Today I became aware of the passing of Dallas Willard. I’m struggling a bit to wrap my mind around this event — which means I must write.
I first become aware of Willard through The Spirit of the Disciplines and some of the papers he wrote as a philosopher at USC. I was encouraged to learn that it was possible to be a Christian in the upper echelons of academic philosophy and I was struck that he appeared to have a spirit of humility. A few year later a somewhat eccentric new friend of mine insisted that some of us who were in church leadership at that time read a particular book. He purchased copies of The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God for each of us and begged us to read it. I did read it and felt as if I had been bumped off balance. I wasn’t really sure how to respond to what Willard had written. It didn’t seem heretical, yet it was a far piece from my Sunday School learning. He challenged me to re-think the meaning of The Sermon on the Mount in ways that had never occurred to me. I was fascinated, yet fearful. In truth, I was not yet ready for the fullness of what Willard was wanting to say. As I often do, I neither accepted nor rejected. I just let it be. I let it sit upon my mind and ruminate.
A bit more than ten years of time have passed since I read that book. In the meantime life has had numerous twists and turns. There have been times of great sadness and times of great joy. My own spiritual journey has bounced between peace and despair. Through these times my understanding of who God is and what he is about has been inexorably changing. A few weeks ago our church began a brief series on The Sermon on the Mount. I knew I had to read The Divine Conspiracy again – because now I have the ears to hear the words that he spoke. But sadly, my copy missing. Both the author, as well as the one from whom I received it have passed from this life. Yet some vestiges of his understanding of the kingdom of the heavens remain in my mind. And I have discovered that over these years of trials, troubles, joy and grace my understanding of “the kingdom among us” has begun to look an awful lot like his.
Sometime back I wrote a post about Giants on the Journey. And while I never met Dallas Willard or knew him personally, I think I am only beginning to realize the impact that he has had and will have on my life through his writings. And I wish that I would have had the opportunity to talk together in gentleness and humility about the Kingdom of God, the teachings of Jesus and how we live out the kingdom in our own lives each day. For I think that he knew something deep within his spirit — something that is difficult to articulate in words, which can only be learned through experience with the living God, is manifested in humility and is found when one willingly loses themselves.
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.
Dallas, thank you for helping me understand that the Son of God came that the kingdom might invade this earth. That God’s will might be done on earth now, just as it is done in heaven. That the kingdom is not just a future possibility, but that it should be a living, active, present agent of change within our world today. For that and for so much more, I thank you.
Oh, and that eccentric friend of mine? Maybe he wasn’t so eccentric after all. Perhaps he was just on to something we hadn’t yet figured out — the Divine Conspiracy.