From one of our blog readers ...

“I have a spiritual question. In my opinion, one of Jesus’ most profound statements was, ‘The kingdom of God comes not from observation; neither shall they say lo here or lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you!’ To me Jesus is saying that you cannot obtain God’s kingdom by merely observing or following outer religious rituals and believing in outer doctrines. Rather you can only discover His kingdom by going within your heart and mind to discover and become one with God’s presence within.”

“If this is so, why do most Christian churches (including the Catholic Church) place such a heavy emphasis on following particular outer doctrines and creeds – often accompanied by implicit or explicit warnings of damnation if theses rules are not adhered to – despite the fact that Jesus is clearly telling us that God’s kingdom cannot be found in this manner?”

- Steve

Thank you for the question. The passage to which you are referring is Luke 17:20-21 in which Jesus is asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come. The last word of verse 21 can be translated as “within” or “among”. “Among” is often the translation because it fits better with other statements that Luke makes in his Gospel regarding the presence of the kingdom.

Given the context of this statement (as well as the larger context of the Gospels) I don’t think one can draw the conclusion that Jesus thought that “outer religious rituals and “outer doctrines” had nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. Clearly the Gospels give us a Jesus who is very much a practicing, faithful Jew.

On the other hand, you are right about the fact that Jesus was not one to follow the letter of the law when it opposed God’s Word. And so, for example, Jesus would heal on the Sabbath even when “work” was prohibited on the Sabbath.

The outward practice of rituals and the adherence to doctrine is not diametrically opposed to what happens in one’s head and heart. Yes, rituals, prayer formulas, doctrine can become hollow when they are not connected with our head and heart, but their whole purpose is to help us connect with God and with one another as a faith community. But they should never become a substitute for a relationship with God.

I’ve not come across a ritual or teaching that was accompanied by a warning of damnation. Damnation is a result of a life choice to use our God-given free will and talents in order to reject God, to turn away from God with the whole of our lives.

What are your thoughts on the relationship of external rituals and personal experience of God?