Once again, by way of anticipation, enjoy these paragraphs taken from Herman Bavinck’s essay, The Kingdom of God as the Highest Good. To which we humbly append two comments about their contemporary relevance.
This is not to say, however, that we need to labor for that Kingdom of God apart from any earthly calling. To be sure, the Kingdom of God is not of the world, but it is nevertheless in the world. The Kingdom does not exist within the narrow confines of the inner closet, restricted to church and monastery. The Kingdom is not entirely “other worldly,” but has been established by Christ upon earth, and stands in a most intimate, yet for us in many respects inexplicable, relationship with this earthly life, and is prepared by this life. Nevertheless, it is just as true that the Kingdom is not exhaustively present in this life, it is not merely “this worldly.” The Kingdom is and becomes.
The eternal Sabbath is not yet here, and yet we have a foretaste of it already now. At this point, however, Sunday and the rest of the week exist alongside each other. Our heavenly calling is not swallowed up in our earthly calling.
We must be on guard against both errors. On the one hand, our earthly calling may not be misunderstood on account of various ascetic, pietistic, and methodistic emphases, while on the other hand, our heavenly calling may not be denied on account of theoretical or practical materialism. Our ideal continues to be that we exalt the other days of the week to the loftiness of the Sabbath, and that we continually exercise our heavenly calling more and more in and amid our earthly calling. Our earthly calling is, after all, the temporal form of our heavenly calling. It is marked somewhat by the sentiment that “in order to be an angel, you must first be a fit human being.” Our earthly calling has been given to us, says Calvin (Institutes 3.10.6), so that we may have a firm foundation and not be cast about hither and thither for our entire lives. By means of our earthly calling we form ourselves, therefore, with a view to developing our personality and preparing a pure instrument for it in our body and in all things earthly.
It is a distinguishing feature of Christianity that it does not condemn any earthly calling in itself nor does it consider any earthly calling in itself to be in conflict with our heavenly calling. The Greeks viewed manual labor as something embarrassing, and assigned it to their slaves. But Christianity recognizes no dualism of spirit and matter, and views nothing as unclean in itself. A person who does not labor, who has no occupation, also has no calling, becoming deadweight for society, thereby disgracing his human nature. For only in an occupation can we demonstrate and develop what lives within us. Only in an occupation can we manifest ourselves, not only to others but also to ourselves. Only in this way do we learn to know ourselves, our strengths, our capacities, and thus obtain awareness of the content of our own personality. Only in this way can we become a full personality, fully human. Otherwise not only our physical powers, but also our spiritual and moral powers suffocate and corrode within us.
We must devote every effort, however, to choosing that earthly occupation in which the exercise of our heavenly calling is not hindered for us, for our individuality, and for our powers. For this demand abides, namely, to bring this life, its calling and its labor, into relationship with the eternal, to view all that is temporal and earthly sub specie aeternitatis. Otherwise, to echo Calvin once more, the components of our living will always lack symmetry.
Everything earthly must thus remain subordinated to the Kingdom of Heaven. We must possess everything as though not possessing (1 Cor. 7:30), such that we are willing to surrender it if it comes into conflict with the demand of the Kingdom of God.
In other words, everything may be our domain such that we possess it and rule over it, so that it functions as the instrument of our personality. Every pursuit of more than we can rule over, more than we can actually make our domain, is immoral and conflicts with the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.
As soon as what is earthly, whether goods or kindred, art or science, possesses us and rules over us, the demand must be repeated that Jesus gave to the rich young man: Go, sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Matt. 19:21). For everything earthly has been given to us in order with it to cultivate our personality, in order to make it an instrument of God’s Kingdom.
Indeed, everything comes down finally not to what we accomplish through our earthly work, for often the work we accomplish is broken to pieces before our eyes by God himself. But the essential feature of all our labor that we perform under the sun is what we become through our work, what our personality acquires by way of the consciousness, spirit, power, richness, and fullness of living. That is what abides. That is never lost. That does not disappear like so many insignificant works of our hands. That is what we carry with us out of this world into the future world. That constitutes the works that follow us.
We are, finally, the totality of what we have ever willed, thought, felt, and done. The profit that we yield in this way for ourselves is profit for the Kingdom of God. Even a cup of cold water given to a disciple of Jesus receives a reward. God calls us to work in such a way that amid all that we do, we should envision the eternal work that God desires to bring about through people, knowing that we cannot be lord and master of ourselves and of the earth in any other way than in subjection to him. And in that consciousness, working with all our powers as long as it is day, God calls us to subject all that is visible and temporal to ourselves, in order then to consecrate it along with ourselves as a perfect sacrifice to God—even if our work space be ever so small and our occupation ever so nondescript—this is truly and essentially working for the Kingdom of God.
Only these two thoughts.
- Notice from these paragraphs how Bavinck’s eschatology leavens his view of the kingdom of God and our daily work, much like (as we shall see) Bavinck understands the kingdom of God to leaven all of life.
- Notice as well how Bavinck’s view of God-directed earthly vocation as the development of human personality lies at the heart of his understanding of the kingdom of God, both for time and for eternity.