Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10
What would it mean for God’s kingdom to come? How would we know? Ultimately, it would mean the fulfilment of that bit of ‘realized eschatology’ in Revelation 11:15: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah’; and it would be characterized by the visible, tangible presence of peace, justice, wellbeing and harmony throughout the earth, as described in Isaiah 2:2-4 and 65:17ff. Weapons would be turned into tools, there would be economic prosperity for all (which does not mean money, but enough food, shelter, clothing and everything else that makes us human), there would be no more infant mortality, disability or tragically short lives.
But is that what we are asked to pray for daily, when we know that this final transformation may be decades, centuries, millennia away? How could we ever see our prayer answered in our lifetime? (for I don’t believe, as many do and many before them have wrongly done, that we can tell for sure when ‘the end is nigh’) Perhaps, instead, or as well, this is a prayer not so much for the future as for the present. It is a prayer of longing for the ‘things that make for peace’ to show themselves here and now, in our relationships, our work, our cultural expression; longing that we may see glimpses of a Kingdom that is not just ahead but among us now – hidden, to be sure, and easily missed, but nevertheless already present.
Which brings us to the second half of the verse. Until a few years ago I always read ‘Your will be done’ as a kind of resigned submission, even fatalism; an acknowledgement that ultimately we have little power over the course of our lives, and that as Christians we are meant to ask for God’s will, not our own will, to be done. This can even make this plea feel a bit resentful; secretly I would like my own will to be done, but for the sake of being ‘a good Christian’ I will accept that God’s will is what must be done.
Then I heard around 20,000 people proclaim it together in a field at the Greenbelt Festival. And suddenly I heard it not as a pious wish, but as a desperate cry, an anguished plea for a different world. Our world is full of violence, inequality, deprivation, oppression, sickness, greed, exploitation. In the face of all this, why would we not want God’s will to be done? For God’s will, as we know if we read the Bible properly, is for ‘shalom’, the flourishing of all, the end of all the ills we live with daily. And God’s will is not for a few to experience this, but that none should perish but all receive salvation – and by salvation I mean not an exit ticket from hell, but eternal wholeness.
We should not be murmuring this prayer quietly and decently, we should be screaming it from the rooftops, yelling it at a God who appears not to be listening, desperate that our pain be heard. And desperate that it be answered, not ‘in heaven’, in some amorphous distant and future state, but right here ‘on earth’, where women, men and children suffer at the hands of the powerful, where people live with unimaginable hunger or grief or limitation. ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done’ is a scream of anger and desperation, and that is how we should pray it.