That question vexed me in my youth. And it vexes many people still today.
There more than a few ways to think about the Kingdom of God and here are some of the ways I like to think about it.
First, the Kingdom of God is a reference to Gods Kingdom.
It might sound like I pulled this one out of the school of redundancy text book, but it bears importance to say that the Kingdom of God is not an abstract phrase, but an actual Kingdom in which God is King.
Second, the Kingdom of God is a reference to Gods dominion.
I agree with Ben Witherington III that to speak of God’s Kingdom is to speak of the territory in which God’s will is our command. In other words, wherever the Kings subjects are obeying the Kings command, it is there that the Kingdom of God is being established.
Third, the Kingdom of God is not geographically fixed.
It’s easy to think of the Kingdom of God in terms of heaven. But then again, that assumes heaven is a geographically fixed place. I believe heaven is more of a person than a place. Jesus uses the phrase “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” interchangeably to refer to the same thing, God’s will being done.
Armed with those three simple concepts (and I admittedly oversimplified a very deep and complex subject), here’s what I think are a couple of corollaries of understanding the Kingdom of God in that way.
First, the Kingdom of God should not be associated with any earthly Kingdom. This is because God’s Kingdom, while being a concrete concept, is not about earthly politics or the hierarchy of govern-ship. (On a related note, that is the same reason we should abstain from associating the Kingdom of God with institutionalized Christianity.)
Second, Christ-ians are servants of the King (Christ = Messiah = Anointed One = King) and we share the Kings values (or we should). So when we vote, naturally we’ll vote for whichever political leader or party we believe is best aligned with those values (a debatable matter, for sure. See below). But we are not voting for the Kingdom of God, nor should we expect – broadly speaking – to force secular society to live according to Kingly standards (which accomplishes nothing in terms of their salvation!).
Here are three examples: abortion, gay marriage, poor.
Many of the Christians I know who vote democrat hold in high esteem the value of taking care of the poor. Many Christians I know who vote republican hold in high esteem the value of the family. Now I hasten to add that those who vote democrat also value family and those who vote republican also value the poor.
But the lines between democrat and republican seem to me to be drawn most starkly along those two (or three) issues for Christians. Speaking for the people I personally know, few political issues are as important as “the sanctity of the family” and “the sanctity of life,” meaning they oppose gay marriage and abortion, and they oppose any political leader who seems to allow for both. They believe that voting democrat undermines the Bibles clear teaching about the sanctity of the family and life.
Many Christians I know who vote democrat will be quick to point out that Jesus said more about the poor than he ever did about marriage, and so does the Old Testament which emphasizes God’s concern for the outcasts in society. The New Testament does this as well, particularly in Acts as well as in epistles like James and Peter.
So a person’s “Christianness” should not be determined by whether or not they vote republican or democrat. With our broken society governed by secular leaders (admittedly, some with greater morals than others), the best we can hope for is to weigh our candidates platforms, let our convictions be our guide and then let the pieces fall were they may. And when it’s done, whether you voted “R” or “D,” makes no difference in our allegiance to the One True King, and our cooperation with one another as servants of that King. Because after election day our neighbours still are in need, have yet to meet the King, our poor are still poor, baby’s are still being murdered, wars are still being waged and the kingdoms of this world have not yet become the Kingdom of our God.
We have a job to do and we can’t let our allegiance to our nation or our political party supersede – or be equated with – our allegiance to the King. Nor should the politics of this world divide us as Christians.