For years I was taught to see the kingdom of God as that which is now-but-not-yet. It’s one of those teachings with tension, pointing to a reality as frustrating as it is fulfilling. One of the best articulators of this approach is N. T. Wright. I’ve been rereading After You Believe, Wright’s book on virtue and ethics. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since first reading the book seven years ago, so I have really been struck by Wright’s assertion of virtue as a way of anticipating and participating in what God is doing.
Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Wright asserts, “we can draw down some of God’s future into our own present moment. The rationale for this is that in Jesus that future has already burst into our present time, so that anticipating that which is to come, we are also implementing what has already taken place.”
For Wright, this is evident in the New Testament picture of the new heaven and new earth found in Revelation (and more than hinted at in the writings of Paul and the teachings of Jesus). Wright continues:
In the new heavens and new earth, there will be new vocations and new tasks, the ultimate fulfillment of those given to [Adam] in the first place. Once we glimpse this, we will be in a position to see how the New Testament’s vision of Christian behavior has to do, not with struggling to keep a bunch of ancient and apparently arbitrary rules, nor with “going with the flow” or “doing what comes naturally,” but with the learning of the language, in the present, which will equip us to speak fluently in God’s new world.
Holiness, then, is “the learning in the present of the habits which anticipate the ultimate future.”
The question for many of us today, then, is how to we keep our heads and hearts in the right place. How do we see the world rightly? And how, in the midst of this, do we live into holiness with hope? I think music, particularly the kind that reflects the language of Scripture, can help with that immensely. That’s why Andrew Peterson’s “The Dark Before the Dawn” has stuck with me for the last couple of years. Here’s a recent recording of the song. It is a good reminder of the reality of the now, but also of the seeds and the hope of the not-yet, which we are already participating in as we faithfully follow Jesus.