The more I study Christ and the early church's central message, or gospel, of the Kingdom, the more I realize how much of a "tension" we live in as Christians. By tension I mean a pull in two directions, or two separate ways.
The Bible makes it clear that when we are born again we are no longer of this world. It doesn't just say we aren't "like" this world, but that we aren't "of" this world, and the distinction is huge. In fact, when we are born again, or born from above, or made alive unto God, we are transferred into Christ's Kingdom and reign and rule. We, the body, become His holy nation, set apart for Him. No longer does He dwell in a temple in an earthly temple, but we, the body of Christ, become His dwelling place and residence. The reality is, as a born again Christian, we are more closely knit with, and have more tie with, a Christian in Iran than we do with a non-Christian in America.
This is the reality of the Kingdom. We are of a new Kingdom, with a higher authority and call. Yes, we are to obey the government of our land, and to give unto Caeser what is Caesar's, etc., but if our nation's laws or commands ever pulls us into conflict with God's laws or reign on our life we must choose God's Kingdom over any earthly nation.
This tension was made very evident to me this week in the reflections on the death of Usama bin Laden. I found the twin, and opposing, pulls very powerful. I have always been very patriotic, and the pain that man unrepentantly caused to our nation is too large for words. When I saw the cadets at West Point (my alma mater) cheering in the quad on TV I found myself drawn to the celebration and the joy and the relief. When I saw the American flag flying, I felt pride. While I am very concerned about the current direction of many trends and leaders in America, I still believe we are a great nation with a tremendous amount of generosity and willingness to sacrifice for others. There was, as an American, a sense of justice and pride in the elite team that pulled off that operation and helped America stand a little taller and be a little safer
But, pulling the other way, and causing a turbulence of emotions in me (and not all Christians agree with me on this), was the "other" Kingdom—God's—and I couldn't, in any way, envision Jesus dancing with joy at the news of a human being, created in His image, whom He died for on the cross, taking a bullet and dying amidst his family. I can only imagine grief . . . grief at how the world has become, grief at how people treat people, grief at the sin that continues in the face of the work His Son did on the cross to make a way for all men to come to Him, grief that it had to end that way when Usama could have chosen Jesus. This is not to say that what we did was wrong—as a nation God has ordained authorities and those authorities protect their nation and he was a man who chose evil against our nation. But, I had to ask myself, was the instinct to pump the fist in the air in victory justice, or revenge? Was the celebration for justice, or revenge? And do we, as Christians, realize that we all were deserving of death and it is only by God's grace that we have life?
We must not forget that justice—the true and final justice—did not happen when the trigger was pulled and the bullet struck, but would happen when he stood before God and found his name not in the Lamb's book of life and was sent from God's presence into eternity apart from God. That is the justice, and it is eternal. All of us deserve it, but some will escape it because we have trusted in Jesus' death on the cross as our substitute and only basis of righteousness before God. I think, in times like these, the temptation is to compare ourselves to someone like Usama bin Laden and start to, subtly, pump ourselves up a little as, "not so bad as him." We must never forget that there are none righteous the Bible says—not one. "There but for the grace of God go I," as the expression says.
Proverbs 24:17-20 says: Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him. Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out. Usama bin Laden has met a far worse fate than simply death on this earth. Justice was done—eternal justice—because he chose to reject Jesus' work on the cross. We, as Christians, must be careful in the heart with which we receive such news.
So, therein lies the tension—at least for me. America did what America needed to do. I am proud of those who went in and pulled it off—their training and dedication every day and the countless jobs they do that we never hear about to keep us safe to worship Jesus, raise our children, vote, and walk our streets. But, as a citizen of God's Kingdom, I also find sadness. Sadness at what this world is, at why it even had to happen, at those who reject God's love. I find no joy in another person's death. Death, of a person separated from God, is only for me a place of grief. I have no place to lift myself above anyone. If God hadn't pursued me so diligently and relentlessly, and if others hadn't loved me through my cocky arrogance, and if . . . I, too, might face eternity apart from God and my loved ones who loved Him. He has done all the work. He has revealed Himself. He has paid the price. I have nothing to boast in.
I live in tension. There is a constant pull of the world in one direction and the pull of God in the other. May I always choose Him and His ways as my highest allegiance and love.