Monday Musings

Doing a Find/Replace on the “Kingdom of God”

Our language and the metaphors we employ to speak of God and what God does shapes us in ways we are often unaware of. This is something I’ve been working through the past couple of years. Where I used to embrace the language of the “Kingdom of God,” my journey away from patriarchal imagery for God and the movement of God through creation toward non-gendered, synergistic, and immanent language created a tension for me in that I could not navigate beyond. The “kingdom” language that streams through the biblical text and is even favored by Jesus does not resonate in our modern context and implies images of God that are easily misunderstood, potentially harmful, and echo themes of colonization. I’m over it. Rather, I find “the Presence of God” to be much more appropriate language. Presence implies an immanence while also implying the possibility of absence when we fail to embody God in our places. Presence removes the patriarchal nature of “kingdom” language and replaces it with language empowers us to participate with God continually. Responsibility is placed on us. I find this to be deeply incarnational, kenotic, and highly appropriate.

Thoughts? Critiques? Where does this metaphor break down or hit a wall? What non-patriarchal metaphors do you find helpful and useful?


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3 comments
  1. How does “presence of God” communicate his Lordship? Does knowing he is present give you a feeling of submission, awe, obedience? Just a thought Pete.

    The best I have ever read on the Kingdom of God is GE Ladd’s “Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God.” It was eye opening for me, a top five book in my library. In fact I think I need to re-read it.

    If you want to really get something so going, I recommend doing a word study on “kingdom of God/heaven” in the original Greek. It is better to be able to explain the Word of God than to explain it away because we are uncomfortable with its implications in our fallen world.

  2. peterjosephgarcia said:

    Thanks for responding, brother. I actually have similar issues with “lordship” as well. I’m not uncomfortable with the idea Jesus as an authority or even my authority (in fact, that’s a central piece of my theology), but my problem is with the language that the biblical text and Christianity uses to communicate that. The presence of God brings me to a place of participation, partnership, emulation and worship. The efficacy of monarchical language that the Bible uses is very limited and that’s what I’m pushing against. We don’t participate or partner with kings. I don’t think I’m trying to explain anything away, but trying to use more tangible imagery. This is how I would explain “kingdom”. Furthermore, critiques of monarchical language reveal images and concepts about God that aren’t necessarily congruent with who God is, namely a distant or disconnected ruler who calls all the shots and all the citizens abide. This emphasizes a transcendent and distant ruler of a God rather than a loving, compassionate, incarnated Immanuel.

    We don’t have cultural referents for kingdom (Magic Kingdom, maybe?) or lord and those words do not hold the same communicative power as they did during the early centuries of the church or, say, the medieval era. Further, where do we place ourselves within a kingdom, or to a lord? I understand the answer would be a servant, or as Paul might say, a slave. This is not the kind of language that is most appropriate or helpful in communicating our relationship and communion with God.

  3. peterjosephgarcia said:

    As I’ve been thinking about this more I have found more I want to add to the conversation.

    A definite limit on “presence” as opposed to “kingdom” regards the extent of what the latter means in implying something completely other and different from earthly empires and authority based on power, greed, and hierarchy. “Kingdom” more readily signifies a competing identity and allegiance. However I don’t think this critique invalidates presence-language. Within the monarchical framework the reign of God or the kingdom of God implies the tangible presence of God in the midst of community. Wendell Berry uses the term “Great Economy,” which I think is another good metaphor for entirely different reasons.

    In my initial post I hinted at presence having the ability to imply the lack of presence. By this I mean something similar to the paradox of “the kingdom of God” in that it is both now and not yet. There is a difference between the presence of God pulsing through all life and communities living out of the recognition of God’s presence.

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