In rewatching Dallas Willard’s teaching on the Beatitudes, in which he explores the nature of the Kingdom of God, and the nature of those that live there, I was once again struck by just how far away from goodness we really are.
To understand the chasm we’re dealing with, we need to know the nature of the Kingdom, and particularly its citizens, at least as explained by Willard.
First, Willard presents his thesis in response to answering two ancient philosophical questions: 1) Who is well off, and; 2) Who is a good person? Historically we’ve tended to answer the first as those who have money, those who have health, those who are pretty/handsome, those who have a good job, those who have good marriages, those who have children they love, etc.
The purpose of the Beatitudes is to reject these common perceptions, and instead highlight that those lacking are blessed. Christ here is actually teaching an example of his “inversion” message. He’s saying that to God, everybody is blessed, by Him. He’s telling us that within His Kingdom of blessing, God’s purpose is to extend His love through His blessing to all.
Jesus’ answer to the second question is those who recognize God’s intention with respect to His Kingdom and seek to join in it. In other words, those that want more than anything to join in the love expressed within that Kingdom. These are not people who simply want to follow some rules leading to approval by men of their actions.
Jesus makes it pretty clear that just acting as if you are a member of this Kingdom community isn’t going to get it done. Here (Mt. 5:20) he makes the statement about the ir-righteouness of the scribes and the Pharisees – referring to their behavior of strutting around appearing to be those whose hearts are right with God, when in fact their intention is only “to be seen by men” (Mt. 6:1, Mt. 23:1-12). So, He explains, our righteousness has to “exceed” theirs, which actually isn’t a tall order when you understand their hypocrisy.
What Jesus was teaching on the mount that day was that if you wanted to enter the Kingdom He had established, you were to humble yourself, and change your thinking and character so that the good of others was no less your interest than your own good. He wasn’t looking for behavior modification. He was looking for heart modification. He didn’t and doesn’t need our occasional acts of self-conscious kindness or public professions of empathy or love. He needs our hearts changed (through the indwelling of His Spirit) so that our normal reaction to life’s events is the same as His would be, if He were living our lives for us. He’s looking for living, breathing conduits for His love to operate through to work its good within His creation.
So that’s Willard’s message. And it got me thinking: “What would become of Facebook if all of its members were citizens of the Kingdom of God?” (I concede that this is a trivialization of the larger question concerning society and culture as a whole.)
Well, first, I would imagine that 90% of the political “news” sites that feed people’s timelines would quickly evaporate. They’re all based on pandering to our human pride, contempt of those we may not agree with, and various weaknesses “of the flesh”, as they say. (If you’re not a male, you may not have been fed this garbage, but rest assured all who are are fed a constant diet of it.)
Who are you going to sell your contempt and demeaning characterizations to if everybody wants what is best for those on the other side of issues with which they may not agree?
Next, I would imagine that all of the political tit-for-tat that takes place between “friends” and consumes countless FB servers would die a natural death too. Civil discussions, of course, would continue, including things like the friendly back-and-forth between fans of competing sports teams. But snarky jabs and demeaning commentary would vanish.
Would Zuckerberg still be a Gillionaire? I suspect probably yes. But would that be a better Facebook (and world)? You decide.