I’m sure everyone has heard the complaint against some Christians who, we’re told, are “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” While that may sound rather clever, and it may be easy to pick up on the refrain because, after all, this is the world we live in, it nevertheless doesn’t hold up under close examination. History itself denies this cliché.
C. S. Lewis can always be relied upon to make us rethink popular slogans. He tackles this one in Mere Christianity as he attempts to explain the basics of the faith to his readers. Looking forward to the eternal world is not some kind of escapism, he contends. Neither is it a form of wishful thinking. Christians are supposed to think about eternity. In fact, those who do are the most useful in this world, he argues.
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.
The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.
It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.
I think of this today because we are surrounded by people, many who claim the name of Christ, who seem to be so focused on this world that they forget ultimate reality. Liberal/progressive politicians and their philosophical cheerleaders seem to believe that if only we would use the government to its fullest extent (don’t bother with that silly thing called the Constitution that limits the government’s authority), we can create heaven on earth.
By the same token, far too many who call themselves conservatives—even Christian, evangelical conservatives—are tempted to think that if we elect just the right person or get enough of the right judges, the republic will be safe.
Both ends of the political spectrum can become so earthly minded that they are useless for the most significant task God has given us: making true disciples of Christ.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I have been politically active for years. But I also know the limitations of politics; I know how the siren song of political activism can become an obsession. What I must always remember is that any activism on my part must be grounded in the hope of eternity that lives in my heart.
That hope of eternity is what leads Lewis to then write one of his most memorable lines:
He adds that “earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” That means we must be thankful for those earthly pleasures, since they can awaken the soul to the One who satisfies the desire, but we are “never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.”
As we do our part for the world in which we live, we do so with the constant reminder that this is, in a sense, our testing ground, to see if our heavenly mindedness translates into helping others. All help that we offer should have as its goal to point others to Christ. Lewis, though, says it better than I can:
I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.
Anything we do in this life to make this world a better place is always good, but if we offer only material blessings without arousing in those we help a desire for the real thing of which the blessings of this world are only a kind of copy, echo, or mirage, we are doing them a disservice.
Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither. . . .
We shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.