“Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good”
Have you ever heard that statement before? I have. In the past, I have assumed it referred to people who thought only of the sweet by and by to the exclusion of the duties and callings of this life. But I didn’t think much more of it, and I didn’t really know anyone I’d put in that category.
Recently our pastor used that phrase in a Sunday morning message. He followed it up with a quizzical look and this statement: “I’ve never known anyone too heavenly minded”.
He has a point – particularly in this country, where we’re so inundated with the bright, sparkly things of this world and where teachings on heaven and hell in our churches are few and far between. What brings this to mind is what I’m seeing as a resurgence, writ large, of the tension between heavenly minded and earthly good in current church debates, and primarily in the emergent conversation.
Here is the point and accusation being made in that conversation: Jesus came to inaugurate his Kingdom on earth, to fix the mess we’re in, and to overcome the Roman empire with a new kind of reign based on God’s ways, so that God’s will will be done “on earth as it is in heaven”. Unfortunately, the argument goes, all we’re concerned about in modern evangelicalism is “getting people saved” so that they can go to heaven and avoid hell. Evangelicals care too much about heaven, to the exclusion of this present world and all its troubles, for which they do very little.
While I think that representation is a bit of a caricature, I can see that there’s some truth in it. But the corrective being suggested seems, to me at least, to just be another fling off the other side of the horse. The books coming out, for instance, on the emergent side of the aisle seem to be paying short shrift to eternity. Their message: the church is too heavenly minded. We need to start being some earthly good.
And, in this way at least, they’re right: there are clear Biblical commands toward earthly goodness, and we are all as believers compelled by Christ’s love to love our neighbors, to do good to those around us, to meet the earthly needs of the least of these. And the reason we are to be this way is very simple: to glorify our Father in heaven.
I find myself tangled in yet another false dichotomy when it is suggested (or inferred) that earthly goodness and heavenly mindedness cannot coexist, and it makes me wonder if theologies built upon a foundation of our efforts to solve the world’s problems are theologies that, deep down, don’t really believe in eternity. Because if eternity is true, this life really is a vapor, a wisp, one blade of grass in a vast field.
If we are to be earthly good (and I believe we are), we are to be that way for God’s glory, and because, to paraphrase a recent, popular movie, what we do today echoes in eternity.
If eternity is true (and I believe it is), how much does the weight of it overwhelm day to day concerns? And how much does the need for each person on earth to heed the call of Jesus to repent and believe overwhelm all other issues in this life? These questions become rhetorical when you consider that in a snap of the fingers, we’ll be gone, and eternity will be what remains.
I believe that balance is a very important aspect of our faith, and I would like to see more of a balance, in my life, in the teachings of the church, and in the current in-family debates in Christendom, between heavenly mindedness and earthly goodness. May we never lose site of the enormity of eternity, and the glorious and frightening prospect that it has for us and for our neighbor. In the light of this, may we serve our neighbor, in Jesus’ name, as we would want to be served, doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven, for the glory of the Father.
I’ll leave you with a C.S. Lewis quote that sums up what I’m trying to say exceptionally well:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory