Above is a second rendering of Edward Hicks’ famous painting The Peaceable Kingdom. I used this picture in my last post as a way to introduce the idea that the kingdom of God is non-Darwinian. The primary focus and orientation of the Kingdom is something other than “survival of the fittest”, winner-take-all competing and “only the strong survive.”
If this is true, if it is the case that God’s kingdom operates along different lines than a way of life based on Darwinian principles, what would it mean to repent?
I’m not suggesting that such repentance would require that we try to move society from winner-take-all to “everybody’s a winner!” Every sporting event does not need to end in a tie, nor should we be forced to buy Yugos and not Jaguars, nor need we pretend that this political party’s ideas and policies are every bit as good as those of its opposition. We should not move from recognizing and rewarding excellence to privileging mediocrity.
However, we already have within our Christian imagery, history and practices, some ways that point us into the non-Darwinian kingdom. Paying some attention to them might help frame for us some of the pathways into “repent and believe the good news of the kingdom!”
Baptism is one way in which the church identifies itself with the non-Darwinian kingdom of God. In baptism, we identify with, first, the death of Jesus, and then also with his resurrection. In other words, these first movements of discipleship are a kind of dying, followed by a new kind of life that we have not invented or created. Resurrection is not an “innovation,” it’s new creation”! The Darwinian view assumes that death is ultimate, and so life is understood as a never-ending and hopeless struggle against the inevitability of death. Baptism affirms the reality of death, both physical death but more importantly spiritual death (“the wages of sin is death”), but further affirms that death is not ultimate and does not get the final word.
If death is not ultimate, than “man cannot live on Darwinian mechanisms alone.”
The Lord’s Table, even though understood and practiced in various ways, remains a central act of Christian identity and worship, and is a second way we point to a non-Darwinian way of being and living. The communion table is directly linked to Passover, to the sacrificed lamb whose blood signaled the angel of death to pass over the dwellings so marked, as ultimately fulfilled in Jesus the Lamb of God. Is there any less “evolutionarily competent” creature than a slaughtered lamb? And yet that is who hosts—alive!—at the Table.
The Table does not discriminate between life’s “winners” and “losers”. At the Table, college professor and Down syndrome teen stand on level ground. Judge and crook, rich man and Lazarus, gifted and ordinary, beautiful and homely, elites and nobodies are all welcomed into God’s life by the Ultimate Failure, a crucified man whom God raised from the dead. It is often the case that the first member of these pairings (the highly educated, high-status, wealthy, etc.) resent and resist this good news, while the second welcome it.
“Ultimate Failure” is only one of Jesus’ many titles. I appreciate its offensiveness, but that is precisely what crucifixion meant, to the Romans and Jews: a crucified man was a failure, a dead-end—
–except, until, God raised Jesus from the dead.
So we have these two central and powerful ways, among many others, of imaging the reality of a kingdom that is non-Darwinian. What are the ways we might live in this light and live out its implications?
First, we are called to pay special attention to those on the margins, those who “can’t compete” due to weakness, disability, being “dealt a bad hand” by life. A Darwinian mindset relegates them to “loser-hood” and moves on in the way of success and survival. After all, “we now know” that at least some of the causes for people having the problems they do is based in their DNA. Perhaps it’s their lack of intelligence, their vulnerability to addiction, a predisposition to particular illnesses, but to the extent that “it’s genetic,” we wouldn’t want those particular strands of DNA getting passed along, would we?
The Kingdom views the littlest, the least, the last and the lost differently. If there is more to life than out-competing my neighbors and ensuring my survival even at the cost of theirs, then our “weaker” neighbors may have much to teach us and as much to give us as our “stronger” ones.
One form the attention to the “least of these my brothers” can take is hospitality, particularly to the “four Ls” among us. Jesus told us that, when we throw a dinner party, to be sure to invite those who cannot “repay” us by inviting us to their dinner party … or whose return dinner party invitation might well bring us to a table and to some fellow guests we might easily perceive as “beneath” us.
We have been told that we will meet, or fail to meet, Jesus himself in the faces and persons of the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned. Jesus said that the good news of the kingdom was especially directed to, and was especially good news for, the poor, the blind, the prisoners, the oppressed. As we welcome them, we welcome him whom we call Lord.
A second form is what I would term “reckless generosity,” the kind of generosity that isn’t seeking controllable outcomes or maximal “effectiveness,” but which is patterned on God the Creator’s generously causing the sun to shine and the rain to fall on everybody simply because everyone needs light and water. God is “reckless” in his grace, he doesn’t “reckon” the cost vs. outcome. Heaven does not have a bean-counting department. I have no quarrels with those who say there is a place for ensuring that the causes and organizations to which we contribute demonstrate reliability, trustworthiness, transparency and some sort of “effectiveness.” At the same time, “reckless” generosity is a way we practice being like our Father in heaven, whose motivation is grace and love, not immediate and “measurable” results.
God’s kingdom is pretty upside-down, eh? Or maybe it’s our Darwinian approaches to life that are in need of serious upending.