Are Christians too "heavenly minded"? (the problem of dualism)

Former first lady Barbara Bush, in her book Heart Trouble (Zondervan, 1985), makes this insightful and challenging comment (Scriptures added):
Christians are sometimes accused of being so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. We get caught up in choir rehearsals, studies of the end times or other church activities, and ignore needs around us. When problems are brought to our attention, we content ourselves with feeling sorry about them while doing nothing. But sympathetic thoughts or kindly musings are not true compassion.
With the divine power he possessed, Jesus could have met the multitude's needs merely by forming a thought or speaking a command. He could even have done it from heaven without coming to earth. But his compassion [Mark 6:34] caused him not only to come and live and die among us, but also to touch lepers and blind men, and to take little children in his arms. True compassion is personal, active involvement that expresses God's merciful heart in words and deeds. 
God's chosen people are to "clothe" themselves with compassion [Colossians 3:12]. We are to meet others' needs, not to continually satisfy our selfish desires. As God showers us with comfort through his Word and through other believers, we in turn are to redirect the stream of his mercy to others. We are not to hoard God's love, but to overflow with the good news of is compassion to all.
I think Mrs. Bush points out an important aspect of our calling as Christians--a calling that we Christians sometimes (often?) fail to live up to. Why is that so? Well, I suppose there are many reasons, but perhaps a primary one is that we hold to a faulty theology that sees a dualism that is not found in Scripture. This dualism posits a contradiction (separation) between what is "spiritual" and what is "natural." Furthermore, it suggests that God is involved only in the spiritual and thus stands apart from the natural. Following this line of (faulty) reasoning, it is thought that Christians should therefore focus their lives on what is "spiritual" (heavenly), and repudiate the "natural" (earthly).

But in the mind and activity of the triune God, there is no such dualism--no separation of reality into "spiritual" and "natural" spheres. Through the Incarnation, God has permanently united himself to the "natural." In the person of Jesus, God took on flesh, thus uniting himself to his creation. We see the result of this union in the life that Jesus lived while he walked this earth nearly 2,000 years ago. As Mrs. Bush noted, Jesus was concerned about and compassionate toward all people--no matter their condition. In his eyes, all people, whether they be "spiritually minded" or not, have equal value. He loves and cares for all. Jesus was (and still is) the "friend of sinners" (Matthew 11:19). And that's good for us all because "sinner" is the human condition.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for followers of Jesus (Christians) to think their calling is to isolate themselves from the "natural" world in order to focus on "spiritual" matters (typically defined as church programs). The result, as Mrs. Bush noted, is that at least some become so "heavenly minded" that they are, in essence, "no earthly good."

Now, the Bible does tell Christians to “set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). But this exhortation from Paul has to do with being Christ-centered in our thinking, not about withdrawing from the world. In fact, when we see Jesus more clearly, we see the Mediator of all humanity who, through the Spirit, is actively involved in the lives of all people--sharing with them his love and life in order to draw them into communion with himself where they may experience their true identity--an identity now "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).

One of the beautiful and amazing things about Jesus is how he gives all of life deep meaning and value. With him and in him, there is no spiritual-natural divide; no sacred-secular dualism. There is one Christ, who is Creator and Redeemer, and thus Lord of all. All of his creation has been raised from death and destruction in him. As so as we walk with him (our calling as Christ-followers), all aspects of life have (at least potentially) deep, eternal meaning and value. And that includes such "spiritual" matters as prayer, Bible study, church services and the like. But it also includes seemingly "un-spiritual" (natural) things like taking a walk, viewing a sunset, building a chair, painting a picture, playing a song, toiling away at one's job, etc. In Christ, all time, all activity, all endeavor, are sacred--they all have redemptive value as we participate in these things with and thus through Jesus.

And so, as we go through life, we ask, "Jesus, what are you doing, and how may I share in that?" And as we do so, we discover that Jesus' compassion, care and concern know no boundaries. We live life (all of it) as one "sent"--one on mission with Jesus. The church (Christians) exists not to stand apart from the world but to stand, with Jesus, for the sake of the world. To go to all the world as compassionate servants/stewards of our Lord's creation, which, in his mind, is not divided into "spiritual" and "natural" compartments.

As we enter a new year, this is something to think about!

For other Surprising God posts that discuss the problem of dualism, click here and here.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Ted. I used part of this post for the sermon this past weekend.

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