A presidential election always brings out the worst in my internet: partisanship, not the least. There is also rancor, name-calling, anger, hatred, false witness, calling evil good, and murmuring. We can add in the rest of the list from Galatians 5, if we include the politicians themselves: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” Against these, St Paul contrasts the “Fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” There is no law against these things, but they do put the Christian at variance with the general climate of the Election Cycle and, truth be told, in times past it was these very things that got Christians killed: they might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying. Have you ever tried to be the voice of reason in a barfight?
Christ says his Kingdom is “not of this World”. We – especially in America or other parts of the “first world” – hear that to mean “My Kingdom does not have a physical mailing address on this planet.” That is not only true of people who claim to follow Christ. Nonbelievers of all sorts will cite that passage whenever Christians seem to get “too political”. “Didn’t Jesus say his kingdom was ‘not of this world’? What are you doing in politics?” Christians will use the same argument when talking to another Christian of the “wrong” political stripe: “Why are you a member of thus-and-such political movement? Jesus said, ‘Not of this world’!” Finally there are those who – and I have counted myself in this camp from time to time – take “Not of this World” as a permission to stand “above it all” not wishing to be mixed up in all the partisanship, one gets all holy and stuff, standing aloof. I’ve held that position pretty much since college. I’ve never voted in a Presidential election and only three times have I voted locally. My argument has been “yeah, this isn’t working, why bother?” Consider this post the beginning of an examination of that POV.
Jesus’ phrase, as recorded in John in Greek, is:
Yes, Cosmos means “universe” or “this entire everything”. But that is not it’s primary meaning. We hear “Cosmos” today and we’re waiting for this:
In a very real sense, Dr Sagan’s version is useful: Jesus’ Kingdom is not from-out-of this universe in these 100 Billion Galaxies of 100 Billion Stars. But that’s not what Jesus means by “Cosmos”. Such a thing “this physical world” is the 4th definition for the word, noted, in Strong’s as “very rarely so in Greek writings until after the age of the Ptolemies”. Jesus seems to be using κόσμου in the primary sense of his culture: “Order”. As it was in Greek writings from Homer down, an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, (again, from Strong’s). Jesus is saying “My Kingdom – very real it certainly is – has nothing at all in common with your conception of ‘Kingdom'”.
What that means is – secular issues aside – we cannot say “We have no obligation to this world”. What we have is no obligation to this worldly system. (St Paul commands us to pray for those in authority: but we know that, over and over, our prayers for those in authority in ancient Rome were – rightly – deemed to be seditious. As I said, these things might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying. )
Point of fact, despite my previous political aloofness, I don’t think we have an obligation – or even permission – to ignore all this. However, I don’t think we have permission to get involved according to the rules of this κόσμου. Our obligation – the command given – is to follow the rules of our kingdom. But, forgive me my past sins and errors, it seems clear that we should be involved.
In a future post, I will make a little essay towards the truth of what we should be doing. In closing, for now, a meditation from 1980 on what sort of Kingdom this is.