Heaven matters. You can take this one of two ways.
That brief phrase could mean that heaven plays a significant role in our lives.
Or, you could read “heaven matters” to be equivalent to “heavenly matters.” For example, you could say something like this. Today we will clear up some heaven matters and tomorrow we will turn to family matters.
I mean to imply both: heaven is significant for the Christian life and there are some things about heaven that we need to get clear about.
We Christians believe in life after this life. Our belief in heaven shapes how we live here on earth.
In other words, believing in heaven makes a difference in our day-to-day decisions, our value systems, how we vote, whom we marry, our parenting strategies, and our career path. At least, that is what believing in heaven is supposed to do.
Our view of heavenly matters—how we understand heaven—shapes the specific choices we make and the life course we follow.
For instance, some church-going Christians make no distinction between the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul. So, they misconstrue heaven as solely an escape from the trials and tribulations of all things earthly. From this perspective, heaven matters on earth because we want to get there and not go to hell. Earth is the moral arena in which our eternal destiny is decided. But on this view heaven offers little incentive to make earth itself a better place. The point is to escape to a heavenly destination.
As I said, the phrase “heaven matters” can mean two things. What is heaven like? And what difference does that make to life on earth? I intend both.
Jesus teaches his disciples to engage the world we inhabit by being what I will call heavenly-minded. Popular culture sometimes turns Biblical wisdom upside down. A common saying is a case in point: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” This adage suggests that to think too much about heaven means to ignore and maybe even denigrate practical earthly needs.
Jesus did not say anything like this. Instead, he said, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 6:33) St. Paul talked about having the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:4-11)
To put it another way, “Don’t be so earthly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Jesus teaches us that believing in heaven leads us to make a difference on earth in his name. We serve the kingdom of heaven by living a certain way at school, at work, in the community and in our neighborhood.
Being heavenly minded involves believing that there is both a heaven and an earth, and that God’s kingdom includes both. This life is good and eternally significant, but it is not the whole story.
|Evelyn De Morgan’s “Kingdom of Heaven”|
Not only is there life after this life, all of history itself culminates in the return of the crucified and risen Christ. He will establish perfect justice, heal every wound, and eliminate death and suffering once and for all.
In the meantime, God has a plan for his creation and Jesus’ followers have the joy and privilege of being active participants in making that plan a reality. Being heavenly-minded means to have these truths as the lenses through which we see our daily lives and to discern the good that we can do in Christ’s name in every situation.
Even though we believe in heaven, getting into heaven is not our top priority. That is not because heaven should take a back seat to earthly concerns, but because talk about getting into heaven frequently contains an unbiblical understanding of heaven and earth.
Take for instance the old hymn “I’ll Fly Away.” One stanza especially demonstrates my point: “When the shadows of this life have grown, I’ll fly away. Like a bird from these prison walls, I’ll fly away.” For some, heaven represents an escape from the world. Being heavenly minded in this way means to be forgetful of earth. This is not what Jesus taught us.
His instruction to seek the kingdom comes right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.
That sermon is filled with very earthly stuff like forgiving those who hurt you, handling your money for holy purposes, and expressing sexual desires in love instead of lust. Seeking the kingdom of God involves living on this earth as if God himself were your king.
Similarly, waiting expectantly for the Second Coming means that we believe that we cannot live perfect lives or create perfect societies. God is sovereign and will restore our broken world to the goodness and beauty he originally intended for us. He will actually dwell among us as our King. As we read in Revelation,
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
But this does not mean that we can ignore hunger and prejudice and violence today because Daddy will take care of it eventually. We anticipate his coming by letting his vision guide our work with the poor, the lonely and the helpless.
Neglecting the earth for the sake of heaven is not what Jesus had in mind. And yet neither did he teach us to expect earth to be heaven.
Some whose ministries focus on social justice neglect or even refuse to preach the Gospel of Christ. In fact, they equate the Gospel of Christ with the work of feeding the hungry, dismantling oppressive laws, and overcoming human prejudice.
They interpret the work of salvation in purely earthly terms and, perhaps unwittingly, assume that political action and economic engineering will heal all that ails the earth. In other words, they dream of structuring earthly institutions and educating human hearts in a way that eradicates what are in fact the intractable effects of The Fall.
Others expect heaven on earth in a different way.
Because they rightly understand God as a God who lavishly blesses his creatures, they focus almost exclusively on seeking those blessings for themselves and for those they hold dear. Health and wealth come to those who believe and pray faithfully, on this view.
They are left unable to explain how Paul could say that he participates in the very life of Christ by sharing in his sufferings. From their perspective, suffering is an intrusion on a life of blessing. They cannot see how suffering can be the means of spiritual growth because they, in their own way, have come to believe that earth can be heaven.
I argue that followers of Jesus are heavenly-minded people. We assume a posture that is summarized by what Jesus taught us in the form of a prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Day after day we dwell in a part of the Sovereign God’s kingdom that is in revolt against his rule. The earth reels and staggers with violence and suffering as a result of The Fall. And yet the followers of Jesus inhabit this same earthly plane with hearts and minds devoted to God’s rule and expectant of his final victory over sin and death.
(The image above is Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night from this link.)