seeing that as an “If-Then” choice for our times, because why not have both? The beatitudes seem to suggest that we cannot have both because two kingdoms cannot coexist together. They will always war against one another. We must choose which kingdom we want to win in our own lives and then live out the kingdom as a winning choice in this world.
Another interesting thing about this word “blessed” is that the Bible doesn’t really use it too much for individuals in the way we do today. When the Israelites blessed others, it as often went wrong as it did right. (Note to self: reread the story of Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau). Perhaps our misuse of this idea of being blessed is due to our worldview of the self in an age that is at best the Post- Enlightenment on steroids and at worst lived out in kingdoms in which any individual’s reality is worthy of Prime Time Idolization. The Bible mostly uses “blessed” to refer to the individual’s response and a community’s “Then” response to our Creator’s “If”. “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul and all that is within me”, the psalmist sings. Psalm 103:2: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul; and forget not all His benefits”.
Perhaps some of the biggest If words of Jesus, relate to those He speaks about the fact that “If” we look at the life of Jesus, “Then” we are looking at the life of God. “If you have seen me, Jesus says, you have seen The Father of All.” Which means in The “Blessings” of The Christ, IF we want to be blessed, THEN we are to be like Jesus and in turn, IF we are like Jesus, THEN, we are like God. Radical conceit indeed! – Pun on the word “conceit” intended!
If The Christ is asking us to understand how we are to be blessed in the way that we are called to bless God, then the Beatitudes tell us something about the character and actions of Jehovah God. This idea should at least momentarily change my breathing pattern. Gasp!
If we look at Jesus as The King of an earthly God- formed Kingdom, then we see in the beatitudes, the biographical details of a ruling monarch. So The King, being a king like no other, who mourns with us and is persecuted for our sake, reminds us that that If we want to believe in this sort of God, Then that is the sort of radical, “like no other god”, God we believe in: A God who feels and mourns with His people. A God who is persecuted for our sake, not who persecutes us for His sake. A God who is meek and will never force us to honor or believe in Him. What a radically different king, president, congressman, governor, ruler is this God of ours! And what a radically different life of blessings Jehovah calls us to live.
If I read the beatitudes correctly, God’s image in us, as sons and daughters of God, is the image that The Son of God lived and preached. Another grammatical conceit is also used by Jesus in many of His teachings and is in the Blessings as well. It is the mind-bending conceit of the Oxymoron. God’s Kingdom is so radical that sometimes, only an oxymoron serves to seep into the small little human brain that tries to think on things bigger than my planet. The oxymoron of the Beatitudes is, that IF I want to be blessed, THEN I must be filled with less and emptied of more.
In the words of the Perfect Image of an unseen God, this is what we humans, created from and returned to dust, are to live like when we live like kings and gods. Indeed, as Arnold said, “this is our only task”, and as Jesus says, If I want blessings, it means allowing God — “The THEN” — to do the impossible in me. To be a persecuted prophet, to be a meek speaker of bold truth, to be a mourning beloved lover, to be hungry for holiness in order to be filled with blessings — these are some of the keys at my fingertips, IF– I truly want to unlock the Kingdom of God.
IF not, THEN, there are plenty of other kinds of kingdoms from which I may choose.
What God’s Kingdom looks like in Jesus’ poetic and prophetic words:
(Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying):
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
— The Words of The King of The World as recorded in Matthew 5:1-12
An Ode to Oxymoronic Living
by Jane Tawel
Tottering on the If,
I bend my knee to The Holy Then.
I emptily fill
With unloved-Loving You.
There can never be More-GOD,
as YOU are All.
There can only be less-me
and more Time-Space hollowed-hallowed,
for me, a holy-hole,
Godly-dust imagery of
I resist-yearn to
The Savior who when He fell, Arose!