One of my part-time hobbies is reading the translator's preface and introductions of every English translation of the Bible I can get my hands on, so it was no strange occurrence that I found myself reading the "Introductory Note" of the Kleist-Lilly version of the New Testament last week.
Reverend James A. Kleist made it his life's work to to understand ancient Greek and to translate many of the early Christian writings into English. As the culmination of his work, he produced a translation of the gospels that would allow the Catholics of America to better understand what Jesus said than what the Rheims-Douay version offered them. His exact words were that he wanted to provide "an immediate or preliminary understanding of obscure words or passages."
Sounds noble. The problem is that along with Mr. Kleist, about two hundred other eager people wanted to do the same thing. And they none can agree with one another. But that's a discussion for another time.
One quotation I came across while reading the "Introductory Note to the Gospels" was the following seemingly innocent sentence:
"The Gospels are but fragmentary records of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. St. Matthew's account is fullest in details; yet a comparison shows that he omitted much that is told by the other writers. St. Luke states (Acts 1:3) that after the Resurrection, Jesus spoke to the disciples about 'the kingdom of God,' that is, the Church; but he does not satisfy our curiosity regarding the content of these conversations. As to St. Mark, the fragmentary character of his narrative is at once evident, and we happen to know from Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, that the disciples of St. John were painfully aware of this 'shortcoming' of the Second Gospel."
One of the things I've come to understand more during my stay here in Tasmania is the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? Is it, as James Kleist has told us, the Church? A few months ago I might not have caught the glaring limitation of the definition of the kingdom of God that Kleist gives us. I don't know how many Christians would.
I read the book of Ezekiel last week. God blessed Ezekiel with a vision of some terrifying creatures.
"The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him. And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning."
We read also in Revelation about some more creatures that are around the throne of God:
"And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."
These lengthy excerpts detail a different sort of creature than us humans. I've no doubt in my mind that these creatures exist. God, in all His wisdom, did not create just us humans. And he didn't create just angels, either. No, God has created all things in this universe, and all for His good pleasure. The kingdom of God is all that falls under His rule. The trees, birds, rocks, squid, planets, and stars are all part of His kingdom. He rules them all.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System, has, under its thick layers of cloud, a deep planet-wide ocean of liquid hydrogen. Somewhere at the bottom of this ocean is the crust of the planet. There, deep in the recesses of the giant planet, where liquid hydrogen meets rocky crust, the kingdom of God is present, in its full force.
Wherever God reigns, that is where His kingdom is.
Makes us seem tiny, doesn't it?
I remember a scene from a Star Trek movie I saw a long time ago. Some of the characters travelled back it time to the point in history when some aliens were supposed to make first contact with humans. The discussion of the consequences of that meeting has always caused me to think:
RIKER: Doctor, tomorrow morning when they detect the warp signature from your ship and realise that humans have discovered how to travel faster than light, they decide to alter their course and make first contact with Earth, right here.
LAFORGE: Sir, it's actually over there.
RIKER: It is one of the pivotal moments in human history, Doctor. You get to make first contact with an alien race, and after you do, everything begins to change.
LAFORGE: Your theories on warp drive allow fleets of starships to be built and mankind to start exploring the Galaxy.
TROI: It unites humanity in a way no one ever thought possible when they realise they're not alone in the universe. Poverty, disease, war. They'll all be gone within the next fifty years.
Knowing that humans are not alone in the universe unites humanity in a way no one ever thought possible. I have often been overwhelmed with the realization that we humans are not alone in the universe. Angels, arch-angels, cheribum, seraphim, strange four-faced creatures, and who knows all what else exist very much in real time worshipping the living God, their creator. The same creator who created us. That thought makes me feel closer to my brothers and sisters, and all the rest of humanity as well. The knowledge that there are other sentient creatures that exist, and God rules them all.
The kingdom of God is...the Church? Us? Well, the sun, planets, and all the stars do rotate around us everyday. We are the centre of the universe, so, yeah, okay.