At the heart of God’s kingdom and at the heart of the king is this truth: God created us to be whole and to flourish.
We struggle with this idea because our lives are so far from God’s intent. Our lives tend to be defined by other words, words like: brokenness, heartache, pain, hurt, bondage, disappointment, despair. We ask, “If God’s design for us is wholeness and flourishing, why do we experience so little of it?”
Quite frankly, this is an important question. It’s not a question to run from; it’s a question to run toward. Not only do we need to embrace and believe that God created us to be whole and to flourish, we also need to believe that God isn’t intimidated by our questions, even those that seem to call him into question. He wants us to ask. He wants us to be honest. It’s only when we ask—even the hard questions, particularly the hard questions—that we put ourselves into a position to discover answers.
The distance between what God intends and what life tends to be is not caused by God making a mistake or being ineffective, but by sin—ours and others. Sin leads to a world in which we selfishly hurt one another, a world in which accidents cause us pain and heartache, a world in which all of our views are skewed: our view of God, our view of others and our view of ourselves. Jesus comes to address all of this.
We often focus our attention on Jesus forgiving our sins and making us right with God. He certainly comes to do this. Jesus takes upon himself the reality and consequences of evil and through his death and resurrection conquers evil and its consequences. But Jesus also comes to provide us with a clearer image of God’s eternal kingdom—what it is and God’s desire that we experience it.
The Gospel writers tells stories of Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead to life, releasing people from the bondage of sin, casting out demons that control human beings, restoring relationships, giving all people dignity, value and significance. The Gospel writers tell these stories to give us a glimpse into the purpose of God’s kingdom. Every time Jesus heals the sick it is a glimpse of life in God’s eternal kingdom of health and wholeness. Every time Jesus casts out a demon it is a glimpse of freedom in God’s eternal kingdom in which Satan and evil are crushed and defeated forever. Every time Jesus treats people with dignity that the culture, particularly the religious culture, treats as unwanted and insignificant it is a glimpse of the inherent value and worth of all people in God’s eternal kingdom.
We must understand that though God desires all of his creation to experience the characteristics of his eternal kingdom, some reject God and his purposes. But for all who are open to God, still we must wait until Jesus reappears to experience his purposes in all of their fullness. The apostle Paul writes: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But Paul’s words are not intended to mean that we can experience nothing of God’s intent now. Surely, Jesus comes not as a teaser that has no bearing on our lives now. The Gospels are intended not only to reveal what is to come, but to encourage us about how much of what is to come we can experience now.
Mark 8:22-26 tells the story of Jesus healing a blind man. The fascinating nuance of this particular story is that for the man to be healed Jesus must lay his hands twice on the man’s eyes. Nowhere else in the Gospels do we find such an occurrence. In every other story, Jesus speaks once, touches once, but here, twice.
It feels a little disconcerting that Jesus must touch the man two times in order for the man to be completely healed. We wonder if Jesus’ power is waning, sort of like Superman when he gets a little too close to kryptonite. But the Gospels tell us that though Jesus is so completely human that he grows weary, we have no hint that his connection to the Father, the source of his power, is ever compromised. I do wonder if Jesus isn’t dealing here with a similar situation as that which he encounters in Nazareth. Mark tells us that when he returns to Nazareth because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them (6:5). As crazy as it sounds, unbelief hinders Jesus. Bethsaida, the town in which he meets this blind man, is one of the towns Jesus chastises for their unbelief (Luke 10:13). I suspect that this is why Jesus takes the man by the hand and leads him outside the city and why he tells the now-seeing man not to return to the city. The unbelief of the people in this town will discourage him and hinder him. Surely this is the reason Jesus touches him twice in order for the man’s healing to be complete. But I think that something else is going on here as well.
Perhaps Mark is offering us a vivid image of living between the now and the not yet of God’s eternal kingdom. We are being provided with an image of God’s ultimate purposes for his creation and God’s work in this world as we wait for those ultimate purposes to be revealed. After Jesus lays his hands on the man, he can see but what he sees is distorted: I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around. After the second touch, the man sees clearly, perfectly.
The call of the gospel, the expectation of the purposes of God’s kingdom on earth, is not that our lives are going to be perfect, but that we would experience more and more of the dynamics of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The call of the gospel is not an expectation that followers of Jesus are perfect, but that followers of Jesus are so open to the Holy Spirit that our vision resembles that of Jesus, that our hearing resembles that of Jesus, that our actions resemble that of Jesus, that our priorities resemble that of Jesus. It is living the answer to our prayer: your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Seeing, hearing, acting, prioritizing our lives is not a call to the pressure of rules; it is the joy of life in the kingdom. This is not a life to dread; this is life to anticipate. This openness to God does not mean that life will all of a sudden be without pain or heartache, without struggle or brokenness. Actually, the more we see like Jesus, the more we see God at work in the world and the reality of the pain and brokenness of the world. The difference is that because we see God at work—believe that he is active—in the world, we engage the brokenness of the world with the compassion and love of Jesus. What it means is that we are becoming new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). It means that we are experiencing something of what God always intended for us.