I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the Kingdom of God lately. This is what I was taught: the kingdom of God is heaven, a place that we may or may not go to after we die. Early on getting into the kingdom depended on whether or not one was baptized. Although we were saved by baptism, hanging on to the assurance of going to heaven depended on whether or not I sinned and sinning meant breaking rules like attending church on Sunday. Accountability started about age 7 which coincided with my going to confession for the first time. Later sexual sin became the biggest deal breaker of all and I can tell you that becoming a sexual woman was torturous. I am embarrassed to tell you how much of my life has been consumed by this teaching about salvarion. It was based on the fear of a God who was really picky and judgmental. I never felt safe.
As for what heaven is like, we were taught that it is a beautiful place where we can look at God all day. That may sound boring, but we were assured that we would like it very much.
Later still, I found that what I was taught was not accurate. I fell in with fundamentalists who said that if I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, that will save me. I got mixed messages though. I was saved and that was supposed to be permanent. Yet I could lose my salvation through sin. Just as in my childhood, sexual sin was the worst of all. My fundamentalist friends had an answer for this inconsistency. We are saved by grace and once we are saved we will do good works that are the proof that our belief in Jesus is sincere. If we fail to live virtuous lives, that was proof that we never really accepted Jesus fully. It was awful. I could never be sure of salvation, first of all. Secondly, I had this idea that I had to be perfect – it was the only way to know that I was really saved.
I read the bible a lot. The justification offered for the fundamentalist understanding of salvation seemed to come from the writings of Paul. Paul was held up as the expert. In fact, these followers of Jesus rarely quoted the words of Jesus. I went along with them. Catholics weren’t encouraged to read the bible, so getting into it was an adventure for me.
I don’t know how I missed it for so long, the way Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. What he said and what I believed were miles apart. He taught that the Kingdom of God is here now and it is inside us. He never talked about being good in order to enter the kingdom. He said that that we need to open our eyes to see. It is like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. The good witch told her that she could have gotten home all along her journey. We can enter the kingdom of God any time: we just have to open our eyes to see.
What we believe about Jesus is not nearly as important as believing what he taught. When he said “Follow me” he meant believe what he said, follow the same path he himself traversed. Have a relationship with the Father that he had. I didn’t know quite what to do about doctrine. I decided to not worry about it. Let people believe whatever they want about Jesus, the Trinity, etc. I wasn’t concerned unless I noticed that a person’s belief led them to do something harmful. I was a parent educator. I was disturbed when a person used the passage in the Bible “spare the rod and spoil the child” as an excuse for harming their children. I was horrified when people use the bible to justify war and violence.
As I followed what I believed to be the path of Jesus, a strange and wonderful thing happened. I began to see the world in a whole new light. Two things: I began to see God everywhere I looked, in nature, in persons, and in the events of my life. Secondly, I began to see the world with the eyes of God. I know this because the way I was seeing can best be described as love. I became able and eager to forgive. I wanted the best for everyone even for those who were my “enemies”.
I believe that the kingdom is all around us. We are living in it as sure as we are living bodily on the physical planet. Today I feel like I have a foot in each place, one on my stony driveway and the other in the kingdom of God. I have become conscious of the fact that I can choose at any given moment where I want my mind and heart to be. I wish I could say that I am always conscious of the kingdom, but that would not be true. I use several spiritual practices to help me live in the kingdom more each day. Have shared a few of these on my blog. Living in the Kingdom of God is a day by day, moment by moment experience. When I remember to pay attention, I giggle at how easy it is to forget. And then I step back in.