The latest book by Mr. John D. Kunnathu in Malayalam discusses at reasonable depth the true meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven. The book is worked out in quite simple language with readable style of presentation. Dr. D. Babu Paul IAS has written a preface that sums up the essence of the subject. The subject-matter is presented through the well-narrated twenty chapters.
The book begins referring to many philosophers, theologians and thinkers of note including Rudolfand L/L HG Dr. Paulose Mar Gregoriose. Through these great thinkers and from his own in-depth thought processes, the author convincingly concludes that Kingdom of Heaven, more than anything else, can be understood as a new culture that is different from the common worldly culture. With an example of an incident in the life of Socrates, he states that the admission of one`s ignorance is a precondition for eligibility to be in the Kingdom of Heaven. Mahatma Gandhi spent his life seeking TRUTH. But Adam and Eve fell into the “trap to become equal to God” and fell from Grace. Jesus Christ, during his public ministry, narrated many a metaphor to illustrate what would Kingdom of Heaven be like. When we carry out an introspection on ourselves based on these teachings of Jesus, we come to understand, at least to a certain extent, the failure of Adam and Eve and how worthy were the thinking of Socrates and Mahatma Gandhi.
The author comes up with a comparison of today’s worldly order with that of MAHABALI, the mythological character, providing quite a good quantum of learning points. We live in a scenario where one doesn’t care to admit one’s own errors. With this in mind, Jesus Christ made a statement repeatedly that the tax collectors and sinners would experience the Kingdom of Heaven earlier than those who claim themselves righteous. This pinpoints to the need for one to throw out falsities if he looks forward to the Kingdom of Heaven. We must be fully transparent in our life. Jesus Christ explains the basics of our practical life in his Sermon on the Mount, which form the foundations of the Kingdom of Heaven. Chapter 13 of the Gospel of St. Matthew illustrates these aspects through a series of metaphors. We shall have to realize that our present way life is built on not so strong a foundation.
The author has very efficiently answered the question, “where is the Kingdom of Heaven?” He has explained pretty well the conceptualization of the Kingdom of Heaven and our universe as also our limited awareness of the same. Perhaps, it would have enriched this text had there been a discussion on the concept of three heavens based on Book of Revelations and St Paul’s epistles. When it comes to chapter 6, the author lifts the readers to a new level of philosophic insights about the idea of God. He relies on the great theological scholar of Eastern tradition namely Gregory of Nyssa, and free the readers from certain Protestant myths on these issues. To explain how God is related to the world, a set of equations are used effectively. The texts of L/L HG Dr. Paulose Mar Gregoriose is referred wherever the need arises. It may look strange or pleasant surprise that knowingly or unknowingly, the thoughts of 18th century Swedish philosopher cum theologian Immanuel Swedenborg appears here like a shadow.
In the discussion of the citizenship of the Kingdom of Heaven, the author refers to HG Paulos Mar Gregorios, who relates a human being to a magnet with a magnetic field. A human being with an energy zone around carries a resemblance with the concept followed in Pranic Therapy.
The expectations of the Kingdom of Heaven can be understood from the life of Job. Each one of us has a task to carry on and that has to be carried on with diligence. Respecting others and being compassionate with others are parts of that pattern of life. Failure of the elder brother of the Prodigal son is a learning point here. Man is responsible to take care of not only other men and women, but also animals and plants or in other words, the entire creation. God created all beings other than man in a manner that they are obeying God unconditionally without a free will, but man is created with a free will that he can move away from God. The author refers to Fr John Behr, Principal, Vladimir Seminary, who explains what is expected of man, which is beautifully explained in his book “Becoming Human”.
There is a system of communication in the Kingdom of Heaven as communication is needed between different entities there. Here, perceiving words, language and actions are crucial. We are aware that in this world, very often, we make wrong perceptions landing in confusion. Many people during the days of public ministry of Jesus didn’t acknowledge him as Messiah because they perceived his words wrongly then. Strangely, such wrong perceptions continue even today about his teachings. One has to distinguish between the literal sense of a statement and what is intended by such statement. A classic example of such wrong perception can be seen in Ezekiel 14:14 based on which most Protestants argue that God doesn’t approve of intercession of Saints; interestingly, they do not see the same logic with Ezekiel 8:18 by which it has to be inferred that God never listens to any prayers from His people. In short, unless we perceive words and languages and expressions correctly without preconceived notions, we would land in trouble, be in in this world or in Kingdom of Heaven. Even Holy Bible is not to be understood literally.
Creation of this universe by God was in an order which very often, men and women turn into disorder causing all sorts of troubles for creations. This order could be a replica of an order prevailing in Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, it is necessary for us, if we look forward to a dwelling in Kingdom of Heaven, to learn to obey the order prescribed by God here in the first place. For this, the basic requirement is to align with the Laws given by God and follow them sincerely as illustrated by Jesus, knowing that it is a tough exercise. But wherever we fail, acknowledge our fall before God rather than justifying ourselves that we are following Law in letter and spirit. It may be noted that Jesus did not discard Mosaic Laws, but interpreted them in practical sense. Pharisees insisted on following Laws literally whereas Jesus advocated to follow them in truth. It is also necessary for us to distinguish between good and evil. Very often, evil comes before us dressed up as good. We shall have to perceive the scenario correctly that we are not going the way of Adam and Eve.
Chapter 11 analyses the concept of life which is explained quite convincingly. The Manna provided to Israelites during their exodus and the sign of Jesus feeding more than 5,000 with just five loaves are symbolic of the life in the Kingdom of Heaven. The analysis of life provided here is quite informative. This leads a reader to that crucial question, how to qualify for the citizenship of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is well answered through the epistles of St Paul and St Peter, the Book of Acts and the Sermon on the Mount. Kingdom of Heaven is governed by a system of justice that is different from what we have on earth. The parable of Pharisee and the tax collector, the approach of Israelites towards righteousness, exhortation of love by St John, epistle of St James and more illustrate the issue of justice. Many new generation fellowships claim that one is saved exclusively by faith. The author disputes this arguing rightly that such claim is senseless because of their misinterpretation of a few verses of St Paul. Faith is meaningful only if it is accompanied by deeds of righteousness. While seeking an entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, one should understand who is a Christian and what is Christian mission. Converting non-Christians to Christianity cannot be perceived as the sole mission; loving others and taking care of the needy is the true mission. Those who follow this as best as possible can alone be called Christians effectively. Such Christians can look forward to the Kingdom of Heaven provided they live a life as taught by Christ without claiming anything of their own.
There is an interesting question: are there any sinners in the Kingdom of Heaven? During his public ministry, Jesus has amply demonstrated that sinners would sit with him in paradise. In other words, there is no ban for sinners in the Kingdom of Heaven; a sinner has to accept that he is a sinner and shall never claim righteousness. He will be blessed with grace and would make Kingdom of Heaven. Always remember to have control over sin so that we can discard sin; never be under the control of sin. The author has stated that the theory of St Augustine that any newly born baby is born in sin and this belief is the most accepted one among Christian believers. But it would have been better for him to explain this aspect a bit elaborately that the reader would have understood Eastern stand on this issue better.
We are familiar with the incident of Jesus visiting Jerusalem Temple and driving out all those carrying out business of selling animals or exchanging currencies telling them that his father’s house is not a cave of thieves; once this is done, the temple has become the dwelling place of God again. Once it used to be a cave for thieves, ordinary men and women as well as the blind, the lame or the deaf had no place inside because they were too poor that they had no purchasing power. Now such people having no purchasing power are inside the temple. This would exactly be the scenario of Kingdom of Heaven. Also the economy within the Kingdom of heaven doesn’t distinguish men based on their financial capacity. All are equal. We see our world different from this that the rich nations become richer at the cost of poor nations; wealthy men become wealthier at the cost of poor people as L/L HG Dr. Gheevarghese Mar Osthathios used say very often.
Unlike what we have here, the Kingdom of Heaven has a relationship between those who are there based on what Jesus has taught us about humanity. There is no difference based on gender or background or nationality or language or anything of that sort. But one has to live a life doing good to all, one has to pray for mercy, one has to love others and such should be the way of life. For this we must have a strong faith that God loves us. Jesus has not, perhaps, meant Heavenly Kingdom as a place where one goes after the life of this world, but as a relationship or fellowship with God in all perfection in its wholeness. The Protestant teaching differs here. They have their theory of salvation which is based on certain misconceptions of Biblical truths. How would the Kingdom of Heaven look like? The teachings of Western theology, be it Catholic or Protestant, are different from Eastern theology here. Eastern theology teaches that Church is not symbolic of the body of Christ, but it is indeed the body of Christ that reveals invisible Christ to the world. “Joy of Freedom” by L/L HG Dr. Paulose Mar Gregoriose discusses these at length. Kingdom of Heaven has to be seen with this truth in mind.
The author has taken pain to work out a treatise on a subject of interest, but on which men hold varying concepts. Even his inferences based on teachings of many scholars of repute may not satisfy readers totally, but we have a good piece before us now to understand the basic concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven. The author needs to be complimented for this work of high quality. As a reader, I expect more such works from him in the days to come. Let me wish all the very best to Mr. John Kunnathu.
George Joseph Enchakkattil