Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish of the sea will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is inside you and outside you.
When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the Living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live poverty, and you are that poverty.”-Gospel of Thomas Logia 3
What sort of impression does the Kingdom of God leave with you? How do you perceive the Kingdom? Do you visualize gorgeous cities in the clouds with golden streets and mansions full of your loved ones all together again and vibing? Or is it nature? A bit of cottage core with rows of flowing green hills stretching out as far as the eye can see. There are no right or wrong answers here, only speculation.
The whole point of these sorts of paradoxical sayings is to give the mind something it struggles to understand logically. The answer has to be worked out of the logia like a sort of mystic puzzle. The sayings coach the student to open themselves up by exhausting the mind of all reasonable explanation. That’s what makes wisdom books so effective. One can relax into contemplation by allowing the imagination to run free from moment to moment. We learn a form of meditation without necessarily sitting still. Peep:
“If your leaders say to you ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the sky’ then the birds of the sky will precede you.”
Sky castles and floating cities would be absolutely captivating. Personally, I could probably live in a Domus nestled in the clouds and be okay. I’m not sold on feathery overlords but I’m flexible. Maybe I could room with a cool, mythical bird like a phoenix. I’d really like to watch that life and death transformation happen at least once. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be finding the Kingdom of God arising from the ashes either way.
You see what I’m saying? There’s a bit of breathing room that allows for a playful approach into the mystery.
Anyways, seen in a different light logia 3 seems to be addressing the way other leaders interpret the Kingdom of God as well. When we look at it from that perspective it would seem to imply that the Church was heading in the wrong direction. If one were viewing the Kingdom of God as a physical destination then this answer makes sense. Although, that would make it difficult to tie in with the following line:
If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish of the sea will precede you.
Has anyone ever even heard of a mythological underwater paradise awaiting the faithful? There is one that comes to mind from the old Norse legends about Aeiger and Ran, a Husband and Wife duo who lived in a great hall beneath the ocean that were said to take in Vikings who died at sea. However, unless there were Norse-Gaels settled in Judea it’s highly unlikely this passage is about their sub-aquatic promised land.
Now, if the Kingdom of God isn’t a physical realm then using examples of places beyond our reach would make perfect sense. Attempting to thrive in either the skies above or the oceans below would test the limits of human adaptability in ways we may not survive. That would definitely explain how other creatures suited to those environments would precede us.
Next up, we need to take language into consideration. Not only are we dealing words being translated into English there’s also a great deal of semantic change to account for. Concepts and insights tend to shift over time. Our modern minds read the Kingdom of God in association with our notions of Heaven and the reality is these terms don’t even mean the same thing they did at the time they were written.
basileia: kingdom, sovereignty, royal power
How would we define the royal power of God today? We could call it the Absolution of God and define it as a ruling principle with infinite power over everything in its domain. Okay. How would that sort of definition translate into the language of today? It would imply that the ancients were saying God is Supreme and the only controlling influence there is.
The Gospel of Thomas takes this controlling influence a step further and states:
“Rather, the Kingdom of God is inside you and outside you.”
This ‘inside you and outside you’ bit is the most revealing piece of the Kingdom puzzle we’ve received yet. I mean, we have an actual starting point to launch a full scale search for the Kingdom now. Granted, it’s a bit paradoxical but all paradoxes can be resolved. All we have to do is consider what this connection flowing inside and outside of us actually is. How are our internal dialogues and the outside world we perceive connected? One perceives, the other is perceived, yet, neither the one perceiving nor the perceived exist independently in the moment. They’re a unity right.
God is a unity. See, there is only existence in God’s eye. The division we experience is our creation based on how we conceptualize everything. It’s our psyche- that deep inner self- that constantly tells us about the world. We decide how we feel about what’s happening and yet God is always there observing. Think of Matthew 6:6:
“go into your inner room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”
The Father is alternatively referred to as Unseen and Seeing in secret depending on the translation. Sometimes He sees what’s done in secret, but at all times the meaning is the same: God is at the core of our awareness seeing what we do. Whereas our minds wander, His awareness is unflinching. Why do you think King David coined the term “Keep me as the apple of your eye?” It’s like saying please be delighted by what you see.
WHY DOES EVERYTHING SEEM SEPARATE THEN?
That’s the question to wrestle down in the mix. Our self consciousness is the only consciousness we’re personally aware of right. We have all of these subjective experiences we perceive and yet somehow we seem separated from them at the same time.
Everything we take in through our senses gets processed and cataloged according to how we’ve evolved in our environments. We’re all aware that how we feel about the things we’re looking at will effect what we perceive to some degree. Like we could set any random object on a table in front of a group of 30 people, ask them to describe it and get 30 different answers. Some of the more artistic members would speak to the aesthetically pleasing aspects and note the colors and shapes whereas our more practically minded people would speak to its function. It’s like we don’t even need a language barrier to build Babel. This is all something we inherently understand but it goes a bit deeper than that.
Aldous Huxley compared our sensory organs to a reducing valve. Essentially, we take in a vast ocean of endless perceptions, emotions, and cognitive experiences and reduce them into contents we can digest, converting the ocean of possibilities into a more limited brook of waking consciousness. That means, our understanding and interpretations of the things we take in through our senses doesn’t necessarily represent the state of things outside of us as they are. Scientifically speaking our sense organs developed to keep us alive. Now, in order to do that our senses have developed to pull all of the relevant info out our current environments and disregard everything else. We literally only process about 4o bits out of the 40 million bits per second that are cascading our brains at any given time. Once psychology gets involved we’ve got a whole new take on perception to add in.
We have bias’s and pet peeves and are constantly assessing and judging the information we receive through our senses. Our personal tastes and style completely alter not only how we view the world but how we’re viewed. Clothes we consider aesthetically pleasing are probably cringe worthy to some of our friends and some of their musical tastes may trigger frustration within us. On and on we go, with our inner and outer lives effecting each other. Both, the observer and the observed being one and the same in the moment and yet perception reigns.
Consider another saying from Thomas:
“When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner as the outer… then you will enter the Kingdom.”-Logia 22
The Kingdom of God that Christ seems to be calling us to enter into is starting to look a lot like a state of being. A sort of shift in consciousness where we realize God is always with us because God is the only controlling principle there is.
See, now the puzzle pieces are starting to come together. We can see a meditative angle beginning to take shape. We start to see that if we go deeper into ourselves and silence our senses we can train our minds to observe our bodies, our thoughts and emotions, everything without being caught up in our ideas of them. This awareness of self helps us perceive Who is resting within the stillness of our being. It’s not something we perceive physically but “He who has ears let him hear.” This is a life changing realization.
“When you know yourselves, you will be known. And you will understand that you are children of the living Father.”
SO, WHO ARE YOU?
We run through lists of conditioned experience that are more like adjectives than answers. We rattle off job titles, familial standings, organizations we’re a part of, dietary habits, fitness regimens, etcetera, none of which even begin to scratch the surface of who we are. It’s a mystery. “Who are you,” turns into another one of those questions that operates like a zen koan. With enough investigation into who we are we exhaust ourselves of all that we are not. We empty out all of our internal dialogue and discover the peaceful stillness within.
Imagine knowing who you are and being completely capable of managing your thoughts, feelings, and actions objectively. This all starts with self awareness. Knowing how we assimilate information provides us with some really good insight into understanding why we do what we do. Being fully aware of our triggers, shortcomings, and egos provides us with plenty of opportunities for spiritual growth. Those moments that test our faith are crucial but many of us don’t see it that way at first. There’s this tendency towards sanctimoniousness that wants to downplay and suppress our character defects right. We get so wrapped up in wanting to paint ourselves in a more favorable light that we almost miss how game changing it is to posses the tools for lasting change.
This is the true beauty of the logion found in Thomas. They call us into deep contemplation as we wrestle with their meaning. Each and every saying dives deeper into the mystery of who we are in God. It’s a lovely thing.
(excerpt from a book I’m working on which I’ll make available for free download once it’s completed) Feel free to critique what I’m saying, offer pointers, enter into discussion, whatever you like. This is a work in progress that’ll undoubtedly take months to complete.