There comes a point when so much analysis, or in this case, exegesis, can mean you miss the bigger picture. And sure, there is often much to be learnt from studying the detail of a leaf, but it just might mean you miss the overall vision of the tree. This can happen when we study scripture. We can become so narrow in focus that we miss the wider picture of what’s going on.
As we come to this phrase, ‘On earth as it is in heaven’ we must recognise that this needs to be read in conjunction with the beginning of the sentence,’ Your kingdom come, your will be done’ (Matthew 6:10-11). For the sake of this series on The Lord’s Prayer I have separated these various phrases, but in reality the prayer Jesus is teaching us, and his disciples, means they are intricately connected. As RT France comments,
“The prayer embraces the whole scope of this outworking of God’s purpose, but its focus is not on either present or future, but on God himself, whose glory must be the disciples’ first and deepest concern, before they consider their own needs.“
And so one could get caught up in the comparison of earth and heaven. I think it is fair to suggest that the prayer is making a distinction between both places, an actual earth and an actual heaven. But before the questions that naturally arise begin to form it is helpful to remember this is as much about recognising God and his ways before lifting up our own requests.
Yet this prayer gives us hope. For when we understand ourselves in light of God’s goodness and holiness, when we understand our own need in contrast to who God is, we realise we are in need of more of heaven and less of earth. As people who begin this prayer in worship, recognising God as God, we know that it will not be our action but the action of God that will ultimately bring this prayer into reality.
And it is the action of God that achieves anything and everything for us. It is the action of God that provides salvation. It is the action of God that shows love. It is the action of God that provides mercy. It is the action of God that brings justice. It is the action of God that grows godliness. And of course, all these things come from the centrepiece of this action–the cross.
In the Incarnation, Jesus’ coming to earth, we find heaven coming to earth. God comes to humankind in a personal and relational way. And while we continue to live in the ‘now and not yet’ tension–where God’s kingdom is here, but it’s not all here–the action of the Incarnation gives hope and shows a glimpse of what is possible.
You may well have images of large golden buildings and paths coming down through the sky when you envision heaven coming to earth. This is most certainly a mistaken image. Already God has made clear he does things in ways we humans least expect, such as coming in the form of a baby, birthed in a dirty stable, and found in a small out-of-the-way village.
So in our prayer ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, it might be better to understand that in heaven God’s will is perfect, there is no bad thing to hinder it. Heaven is God’s will perfected. And when we pray these words, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, we are hoping for similar circumstances here on earth. And given the current state of our world, it might be time to pray this more fervently than we have done before.
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts can be found at the following:
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