The Kingdom that Jesus taught is ultimate reality–reality that cannot be transgressed without dire consequences. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23.)Because the Kingdom of God is ultimate reality, we have trouble living up to its standards, but life would be abundantly better if we could.
It is sin that separates us from ultimate realism. Pride convinces us we are better able than the Messiah to decide how we are to live. Greed convinces us that we can save ourselves by ourselves if we have enough cash. Fear causes us to perceive others as enemies rather than sisters or brothers. Envy prevents us from loving our neighbors because we want their “stuff.”
Even if the precepts of the Kingdom seem unlikely or impossible to live by, history teaches that all ways of living contrary to the Kingdom are fruitless.
Since World War II there has been no power like that of the United States. When the U.S. used its wealth for reconciliation after that horrible war, the world was made better and peace was achieved. (The U.S. gave 2.5 percent of its GNP in foreign aid during the Marshall Plan and only .17 percent in 2005.)
However, when power was used in Korea, Vietnam or now in Iraq, we have failed miserably. If the U.S. cannot win wars when no country on earth has our advantages, people everywhere should be convinced that war is impossible to control and useless as foreign policy.
While the U.S. spends more on military might than all other nations in the world combined, we have more people in poverty and without health care insurance than any other industrialized nation.
Because we build the best bombs, we don’t have the best health-care system. Our poor live lives that are hopeless. Our schools are second-rate. Our infrastructure is out of date and in danger of failure, all because we build the best bombs. We who are living by the sword are in the gravest danger of dying as a civilization because of the sword.
The Bible, from the beginning, is a book that teaches us to be our brother’s keeper. Neighbor love is at the heart of the gospel. Providing for the needs of our sisters and brothers is what we are to be about. The New Testament, as does much of the Old Testament, provides a call to economic justice.
It is a common belief in the U.S. that we must all look out for ourselves. Today the most powerful in our country receive special treatment in the form of tax breaks that enable them to amass great amounts of wealth, while the middle class is threatened and dwindling.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Bob Herbert quotes Rep. Hinchey of New York: “We have an economy that is based on increased debt. The national debt is now slightly above $9 trillion, and ordinary working people are finding that they have to borrow more and more to maintain their standard of living. The average now is that people are spending close to 10 percent more than they earn every month. Obviously, that can’t be sustained.”
In the richest country on earth, as the rich are getting richer, the middle class is quickly vanishing in a mound of debt.
Failing to provide the poor with basic needs is transgressing the ultimate reality, and we are doomed suffer the consequences because truth can be followed or not followed, but it cannot be overcome because it is truth. The consequence of transgressing the truth is death, for poverty and hopelessness leads to violence in all societies. The Bible knows what we all know ¦ that there are always some people who will not prosper, and the Bible says these sisters and brothers are to be cared for by the rest of us.
We are called to forgive. There is a large group of “family values folk” who claim to know the rules for successful family life, and they are the ones who threaten family the most. The divorce rate of people who attend family values churches is 27 percent and atheists 21 percent. There is much guilt inherent in the family values religion.
I cannot, nor can anybody I know, have a perfect family. Family values churches may lead us to pretend that our families are doing well when in fact they are as broken as can be. It is often taught that the man is the boss instead of a partner in the marriage, and this is said in the name of the Lord, which often makes God look bad. Grace is all that can save a marriage or any other relationship.
The rules of the Kingdom are grace and love. In the end that is all that works. When we value others as God values them, we are slow to hurt or to condemn the failures of others.
The Kingdom that Jesus taught is ultimate reality. We will never achieve the goal of absolute obedience to the teachings of Jesus, but we must all to strive to keep them, for failure to do so is disastrous.
Larry Wilson is pastor of First Baptist Church in Biscoe, N.C.