The kingdom of heaven involves multiple perspectives. A bird’s-eye perspective may take you above the treetops. The astronaut’s-eye view may take you to the international space station, from which, looking down on Planet Earth, says Tim Peake, any astronaut knows “that’s one of the greatest things they’re going to see.”
However great, it’s pretty inconsequential when compared to the God’s-eye view of reality.
Jesus’ varied narratives of the kingdom are an excellent way to sense the breadth of the God’s-eye view. There’s the explorer’s treasure finder perspective; the experimental farmer’s multiterrain perspective; varied renderings of the party perspective (the royal wedding, the girls’ sleepover); and of course, the “animal farm,” sheep and goats perspective, very popular with socially minded leftists and service-oriented millennials. The kingdom of God involves multiple perspectives, including multiple ways of conceiving it; and multiple ways of participation: from sterner ways, such as commandment obedience or martyrdom, to impossibly gracious ways, such as forgiving multimillion-dollar debts.
The kingdom of heaven involves multiple perspectives
Through the years Bible studentshave tried to divide and choose among these metaphors. We pick faith—and mindlessness—because works and conscientious effort are proof of someone else’s pathetic failure of insight into “the exceeding sinfulness of sin” (see Rom. 7:13). We insist on obedience—and tithing our herb gardens—because too many have insulted God by their cheapening of grace. Either we get the fruit of the Spirit part or we latch on to the Ten Commandments parts, when hard-work parts and soft-heart parts are equally divine: exhaustion in sacrifice for God and the delight of service for Him are not mutually exclusive. Meticulous attention to detail and peace that passes understanding are not opposing possibilities of Christian reality; hard work and partying go together in Jesus the joy of living, at whose right hand there is eternal pleasure, regardless of how much imprisonment, beating, stoning, shipwreck, peril from nature or treacherous humans, hardship, hunger, thirst, and pastoral ministry we ever experience (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28).
What do you know that could never be part of the kingdom? Why? You may be right. But you may be wrong. God’s one kingdom of glorious grace is so inexhaustibly varied, diverse, and wonderful: a kingdom for virgins and a kingdom for slaves. A kingdom of administrators and academics for God, researchers and retirees, mechanics and maintenance people for Jesus: of office and wayside witnesses; all aspects and elements of the same kingdom.
The contrast is not between wayside and ivory tower, or between fête and slavery: it’s between God’s kingdom, and all the other kingdoms! The God’s-eye view of Jesus’ multiple stories teaches that we shall never exhaust the dimensions of His truth.
Instead, we may all be constantly conscious, and uniquely satisfied, that the kingdom of heaven involves multiple perspectives.
Lael Caesar is an associate editor of Adventist Review.