Kingdom Come

It’s easy to get discouraged about the state of the world when one looks out and about. Just in the last week or so–Russia is about to invade Ukraine, there was yet another coup in West Africa, the GOP censured literally the two best current members of the party, there’s a full-fledged famine in Somalia (which still doesn’t have a functioning government after over 30 years), American police killed another unarmed black man. On the more trivial side of things, Aaron Rogers won MVP, Tom Brady and his militant breastfeeding wife still haven’t moved to a remote island with no connectivity with the outside world, people won’t stop posting their stupid Wordle things despite my repeated request that they all cease and desist immediately, almost all pants sold right now are the universally unflattering high-waisted variety, and Kim Kardashian is still famous.

Most of those are more “liberal concerns,” except possibly Kim Kardashian. Perhaps we could come together as a nation around the idea that she really, really should not be famous and build from there.

White evangelicals will have a whole other list, mainly involving people’s sexual habits and society’s tolerance of that. And the general “coarseness” of society, a complaint I just can’t take seriously anymore since 80% of them voted for Donald Trump. I grew up hearing about society’s slide into the toilet since the halcyon days of the 1950’s when families were in tact, gays were closeted, nobody took drugs or listed their pronouns, and everyone went to church. Also, there was no Kim Kardashian, which does sound really amazing. True, black people had no civil rights and were periodically killed for asking, but the people killing them did not have premarital sex (that we know of) and that is what is apparently important? Anyway, I am trying not to be snarky, but snark is my spiritual gift so.

I’m going to lay aside different people’s different concerns for a minute and zoom way, way out. Like thousands of years out in some cases, although even the tale of the last 50 years is pretty compelling. Here are a few historical facts:

Extreme poverty has literally been cut in half since World War 2 and continues to fall.

Child mortality has been cut in half just since 1990! The wider use of vaccines is in large part responsible. Vaccines have essentially eradicated multiple deadly childhood diseases. Also children aren’t as often chained to factory machinery to work for hours on end. In fact, our current notions of childhood as a special time in life when people are supposed to protect and care for you is only about 200 years old (and not universal in our current age). Before that, it was like, Get your own damn job, Timmy! Of course, after children became more cherished, parenting also became a lot more demanding so, yeah, progress has its down sides.

War is becoming increasingly rare, as are deaths as a result of war. 20 million people died in World War 2 alone! In fact, violence of all kinds is on the decline. Some common types of violence hundreds or thousands of years ago are pretty much non-existent anymore. It is highly unlikely you will be accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake for instance. Or be sacrificed as part of a religious ceremony. Or be executed for stealing a cabbage. Or die in a duel because someone insulted your honor and that just can’t stand. Or be ripped apart by wild animals for others’ entertainment. Fun times.

Life expectancy during the Roman Empire was 25. 25! I hadn’t even learned how to camouflage my cankles by wearing wedges at that age. I had yet to have a real job or fallen in love (I had gotten married to someone I didn’t love, just like in olden times. I don’t recommend it). I hadn’t even begun to write my bucket list. But if I lived back in Caesar’s time, welp, I would not have a bucket list, I would only have a bucket, if I were privileged. If not, I would have like a camel bladder of some kind in which to carry water. I would have probably died in childbirth at age 19. Hey, on the bright side, if you die in childbirth, you don’t have to breastfeed!

Speaking of dying in childbirth, it used to be so incredibly common and now, at least in the developed world, it’s really, really rare. Inexplicably, women continue to breastfeed even with the invention of formula, which is another bit of incredibly good news for humanity! Yayyy formula!!!

Dying in childbirth was just the beginning of how much life used to suck for women. It’s still not great, frankly–menopause and PMS remain a thing, as does sexual violence and harassment and housework, of which women still do the vast majority, regardless of their employment status–but at least we can now vote, work, hold office, have bank accounts, file for divorce, go to college, and best of all, wear clothing with spandex instead of torture devices claiming to be clothing– all things that we could not do 150 years ago. Oh, and BIRTH CONTROL. Praise Jesus!

Liz in her Saturday lounge wear, binging on potato chips and Netflix.

For the evangelicals out there–Guess what used to be considered Christian? Killing people who didn’t convert. Killing people who didn’t agree with your theology. Killing people for being uppity intellectuals. Killing people for being uppity women. Killing people for being uppity Blacks. Holding slaves. Supporting segregation. Oh, and did you know that a third of the brides during the time of the American Revolution were pregnant? Where’s that purity culture when you need it.

I could go on about all the things that have gotten better for everyone. But I think you catch my drift. In addition to all those measurable things–a lot of the changes in social mores, including ones evangelicals don’t like, are based on the rise of some pretty Christ-like thoughts about one’s fellow humans. That each of us are inherently worthy of love as humans. That societies knit together by tolerance for difference and respect for others’ equal humanity instead of the force of rulers or the imposition of caste systems or shaming practices are preferable. That empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability create stronger, healthier human bonds.

Some of our social problems can even be seen as a result of moral progress, not decline. Take divorce, something I have a little experience with. Divorce used to be so rare. Now it is quite common (although in decline of late!). Terrible news, right?!

Not so fast. Of course divorce wasn’t common when a) It wasn’t really allowed and b) women had no rights to speak of. Pretty easy to keep together a relationship when one person in it has all the power and all the money. Just like police states have their advantages, amirite Paul Kagame (who is definitely not a sign of human progress, by the way)?

(Incidentally, if I disappear in the next week or so, I’ve probably been abducted by a Rwandan death squad.)

Guess what’s hard to sustain but way more meaningful, divine, and sacred if you can pull it off? A relationship of mutual love and respect, held together by nothing more than the mysterious, gossamer ties of free will, commitment, attachment, perseverance, attraction, friendship. That’s some fragile, beautiful stuff right there.

Even if you just look at the record of humanity as presented in the Bible, over a period of several thousand years a very long time ago, the moral progress depicted is stunning. We go from God giving instructions about how to properly treat female sex slaves and stoning people for yelling at their parents to Jesus telling folks to love their enemies, treat the marginalized with dignity, and get their own moral houses in order before running around literally casting stones at others. In fact, let’s just not stone people at all anymore, K thanks.

Taking in the whole sweep of human history–you absolutely cannot escape the conclusion that the Kingdom is Coming. The Law of Love is winning out. Moral progress is inexorable.

This is particularly stunning when you consider that the physical laws of things run in the other direction. I’m not a scientist, and I’m about to prove that conclusively, but I think the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics basically says that physically speaking, things fall apart, or at least they appear to (in truth, they are probably reinvented/energy is transferred, but it kind of gets too complicated for a liberal arts major so we’ll just leave it there). If left alone, the physical world decays, dies, becomes disordered, gets worse.

I don’t think you need to be a scientist to realize this is in fact the case. You only need to live in a house. If you live in a house with children, or other people whose main desire in life is that you go mad, you know that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is definitely a thing. And also that children are extremely messy terrorists.

The Law of Kingdom Come says that while the physical world decays, and as generations of humans die, something else unseen is pushing humanity forward. Spiritually, we are getting better over time. As a human family, we love more and better than we ever did before. Still not perfectly, still not great. But if you have any doubt, Lord have mercy go read something on Caligula or the medieval church or just put on a corset or something. Then read some Brene Brown or watch Ted Lasso and thank the Lord in heaven you were born when you were.

I don’t know where this force will ultimately take us or when or where it will end, but I believe in Kingdom Come, when all the colors bleed into one, to quote my very favorite band.

The question for each of us is–Are we going with this flow or are we trying to fight it, out of dread of change, narrow thinking, and a theology centered on an itty bitty God? Can we see the hope of the big picture or are we mired in fear of the small now?

Because Kingdom is Coming, whether you like it or not.

4 thoughts on “Kingdom Come

  1. I like most of this but what’s with the anti-breastfeeding thing? I did but am no more evangelical about it (although is good for baby initially at least) than ashamed that I was formula-fed. Surely it’s whatever works for women – breast or bottle?

    Like

    1. Oh it’s kind of a recurring joke with me. I seriously do have PTSD with breastfeeding though. It almost caused a complete breakdown. And the benefits have been greatly exaggerated. Anyway. I’m mainly making a joke here about my irrational aversion to it.

      Like

    2. I will say the immense pressure to breastfeed is a source of a lot of trauma and psychological harm for many women, including myself, so I’m more concerned about the feelings of those women than breastfeeding advocates. Sorry 🤷‍♀️.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: