Shaped by the Kingdom
by Sarah Withrow King
For most of my life, I’ve been trying to follow Jesus. Some days are better than others. Some years are better than others. Though I never owned a silicone bracelet emblazoned with “WWJD?”, I was privileged to be raised by parents and surrounded by a community that wanted me to be Christomorphic, to “become reshaped by living out the implications of the narrative of Jesus.” (1) My desire to follow Jesus and to pursue God’s calling on my life led me to full-time animal advocacy and to seminary.
Though I had read the Bible cover to cover more than once, the excellent professors at Palmer Seminary opened my eyes to a richness and continuity in the text that I had never seen before. I began to see the biblical story not as just loosely-related history books and spiritual guidance for a decent life but as a window onto the long arc towards reconciliation. The kingdom of God became not just a future hope, but a present reality into which Jesus has shown us the way. Over and over again in the Gospels, we hear that the kingdom has come, it is at hand, it is here. Over and over in the prophetic writings, we see what that kingdom will look like: reconciliation to God, to one another, and to creation.
Humans aren’t God, but “humans are invited to participate in a grace-filled life that is in concert with the loving and nonviolent ways that God has been acting in the world” since its dawn. (2)
So I have begun to ask myself what it looks like to be eschatomorphic, to become reshaped by living out the implications of the eschaton, when every knee will bow and every tongue will give praise to the God who created and redeems the world. What does it look like to live into that reality now? How do the decisions I make from day to day change when I consider whether or not they reflect the work of reconciliation to God, to one another, and to creation?
Many of my friends and colleagues are pursuing this eschatomorphic life. They are working to end violence, to decrease poverty, to feed and shelter the vulnerable, to bring peace to fractured communities, and to help each person see that they are a precious child of God. One of the most immediately possible and tangibly reconciliatory actions we can take in an already-but-not-yet-entirely redeemed world is to leave animals off of our plate, to reject the social norms that justify killing a living, breathing being for a snack or a sandwich. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the holy meal, communion, is bread and wine, wheat and fruit. The meal that we take together to remind us of God’s kingdom come is simple, it is communal, it is sacrificial, and it is vegan.
I wanted to eat vegan for a long time before I actually adopted a completely plant-based diet. I would go through fits and spurts of vegan eating, get a craving, eat a hamburger or a slice of Hawaiian pizza, and then resolve to have more self-control. What I can see now is that my tentative steps towards reconciliation with animals weren’t failures. They were part of the journey, part of learning how to live into a world “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
If you want your meals to be shaped by the kingdom, there are some really good resources to help you take steps towards a plant-based diet. Here are a few of my favorites:
- One Happy Table
- Oh She Glows
- The Sweetest Vegan
- Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking (literally the best cookbook ever, I’m not exaggerating)
And remember, being eschatomorphic isn’t about getting everything right. It’s not about being perfect but about allowing ourselves to move with the flow of God’s abundant grace and mercy. Thomas Merton can help us lose ourselves in the stream:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Sarah Withrow King is the Deputy Director of the Sider Center and the author of two forthcoming books: Animals Are Not Ours (Wipf & Stock, 2016) and Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan, 2016).
(1) Paul Alexander, “Violence and Nonviolence in Conceptualizations of Godly Love,” in The Science and Theology of Godly Love, ed. Matthew T. Lee and Amos Yong (Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2012), 79.
(2) Ibid., 88.