I heard that sometimes pilots experience sensory disorientation when their aircraft spins out of control. The senses can’t process the information coming in, so the pilot can’t tell the difference between the ground and the sky. Divers sometimes get vertically disoriented in a crisis and they can’t tell which way is up and which way is down. In that moment every decision becomes life or death, diving full throttle into the ground rather than pulling back up into the sky. Or diving further into the depth of the sea rather than returning to the surface.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of the upside-down kingdom. It’s a term referencing the kingdom of God, because so many things are opposite from the kingdoms of the world. Things like, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He who gains the whole world loses his soul while he who loses his life saves it. Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, so on and so forth.
I first heard this term in college. It was the title of one of the books for a religion class. At the time I thought it was clever and it made me feel edgy. As I’ve aged, I’ve grown uncomfortable with it. I couldn’t put my finger on it, something just didn’t sit right about it. Until this last week.
The Almighty God, creator of all that ever was, is, and shall be; why is His kingdom the upside-down one? Doesn’t it make more sense that His kingdom is right-side up? That the world’s kingdoms, created in rebellion to His kingdom, are in fact the upside-down part of this whole deal?
The fact that we call everything that’s been built apart from God right-side up, and everything that is coming from God upside-down, subtly undermines the very thing we say we want as Christians. We say we want the kingdom of God manifested in our time, but we talk about it as if it’s a chore that’s getting in the way of how things really ought to be. Like it’s the branch of our family that’s off and slightly embarrassing, but put up with because it’s family.
I think sometimes we, as people, experience sensory disorientation of the soul. We fall into a tailspin, and struggle to know what is up and what is down. The conditioning we receive growing up in a fallen world instills cues and patterns which in turn inform our decisions. Life and death decisions for our hearts and souls. They are so engrained that we can’t tell that we’re upside-down and walking towards death. Until Jesus comes into our lives and says, “Stop! Turn around and come the opposite way, back towards life.”
The kingdom of God is the right-side up one. It is how creation was meant to be. Living in the kingdom of God means finding life rather than death.
The kingdoms of the world are the upside-down ones. They were created in order to assert dominance and take ownership of creation. It means compromising paths that lead to dysfunction and ultimately destruction. In these autonomous, self-sufficient times, that usually means some form of self-destruction.
In those moments of disorientation we dive when we need to pull up. We go ever deeper into the cold depths of darkness when we need to swim back to the surface. We are uncomfortable with the countercultural commands and ways of Jesus, so we call Him upside-down and sin right-side up.
What can be done? Well, pilots have dials and controls that tell them where the ground is, and they’re trained to trust their instruments regardless of their instincts or perceptions. Divers can look at their bubbles. Bubbles always go up and can be trusted to lead the way back to safety.
Where can we turn in times of disorientation? The bible, Jesus. His commands are the dials that tell us to pull up when everything in us is telling us to dive down. His ways are the bubbles we can follow back to life.