Vote for the kingdom that will never pass away

After weeks of campaigning and claim and counter claim the referendum about Britain’s membership of the European Union has taken place and the result is now in. By a slim majority the British people have decided that they want to leave the European Union and so that is what will now happen.

This is obviously a momentous decision that is likely to have serious political, economic and social consequences for the United Kingdom and for Europe as whole for years and probably decades to come. Like the fall of the communism in Eastern Europe at the end of the last century it is what the Americans like to call a ‘game changer.’ However, I want to argue that while Christians should take what has happened seriously, particularly because of the potential it has to lead to both economic turmoil and increased xenophobia, they should not give it undue significance.

This is because Christians know, or at least should know, that no human political system lasts for ever. If we read through the Bible we find a whole series of kingdoms and empires rising and falling as the biblical narrative goes on. At one time Assyria is dominant, then it is the Babylonians, then it is the Persians and so on. Even the two kingdoms belonging to God’s own people, the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel conform to the same pattern. They rise, they endure for a while and then they pass away.  What we learn from this is not expect any human political system to be permanent and this same truth is reinforced by the history of Europe.

Since the fall of the Roman Empire there have been an enormous number of different political arrangements in Europe, some large and some small, some lasting for a very short period of time and others lasting longer, but none of them fixed or immutable. Even those which lasted for centuries such as the Byzantine Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, or the Holy Roman Empire underwent constant change and eventually came to an end. There is therefore no reason to expect it to be any different for either the European Union or the United Kingdom.

However, in the midst of all these political changes, one thing has remained constant and will remain constant in the future, and that is the kingdom of God. Addressing God as king, the Psalmist declares in Psalm 145:13 ‘Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endures for all generations’ and this is a truth that is declared not only in this verse but throughout the Bible as whole.  According to the Bible, God rules over the world that he has made (see Psalms 96 and 97). In his providence he presides over the rise and fall of nations and political systems (see Isaiah 40:20-24 and Daniel 7) and he will one day replace them all with a final kingdom that endures for ever. This is the kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated through his life, death and resurrection, and that will be made fully manifest when Jesus comes in glory at the end of time.

In that final and eternal kingdom, St John tells us: ‘the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying no pain any more, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:3-4).

The Bible declares that entry into God’s kingdom is open to all human beings, but that does not mean all human beings will enter into it. That is because God gives us a vote. He allows us to make a choice as to whether we want to be part of his kingdom. The content of this choice is who we choose to love.

As St. Augustine explains in his book The City of God, in the last resort we have to make a choice between belonging to one of two cities, the earthly city or the heavenly city (Revelation 21:2), and the existence of these two cities is determined by two forms of love. In his words:

‘We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self. In fact the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:17). The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its highest glory in God, the witness of a good conscience. The earthly lifts up its head in its own glory, the Heavenly City says to its God: ‘My glory; you lift up my head’ (Psalm 3:3) In the former, the lust for domination lords over its princes as over the nations it subjugates; in the other those put in authority and those subject to them serve each other in love, the rulers by their counsel, the subjects by obedience. The one city loves its own strength shown by its powerful leaders; the other says to its God, ’I will love you, my Lord, my strength’ (Psalm 18:1).’ [1]

We all therefore have to make one vote that truly matters, besides which voting for or against the European Union fades into insignificance. That vote is for or against being part of the Heavenly City, for or against allowing our lives to be shaped by love for God, for or against being part of God’s everlasting kingdom.

If we have voted to be part of God’s kingdom, then in the face of political turmoil our attitude should be, in the words of the famous poster, to ‘Keep calm and carry on.’ This is because we can know that whatever happens in the political arena God is on the throne of the universe, he won’t resign, he can’t be ousted from office, and his steadfast love will always be there for us.  In the words of the opening verses of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;

God will help her right early.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;

he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-8)

[1] St Augustine, The City of God, Book XIV:28, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972, p.593.

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