ENTERING INTO THE KINGDOM — excerpt from THE KINGDOM WITHIN by John A. Sanford
Category:John A. Sanford
We have already seen that the kingdom is within all of us. But paradoxically only a few among the multitude will find their way to the kingdom. The many will pass by and not notice its reality, and even some who have been expressly invited to enter will not accept God’s invitation. So Jesus declares
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14)
Those who do enter the kingdom are those who have come to recognize the reality of the inner world and to respond to its demands upon them for consciousness. This must always be an individual act of recognition; it cannot be accomplished so long as we are identified with a group. Yet most of us find our sense of identity only in our membership in the Church, the nation, the political party, or the gang on the street corner…
In contrast, entrance into the kingdom requires the dis-identification with the group and the assumption of the burden of being a person. It is often painful to no longer identify with outer collectives. Often our dreams reflect the pain of finding ourselves no longer identical with those around us. In such a dream we may have just found something unusual, or have taken a little- traveled turn in a path or road. The dreamer is filled with a sense of wonder at the new turn of events, but there are many other people around who pass by and take no notice. The dreamer is surprised that no one else seems to feel the discovery is important, or to recognize what the dreamer feels is so unusual. Inner reality is discovered, and already the dreamer is no longer identical with the collective spirit; the dreamer finds, with surprise, that he or she is different. The differentiation of personality has begun.
Because those who enter the kingdom must enter as individuals, the way to the kingdom is never the path of least resistance, but a narrow, difficult, and winding way that requires us to “go against nature.” As long as a person is identical with a group consciousness, he or she follows the easiest road, inclining to those instincts, attitudes, and mass movements that are the easiest to follow at the time. An individual set against the group consciousness, however, begins to swim up the stream instead of down and suffers the pain and difficulty of becoming conscious, no longer able to hide from anxiety in a mass identity.
Anxiety is inevitable for those who enter into the kingdom. There is, of course, such a thing as sick anxiety, the sign of a pathologically disturbed personality. But there is also divine anxiety, the anxiety that is inevitable because entering the kingdom calls for the individual to differentiate from the group, accepting the consequences and responsibilities of choice. All of this is stated by Jesus in his saying in the Sermon on the Mount,
“Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14/Luke
The wide road is the way through life that we travel unconsciously, the road of least resistance and mass identity. The narrow road requires consciousness, close attention, lest we wander off the path. Only the few take it because of its individual character and because it entails the hardship of becoming conscious. The narrowness of the gate suggests the anxiety of this part of the process of finding the kingdom, for narrowness and anxiety have long been associated…
Those who are called upon to enter the kingdom of God may not always recognize what is happening to them. At first the approach of the kingdom may seem like a violent attack from something dark and dreadful, for when the kingdom descends upon us, the first experience is often a darkening of our old state of mind in order that a new consciousness may emerge. Psychologically this is a necessity. Entrance into the kingdom means the destruction of the old personality, with its constricted and un- creative attitudes. If the kingdom is to come, this old person must die. The fortress behind which the ego has been hiding must be torn down, and as these defenses are battered down forcibly by the movement from within, it may seem at first like a violent assault. Whenever this upheaval in personality occurs, it is important that one realize its religious overtones, for if this dynamic inner process is viewed only clinically its spiritual significance will be lost, and the kingdom will not be revealed.
The violent nature of the entrance into the kingdom is reflected in may of Jesus’ sayings, and is the proper explanation for Jesus’ seemingly enigmatic remark,
“Up to the time of John it was the Law and the Prophets; since then, the kingdom of God has been preached, and by violence everyone is getting in” (Luke 16:16/Matt. 11:12)
as well as in the familiar saying
“Anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39)
The Law was a protection against a direct experience of the kingdom of God. By fulfilling the Law, people hoped to achieve their proper relationship with God without having to relate to the inner world. But it was, as Nicholas Berdyaev said in The Meaning of the Creative Act, an ethic of obedience, not of creativity. The kingdom, however, is dynamically creative, and the ethic of the kingdom is a creative ethic based on consciousness and love, not on legalism. Now that the kingdom has come, the old rigid outlook embodied in the Law will be violently assaulted so that the new and creative person may appear…
This brings us to the next paradox of entering into the kingdom of God: it is those who have recognized that they have been injured or hurt in some way in life who are most apt to come into the kingdom. There is no virtue in our weakness or injury as such, especially if this leads to self-pity, which completely defeats the creative purposes of the kingdom. But only a person who has recognized his or her own need, even despair, is ready for the kingdom; those who feel that they are self-sufficient, those whom life has upheld in their one-sided orientation, remain caught in their egocentricity.
This is why Jesus so often associated with sinners and tax collectors and was generally unable to have a relationship with the Pharisees, for the latter, as a rule, were upheld in their egocentricity by their privileged position in society and by their conviction of their own righteousness. But the sinners and tax collectors, if they turned and confronted themselves, could be receptive to the kingdom.
This paradox of the kingdom is expressed in the parable of the wedding feast, in which the kingdom of God is likened to the king who gave a wedding feast in honor of his son. First he invited those who were the most respected members of the community, but they were all too busy with other things, too engrossed in their own affairs, and did not heed the king’s invitation. Finally the king became angry and declared,
“The wedding is ready; but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.” (Matt. 22:8-9)
In Luke’s version it is stated even more forcibly:
Then the householder, in a rage, said to his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame... .Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and force people to come in to make sure my house is full.” (Luke 14:21, 23; italics mine)
Precisely those who seem the least fit for the kingdom are those who come to enter into it. Those who are forced by life to concede to themselves that they are psychologically crippled, maimed, or blind can be compelled to enter into the great feast. But those who are convinced that they are self-sufficient do not enter because they remain caught in their own one-sidedness.
But even then there are dangers and demands, and not everyone called to come to a feast belongs to the kingdom; one man came without a wedding garment, and he was cast into outer darkness. According to K. C. Pillai in his little book Light Through an Eastern Window, it was the custom in the ancient Orient for a nobleman who invited someone to his house for a special occasion to send with his messenger a special garment to be worn by the guest. To wear this garment was both an honor and a badge of protection to the person as he traveled on the way to the court. To arrive without the garment was the height of carelessness and rudeness. Similarly, if we arrive at the kingdom having carelessly and rudely neglected to recognize the divine author of the feast, we are cast into outer darkness; that is, we are banished to the realm of the unconscious.
To many people this ruthless punishment seems cruel, but we must remember that there is no sentimentality about the kingdom of God. Christianity is a feeling religion; it must deeply involve our emotions as well as our intellect, or it will not be real. But it is not a sentimental religion, and the sentimentalizing of the feeling aspect of Christianity has been a disaster for the Christian spirit. In the kingdom of God we are dealing with hard spiritual facts, and there is no room for sentiment. If we jump off a cliff, we may kill ourselves or break a leg; this is a physical fact, and we have no right to expect God to interfere with our fate if we flout the physical facts of his creation. But there are spiritual facts that are just as objective and real as physical facts. One of these is that if we come to the kingdom of God and act unconsciously, despising the things of the inner world, we can expect to be ruthlessly treated by the unconscious, for in our refusal to become conscious we have flouted the spiritual facts of creation.
A parallel to the parable of the wedding feast can be noticed in counseling. Few people come to counseling who are not driven to do so by some injury. Others, who can maintain the illusion of self-sufficiency, will avoid contact with the inner world. They are too content and absorbed with outer things to pay attention to inner things. But those who first come to the inner world because tey are forced to do so often remain to enjoy the feast. Though they are first motivated by some injury or failure in life, they may, through their contact with the inner world, not only be healed but also find the springs of creative living.
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