The kingdom of God is not a way of being good in the first place. It is a way of forgiveness, which means that other things, far less respectable, have to be addressed first.
Once there was a young girl in junior high school who approached her mother one night about a problem she had at school.
“Mom,” she said, “Do you remember Kathy? The girl we drove to camp that one time?”
Her mother nodded. “Yes, I remember her. You are not close friends, but she is one of your friends at school, right?”
“Right. Well, today, she came and talked to me about something she had said behind my back to some girls in her Spanish class. She was very sorry, but what she said was really catty.”
“Did she ask for forgiveness?”
“Yes, and I forgave her. But I can’t stop thinking about it. It was really catty. Why’d she have to tell me about it?”
“Well, it was good that she did. That is because her sin was open to others—she needed to put that right with you. If she had only thought it, and then repented of it, it would have been thoughtless and cruel to confess it to you.”
“But how can I forgive her for that. Mom, it was . . .”
“Really catty. I know.”
“How can I forgive her then. It was really wrong what she did.”
“Well, honey, that’s the only reason you can forgive her. You couldn’t forgive her if it wasn’t wrong.”
Her daughter looked confused. “What?” she said.
“If she bumped into you in the hall accidentally, she would say ‘Pardon me.’ If she knocked you down on purpose, then she would have to say, ‘Forgive me.’ She would have to say that because what she did was really and deliberately wrong.”
“But she doesn’t deserve it!”
“That’s what makes it forgiveness, honey.”