Christian faith is both existential and eschatological. One needs to understand each of its tenets in the present and future horizons. The Kingdom of God is a case in point. Often, we fail to grasp it holistically. While some advocate its future materialization by ignoring its present potential, others stand for its present realization and ignore future consummation. Still, many try to bridge the present and the future without compromising its doctrinal substance. In this task, the faith gets its praxis in the present and fulfilment in the future. We may know ‘what is the Kingdom of God,’ but reluctant to ask ‘how do we experience it’ in our generation.
A Christian is a seed bearer of the Kingdom of God. His/her confessional moment with Jesus Christ is the starting point of partaking in the Kingdom of God. S/he is mandated to channelize its power into the lives of others in society. The conversation between Jesus and Pharisees in Luke 17: 20-21 narrates this experiential and missional dimension of the Kingdom. In the gospel reading, Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘when the Kingdom of God would come.’ Jesus answered, “The Kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say ‘see here’ or ‘see there!’ For indeed, the Kingdom of God is within you.” Though ‘Kingdom of God’ in this passage refers to the physical presence of Jesus, the expression ‘within you’ challenges us to activate the faith in Him for the present dawning of the Kingdom. Hence, it is an experience of righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom 14: 20).
The Kingdom of God found its historical expression in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He was the ‘Kingdom of God’ in person. In Him, people experienced divine forgiveness, justice, love, and healing. By dwelling in among the people, he enabled them to experience the blessings of God’s Kingdom. In this self-emptying life, He followed the principle of life-affirmation over life-negation. To mediate God’s Kingdom in our midst, we also need to follow the same directive. Only the bold followers identify with Jesus in affirming life against the powers and principalities of this world.
As an experience, the Kingdom of God does not happen in a vacuum, but in a context. It gives both challenge and promise. While it takes us to confront the realities that prevent its fruition, it promises final triumph over the forces of darkness. Every day we witness the signs of victimhood and marginalization in society. Socially oppressed communities like the poor, religious minorities, children, and women continue to be vulnerable under the oppressive regime. As a result, the space for dissent or different voices is shrinking day by day. In reality, we have become the victims of ‘life-negating’ forces that consume life out of vulnerable existence. Put differently, we are placed in a ‘life-negation’ zone. According to Gustavo Gutierrez, “contextual realities are signs of the time; they are call to pastoral activity.” For me, it is a call to live out God’s Kingdom in our midst. It is also a call to stand with those who experience ‘life negation.’
The manifestation of God’s Kingdom in our midst needs the agency. Agency refers to a thing or person that acts to produce a particular result. When Jesus says, ‘Kingdom is in your midst or within you or among you,’ He proclaims that we are the agents of God’s Kingdom. Of course, God is the source of Kingdom, but God participates in history (establishing the Kingdom) through human beings. It is primarily a divine-human partnership (friendship). The Church, “the sign and sacrament of Kingdom of God” (M.M. Thomas), needs to be the primary agent in building up God’s Kingdom. The agency’s role is very clearly articulated by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, “Church is Church when it exists for others.” It calls for practical engagement (personal and communal) with those who are pushed into the valley of pathos. The Kingdom of God in our midst becomes real when we stand for others in the locations of life negation. Since becoming an agent of God’s Kingdom is risky, it is empowering as well as spiritual. Hence, claiming our agency turns sites of life negation into life affirmation. In short, the Kingdom’s agency is at work in places where life is promoted and celebrated.
The agency must have a perspective. The Kingdom of God demands us to look at the realities through the eyes of Kingdom values. It is a ‘look’ through the lens of justice, peace, love, and righteousness. It questions the life-negating forces, and fearlessly says ‘no’ to the sins of injustice and inequality. The perspective of God’s Kingdom takes us to the locations of life negation and motivates us to engage with those who still strive to celebrate life in its fullness. The praxis of the Kingdom’s perspective brings forth empowered and redeemed human lives. Therefore, empowered and redeemed lives are the sign of Kingdom in our midst. How do you determine the route of your missional journey: a journey through the lives of ‘little ones’ in society. God’s Kingdom will be incomplete without them.
There must be a strategy to build up Kingdom in our midst. The Kingdom of God cannot be established by money or muscle power but only by the power of love, reconciliation, and justice. Jesus’ ministry taught us the strategy: say ‘NO’ to life-negating forces, systems and ideologies, and actualize the power of love. To carry out the strategy, we may have to swim against the currents in the respective location. Gustavo Gutierrez reminds us that “every liberating initiative is the growth of the kingdom of God.” It is a faith-mandate for Christians to participate in the process of establishing God’s Kingdom. Our participation should take the form of new mission ventures that will affirm life in Christ.
— Dr. Viju Wilson