Going up?

Perhaps no image captures the concept of impatience better than that of someone repeatedly and agitatedly assaulting an elevator button. The delay between pressing the button and the elevator’s arrival presses the limits of our patience. What is going ON up there?

We are used to there being a close relationship between our acts and their effects. We realize that they can’t all be instantaneous, of course, but our experience teaches us to expect something to happen when we press buttons, whether literal or figurative.

This expectation is confounded in the kingdom. Kingdom realities, spiritual realities, eternal realities do not operate on a simple cause and effect principle. Yet we often want them to and are frustrated when they don’t. We pray and want there to be some discernible outcome from the effort expended. We serve and want to experience a commensurate return. We ask God, “What is going ON up there?”

But the kingdom works on a “secret” principle (Mt. 6:4). John Yoder says it powerfully, “The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship between cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.”

What does this mean? Kingdom causes like prayer, fasting, worship, etc. do not mechanistically trigger kingdom outcomes. We cannot bring the kingdom ourselves, even by dedicating ourselves to “kingdom” activities like prayer and fasting. Rather, prayer, fasting, giving, service, humility, etc. are each little “deaths”, little “crosses.” Deaths and crosses in and of themselves have no creative effect. They are dead ends. They rely upon the gracious resurrecting, life-giving act of God to become anything more. We must die to the idea that our actions in and of themselves bring good and in faith hope for the resurrection power of God to bring his kingdom.

This is a hard saying. It runs counter to our human expectations. It runs counter to the way we want the world to work. It even runs counter to the way many people preach about the gospel and the Christian life. But it is precisely that counter-intuitiveness that suggests to me that it is true.

“Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

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