Guest blogger: Jon Saunders, Assistant Pastor of Campus Ministry at University Reformed Church
The non-Christian world has often accused the Church of “being so pie in the sky that we are of no earthly good.” Which considering the number of soup kitchens, pregnancy clinics, after-school programs, colleges and hospitals that have been founded by Christians, it would seem that this accusation is not true in the first place. But for the sake of this blog let’s examine the premise of the accusation.
The non-Christian world has long made this accusation, but in recent years the accusation has come from inside the Christian camp as well. Within our own circles some are claiming the church has been unhelpfully influenced by Plato. If you remember back to your college philosophy class you’ll remember Plato’s allegory of the cave. In this cave the prisoner is able to see the shadows on the wall, but never the true substance that actually casts the shadows. Christians can relate, believing that this earth is just a shadow, the substance will be that glorious day that is to come. Plato is teaching us to be pie in sky. Some scholars are saying this Platonic reading is not helpful because the scriptures teach we live in the substance now. We ought not just long for the day to come, but rather focus on the present.
Even though Augustine spoke in glowing terms about Plato, I assume we can all agree that we should not read the Scriptures through the lens of a pagan Greek philosopher. So what does the Bible have to stay about this? What does the Bible say about the relationship between longing for the day to come and this side of heaven helpfulness?
Hebrew 10:34 seems to make it clear.
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
In terms of earthly good, the Hebrews were the best friends you could ever find. Persecution had come to their city and a number of believers had been thrown into jail. Ancient jails did not have modern amenities like we currently have, such as cafeterias. The only hope a prisoner had of surviving in jail was a fellow friend coming and visiting, often bringing food. But here’s the problem, by visiting a Christian in jail the whole city will know that you to are a Christian. No one will visit Christians except fellow Christians. And if you are marked as a Christian, you know what will come next.
Try and put yourself in their shoes. As you know Kevin DeYoung is my head pastor. Imagine Pastor Kevin has been thrown in East Lansing’s jail. His only hope for survival is that I would bring him a Hot N’ Ready (Kevin is extremely picky) from Little Ceasars. The right thing to do is to visit Kevin. This is obvious. But in the back of my mind I know exactly what will happen the moment I drop the pizza off to my friend; my house will be burned and property plundered. I have a wife at home with 4 little kids. Will my kids be safe? How will I raise them with no money? Will I to go to jail with Kevin leaving my wife helpless and my kids fatherless? This is a significant decision to make.
The Hebrews were the best friends you could find. They actively made their lives harder for the sake of relieving another’s pain. They rejoiced to have their property plundered if it meant relieving some of the pain for the Christians in jail.
The Hebrews are of extreme earthly good. We don’t get list of their other good works, but I can imagine it is lengthy in light of this one radical instance.
The question we are answering is if it is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. We see the Hebrews were of much earthly good. Is this because they we were heavenly minded or not? The answer comes after the comma in verse 34.
Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
The only way the Hebrews were able to be of earthly good was because of their conviction of a better possession and an abiding one. The hope of the day to come was the source of strength to joyfully receive the plundering of their property.
The following chapter in Hebrews is a list of men and women who lived in the same sort of way, like Abraham who looked for a city designed and built by God. All of them were looking for the “something better” of verse 40.
My favorite possession used to be a framed Detroit Free Press front-page article from the day MSU won the national championship in 2000. Our star point guard Mateen Cleaves autographed the poster. It was an awesome piece of sports memorabilia. But over time the signature has faded. Now you can barely decipher what was once clearly there.
My prized possession is fading. So is my car, my house and best electronics. Why live in light of things that fade when I am assured of something better?
If the bad guys plunder my property, that’s ok. I, like the Hebrews, have something better coming. To be of earthly good will often require great sacrifice, perhaps even the plundering of property. Humanity cannot just will up this sort of sacrifice; it must be gripped by something better. We will only be able to lose our home if we know we have a better home coming. We can only loose our lives if we are convinced our best life is ahead of us.
I’m no scholar, but I do know this: sacrificial living is hard. Please don’t rob the saints of the precious promise of the glorious day to come. Because if you do so in the name of not being “too pie in the sky,” you will likely end up with a group who is of no earthly good.