I am finally coming to the last pages of a thick book, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, the translation of 64 writings from the 1st-3rd centuries. Nag Hammadi is a city in Upper Egypt near where the collection was discovered in 1945. Don’t ask me why I read this sort of thing. I have asked myself the same thing and the only answer I came up with is “I don’t know.”
Most of the ancient texts are Gnostic, though not all. I learned in the epilogue that there are many forms of Gnostic thought even though people tend to clump them together under the umbrella of heresy. I don’t think this is fair. I find much of the writing quite supportive of the teachings we find in the canonical scriptures. Some I found a bit too “out there” to be useful to my own spirituality. Some offer a nice expansion or a deeper understanding of beliefs I already have. Some I found tiresome to read. Others I found extremely interesting, especially those that revealed sides to Jesus’ disciples that are not included in the biblical accounts. I have come to know Matthew, Mary, James, Philip, and Peter in a whole new light. I learned some interesting facts. Did you know that Peter had a daughter named Petronilla? I have come to admire these followers of Jesus more, although some have diminished in my eyes. One day I will share what I have learned about these very interesting and deeply human characters according the reportings of all that I have been finding in extra-canonical work.
There is one theme that I come across over and over again in Gnostic work, that of the “Kingdom of God within” or “Heaven on Earth.” In the Bible we read of Jesus talking about this all the time, of course. I speak for myself when I say that I really didn’t have a grasp of it. For me it has always seemed more a poetic concept than a reality. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the idea of this eutopian where everyone loved one another. Yet the pragmatist in me didn’t really believing that it could ever be a reality on earth. For Jesus, on the other hand, it was a reality as sure as the stool I am right now sitting upon. It was within his consciousness and he tried desperately to communicate it to others. If this kingdom within isn’t real, I think we will have to write him off as a cockeyed optimist worthy of our admiration but not our following.
Well, after giving the last few months dragging myself through this book (I could only handle a few pages per day), I actually think I am “getting it”. I don’t know if I can really explain what happened, but I was thinking about all of the things that have been troubling me lately and this idea came to me:
In heaven there is no money
In heaven there is no technology
In heaven there is no aging
In heaven there is no danger
In heaven there is no pain
In heaven there is no death
In heaven there is no fear
I asked myself, if I believe in Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom why I was fretting over these things. My answer to myself: I don’t know. But I am going to work at living in the Kingdom of God starting now. As for the earthly responsibilities this list points to, I have given them enough thought. It is time to move on.