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The Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven in the World
The post-modern German philosopher with the best mustache that you might not ever have heard of, Friedrich Nietzsche, has greatly shaped our contemporary perception of the Church and the world. He famously wrote “The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is a condition of the heart — not something that comes ‘upon the earth’ or ‘after death’.” Brought to its logical conclusion, it becomes an instinctive hatred of all reality, a flight into the “intangible”, a feeling of being at home in a world in which no sort of reality survives, a merely “inner” world, a “true” world, an “eternal” world… “The Kingdom of God is within you”… The Anti-Christ 34 & 29.
Nietzsche was the son of a pastor. Upon his father’s death he was expected to take his place in the pulpit. But all this weight of expectation was deeply claustrophobic. It was almost inevitable that he would reject this path, declaring “God is dead” which may have been a great release for him. Nietzsche’s case against Christianity was that it kept people down; that it smothered them with morality and self-loathing. His hatred of Christianity comes mostly from his hatred of renunciation and the promotion of selflessness. His ideal human is one who is free to express himself (even if sexist, racist and hateful). Morality is for the little people. It’s the way the weak manipulate the strong. The people Nietzsche most admired and aspired to be like were those who were able to reinvent themselves through some tremendous act of will.
Nietzsche’s ideas can seem shocking and disturbing, yet when you ponder the dominant culture of our world it’s strikingly familiar. The weak are despised. The wealthy, beautiful, entirely-independent, self-focused are worshipped as the greatest and the goal for us to emulate. They are great because they’ve overcome limitations placed upon them by others, intending to keep them down. Think of who is often considered a hero today?
But Jesus paints a different picture as he talks about the Kingdom of God. It’s what the Church is to exhibit and embody in the world in the way we act, love, lead, serve, and live.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION & EXAMEN:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in the text?
• Why do would Jesus talk about God’s empire in the world in parables, and not just spell it out? Which of the parables most speaks to you and your imagination?
• When have you experienced the Church as embracing the Kingdom of God? & when as for the values of Nietzsche?
• Why? How is the Spirit of God inviting you – or us as a church – to exhibit the Kingdom of God today, here in the East Bay? What might we need to let go of to do so?
Parts of my entry are lifted directly from a great article “Nietzsche’s passionate atheism was the making of me” by Giles Fraser that appeared in The Guardian. Read it HERE.
CLICK HERE to Download a Text Study Sheet for this selection of Matthew 13.