The Kingdom of God as Man’s Summum Bonum
We need all this background in order to understand what is meant by saying that the kingdom of God is man’s summum bonum. By this term kingdom of God we mean the realized program of God for man. We would think of man as (a) adopting for himself this program of God as his own ideal and as (b) setting and keeping his powers in motion in order to reach that goal that has been set for him and that he has set for himself. We propose then briefly to look at this program which God has set for man and which man should have set for himself.
The most important aspect of this program is surely that man should realize himself as God’s vicegerent in history. Man was created God’s vicegerent and he must realize himself as God’s vicegerent. There is no contradiction between these two statements. Man was created a character and yet had to make himself ever more of a character. So we may say that man was created a king in order that he might become more of a king than he was. We may see what this means first in the individual, and secondly, for society.
For the individual man the ethical ideal is that of self-realization. Let us first see why this should be so, and secondly, what it means in detail.
That the ethical ideal for man should be self-realization follows from the central place given him in this universe. God made all things in the universe for himself, that is, for his own glory. But not all things can reflect his glory self-consciously. Yet it is self-conscious glorification that is the highest kind of glorification. Accordingly, God put all things in this universe into covenant relations with one another. He made man the head of creation. Accordingly, the flowers of the field glorified God directly and unconsciously, but also indirectly and consciously through man. Man was to gather up into the prism of his self-conscious activity all the manifold manifestations of the glory of God in order to make on central self-conscious sacrifice of it all to God.
If man was to perform this, his God-given task, he must himself be a fit instrument for this work. He was made a fit instrument for this work, but he must also make himself an ever better instrument for this work. He must will to develop his intellect in order to grasp more comprehensively the wealth of the manifestation of the glory of God in this world. He must will to be an ever better prophet than he already is. He must will to develop his aesthetic capacity, that is, his capacity of appreciation; he must will to be be an even better priest than he already is. Finally, he must will to will the will of God for the whole world; he must become an ever better king than he already is. For this reason then the primary ethical duty of man is self-realization. Through self-realization man makes himself the king of the earth, and if he is truly the king of the earth then God is truly the king of the universe, since it is as God’s creature, as God’s vicegerent, that man must seek to develop himself as king. When man becomes truly the king of the universe the kingdom o f God is realized, and when the kingdom of God is realized, God is glorified.
But what then, in more detail, is involved in this goal of self-realization that man must set for himself? We can bring this out by working out the idea expressed above, when we said that man must learn to will the will of God. Man must work out his own will, that is, he must develop his own will first of all. Man’s will needs to become increasingly spontaneous in its reactivity. Man was created so that he spontaneously served God. For this reason he must grow in spontaneity. Whatever God has placed within man by way of activity must also be regarded by him as a capacity to be developed. Man was not created merely with a will to will the will of God. In his heart there was an inmost desire to serve God. But just because mas was created with this will, God wants man to develop this will.
In the second place, man’s will needs to become increasingly fixed in its self-determination. In other words, man must needs develop the backbone of his will. Not as though man was created a volitional amoeba, which had to pass through the invertebrate stage before it finally acquired a backbone. Man was created a self. He was the creature of an absolute self and could not be otherwise created than as a self. But for this very reason again man had to develop his self-determination. Man’s God is absolutely self-determinate; man will be God-like in proportion that he becomes self-determining and self-determinate under God. In proportion that man develops his self-determination does he develop God’s determination or plan for his kingdom on earth. God accomplishes his plans through self-determined characters. An unstable man would be useless in the kingdom of God.
In the third place, man’s will must increase in momentum. Man’s will would naturally increase in momentum in proportion that it increased in spontaneity and self-determinateness. Yet the point of momentum must be separately mentioned. As man approaches his ideal, the realization of the kingdom of God, the area of his activity naturally enlarges itself. Just as the manager of a growing business needs to increase with his business in alertness, stability, and comprehensiveness of decision, so man, with the development of his progress toward his ideal, would have to develop momentum in order to meet his ever increasing responsibility.
–From the not-a-book Christian Theistic Ethics, Vol III of In Defense of the Faith, pages 44-46.