“Thy Kingdom Come.”
The question of the Parousia remains the great question of Christianity: and of course in itself it is no question at all. The Kingdom is already established, but not yet definitively mani¬fest—we remain in a time of development, of choice, and of preparation.
We remain in a time of decision. A Christian is, or should be, one who has “decided for” the Parousia, for the final coining of the Kingdom. His life is oriented by this decision. His existence has meaning in so far as the Parousia is crucial to him.
But the Parousia is, it seems, indefinitely delayed. This is no accident either. It must be taken as part of the question. The Parousia by itself is no question. The delay of the Parousia is not the whole question. This delay raises the question.
The question is as follows.
As Christians we are men who have based all our hopes on the Kingdom of Christ, to be definitively manifest by final victory in the Parousia—this is the final victory of life over death.
The Parousia having been “delayed,” we have been for two thousand years left to construct for ourselves in the world a kind of kingdom, a cultural-religious-political Christendom, which is admittedly not all one would have looked for, but which has its advantages.
Now the question is—if the Parousia means the end and destruction of this provisional structure, indeed its judgment, should we really desire the Parousia? Should we not in all earnestness pray for the Parousia to be delayed indefinitely, and indeed, with all the power given to us over the will of God, by prayer, should we not rather attempt to change His plan, and forget the whole business?
Should we not rather make it our duty to ask Him to let us build the Kingdom in our own way, a kingdom consistent with what we have begun, a Kingdom of God that is at once a sacred enclave in the world and also politically in collaboration with the world?
Should we not insist that the Parousia should simply be regarded as our social, cultural, religious, and political triumph in the world, so that we are no longer an enclave, but have finally succeeded in taking it all over? We tried it once, beginning in the eighth century and going on through the Middle Ages—it was a good attempt, but some important points were overlooked. Can we not get ourselves into a position to make a better try? And this time to succeed?
Thus we find ourselves, in effect, deciding against the Parousia. “Thy Kingdom come”—but not now, not in that distressing way—but in our time and our way. Thus the Christian has learned to pray against judgment, and for an eternity that is an indefinite prolongation of time, because time is what we need: time to try it over and over again.
Suggested emendation in the Lord’s Prayer: Take out “Thy Kingdom come” and substitute “Give us time!”
But then what? What are we going to do with “time?” Make deductions from past history, devise a system—a Christian system—and put it to work? Or rather consider carefully the systems devised by others and baptize their systems, making them suddenly Christian, and discovering in them the unexpected Kingdom?
Mirgeler* shows how the Stoic concept of “Natural Law” became extremely convenient for a Christianity which was reconciled to settling down in the world of late antiquity and getting along without the Parousia.
* See A. Mirgeler, Mutations of Western Christianity, pp. 17-18.
(Thomas Merton, pg. 124, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)