The Translation of Empires into the Heavenly One, by Peter D. S. Krey
The Translation of Empires into the Heavenly One
December 23, 2014
Sunday while listening to the first lesson, 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16 (God promising the throne of David would be forever) and then Psalm 89, especially verses 3 (promising the same in a covenant) and of those following some thoughts about the promises of God in the lessons just moved through me. Because it was the fourth Sunday of Advent we sang all the verses of “O Come, O Come Emanuel” in anticipation of celebrating the birth of Jesus once more. We Christians believe and confess him to be the Messiah, the promised Son of David, who will sit enthroned on the praises of Israel forever. (Psalm 22:3) So the lessons affirmed confirmed that Jesus fulfills the promise concerning the oath that God swore to David: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn an oath to my servant David, ‘I will establish your line forever and preserve your throne for all generations’” (Psalm 89:4)
Robert Bellah’s thought experiment came to my mind, one that he related to us in his Sociology of Religions class. Just think if David had not been God’s darling, did not write psalms, play the harp and dance naked leading the procession of the Arc of the Covenant from Bethel into Jerusalem – (I’m embellishing Bellah’s words), but had decided to conquer the world for the one true God by taking armies and subjugating the peoples of North Africa, conquering even part of Spain, then moving through Asia Minor and even conquering Asia all the way to India, setting up a monotheistic empire. He did not, but remained a peculiar King. That, however, is what Mohammed did.
But the Caliphates, even Suleiman the Magnificent, still merely ruled an earthly empire, which the Stone, not Peter, but Christ, the stumbling block, like every other earthly empire, hit in the legs, breaking its feet of clay, making it come crashing down. (Daniel 2:34) The stone grew and became as big as a mountain filling the earth, (the Prophet Daniel continues in that place).
David was a peculiar King of a peculiar people and the forever throne promised to the Son of David will be a peculiar empire not like those of the world. The way Christ was an Anti-Caesar, it may not even be appropriate to call it an empire. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to refer to it as the Beloved Community. Daniel merely states that no trace of the other empires was left behind, “But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” (Dan 2:35)
But as the empires of the world have translated into their following empires, how will the earthly one translate into the heavenly one, the kingdom promised to David and his line forever? The one Christians confess to be the Messiah was called the Son of David, whom we celebrate on Palm Sunday riding on a humble donkey into Jerusalem, his capitol.
Christianity has not yet solved the political problem. How does the peace that passes understanding and forgiveness that we share privately among individuals translate into one that is public and social? How does peace and forgiveness from our hearts and from our individual relationships spread like a blanket over all the nations of the earth, turning hostility and enmity into “friendship among the nations”? Völkerfreundschaft in German.
Jesus did not conquer his Kingdom with military campaigns, but sent his disciples out on healing campaigns. His reign is not one based on coercion, but on life and the abundant life. Earthly nations usually begin and end up based on coercion and the threat of death. How can that be reversed into the peculiar kind of place that resembles the kingdom of heaven? Here is a sign: when President Obama sent soldiers into West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak. That means the soldiers are on a healing campaign for saving lives rather than killing our country’s enemies. When we sent our soldiers and our warships to help the poor people in the great Christmas Tsunami, that was another sign and foretaste of the forever kingdom. When one army fights another, it can have little to do with the cross of Christ. But when an army stops killing its own citizens to maintain the tyranny of a dictator and suddenly takes the side of the people, preserving lives and bringing about positive change, then a real spiritual change has occurred. In a political and social sense the army was converted.
Islamization is a distortion of peaceful Islam. But the violent jihad that banks on extreme violence even medieval in nature and massacres non-Moslems or even Moslems of a different persuasion are bringing real embarrassment to Islam. That radical Islamist force of evil, perhaps also a reaction to our Western evil, will inevitably lead to a dead-end in their endeavor.
In so far as Israel represents Judaism in diaspora, it too has implicated itself into a forgivable contradiction. (It’s understandable and forgivable because they are victims creating other victims in a quasi-paranoia.) In their snuffing out the people of the land, the Palestinians, who in a role reversal, are really like the former Jews, whom the Jews in Israel are now persecuting. It is like the majority of Jews here in the United States becoming White and becoming racist, now practicing a form of systematic prejudice similar to ant-Semitism, which they themselves suffered because of. To say this is, of course, to point to the speck in the Jewish eye and meanwhile we have to be mindful that the log of prejudice and racism is in the White European-American eye.
Now our so-called Christian government has just fought an unjust war in Iraq and practiced torture after 9/11, so we share the contradictions of the heart of our faith with Judaism and Islam, if we grant that Christians are still a majority in the United States. Still the theology of grace, the ethos of forgiveness, and a sense of justice that is not filled with revenge, but with kindness and forgiveness, is something that Christians can contribute for the next historical step on the way. We will still never have the kingdom of heaven on earth, but we can achieve greater approximations of justice. Important theological work becomes necessary in terms of allowing these approximations to proceed only on the basis of rationality and law and determining how this is related to the passion of faith. Part of the Christian vision is of the cross, meaning that we continue the passion of Christ, not killing and hurting others for the coming kingdom, but suffering with Christ to pray for the transformation, the revolution of hearts and minds, the heavenly translation of these earthly empires into the heavenly one, in which Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Son of David will be enthroned forever.
 We can be realists operating by rationality and law for completely spiritual reasons.