The Two Kingdoms Begins with the Peaceful Subject

If Jesus embodies the Peaceable Kingdom and the Church is the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth, then the means and methods represented by swords and spears are to be replaced by the means and methods represented by ploughshares and pruning hooks (Is. 2:4). The people of God are to be about the work of cultivating and harvesting (the work of the ploughshare and pruning hook) new life in and for the Kingdom of God. Swords do no service in the work of the Kingdom, though the same material and blade can be put to work cultivating new life rather than destroying it. What determines the purpose of the cutting edge of the sword is the need and necessity shaping the one who wields it. As long as one belongs to a kingdom established by and dependent upon the sword the logic of violence will prevail.

Violence or Peace do not really represent the primary choice – as if we can inaugurate and choose these alternative logics of our own initiative. Ours is a choice of kingdoms – the kingdoms of this world, established and maintained through violence, or the Kingdom of God, established by Christ and maintained through witness to Christ. Violence, by definition, cannot bear witness to the Peaceable Kingdom as the method and message of witness is one of peace.

So there is a twofold aspect to this understanding of the Peaceable Kingdom: we are to enjoy the fruits of peace provided by and in this Kingdom and we are to be in the business of clearing new ground and expanding the boundaries of this Kingdom. The two aspects may not constitute two separate realms as much as a way of describing how enjoying peace is already to be about the business of making peace. As we refuse the logic of violence and enjoy the fruit of peace this is a witness to the alternative Kingdom to which we adhere.

The psychoanalytic realm, for example, is not a place apart from what needs to be both enjoyed and fully given over to peace through an effort of the will. (To begin with the psychoanalytic is not to privilege or isolate human interiority; rather it is to indicate the pervasive nature of violence and it is a good place to demonstrate how enjoying and spreading peace are interlocked activities.) Paul pictures the one under the law as involved in an all-consuming agonistic struggle which seems clearly not to pertain to the one found in Christ. The violent struggle is not won by engaging it more vigorously. It is won through Christ, as the dynamic constituting the struggle and the Subject this gives rise to are “suspended,” to use Paul’s technical term. The “I” is crucified and the corporate “we” of the body of Christ describes the reborn or reconstituted Subject. Chapter 8 of Romans pictures the violent struggle of chapter 7 as being displaced – as the law of sin and death has been displaced by the law of life in the Spirit. Nevertheless, Paul encourages the Romans to ‘walk out this faith’ and to fulfill their “obligation” to live according to the Spirit. While we do not have it within our power to reconstitute our subjectivity, it is within our power to live according to who we are in Christ.

While we cannot establish the peaceable Kingdom or the Subject of this Kingdom, given that we are participants in, and constituted by this Kingdom we can live according to its logic. Just as to have hope, faith, and love is synonymous with exercising hope, faith and love, so too peace is not simply a gift that is to be passively received. Peace is to be exercised. To be violent and to claim to have peace in Christ is the equivalent of claiming to have love but to be unloving. Each of the gifts of grace are received by being exercised – up to and including forgiveness. Where our tendency is to picture the gifts of grace as passively received, the New Testament pictures each of the gifts as necessarily enacted and embodied (which is to say the same thing).

A disembodied gift of grace is contradictory – as it is precisely the realm of embodiment and the flesh that is in danger of becoming a counter principle to grace. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version*. (2001). (Ro 8:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Setting the mind on the Spirit is, according to Paul, synonymous with life and peace as the division within the self between mind and flesh is overcome. He has described, in chapter 7, how in the mind set on the flesh, body and mind come into conflict. The point is not that the body is to be abandoned for a life of disembodied bliss but that the conflict itself arises from within a self, divided against itself. The gift of the Spirit does not accentuate this division or dualism by allowing one to live disembodied; the Spirit displaces the division. This is to reconstitute the human Subject on a different principle – that of life and peace.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.