The “Bad Math” of Derailing Spiritually
C.S. Lewis famously said that when we read history, we find that those who did the most for the present world are also the ones who thought the most of the next. In other words, the more heavenly minded we are—the more our heads and hearts are fixed on Jesus, his kingdom, and his purposes—the more earthly good we will be. And the more happy and healthy and whole we will be as well.
But if we are being honest, many Christians struggle to keep their minds and hearts fixed on what Lewis calls “the next” world. With goals to chase, degrees to earn, careers to pursue, friendships to enjoy, families to raise, retirement accounts to build, and more, we are easily distracted from our chief purpose as human beings—to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
In practical terms, how many of us have the time and energy to do what it takes to be heavenly minded? Who has the bandwidth, the focus, or for that matter the incentive to “set (their) minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2)? Who has the interest or ability to stop worrying about the details and concerns of here and now, and instead to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33)?
According to Scripture, the only way we can live a full and fruitful life in the here and now—the only way that things like career, family, friendship, and other pursuits can lead to healthy and life-giving outcomes—is to remain fixated on Jesus, his kingdom, and his purposes through each one of these pursuits. Jesus must be the sun around which the solar systems of our lives find their orbit. He must be our single non-negotiable, our “true north,” and the wind beneath our sails. Otherwise, by moving Jesus to the periphery and centering our lives on anything else, even our best and most noble earthly pursuits will backfire on us. When we turn good things into our ultimate things, they will go sour for us. When we plug our emotional umbilical cords into anything besides Jesus and expect them to give us life, they will steal life from us instead.
We each have something at the center of our souls that we treat as our functional treasure, as the ultimate source our own happiness and significance and flourishing. Whether it’s Jesus or someone, someplace, or something else, we all depend on these treasures to save, sustain, and govern our lives as functional lord and savior. We tell ourselves, “If I can have this, then it will be well with my soul. If I can hold on to this, things will be okay. If my thoughts, words, and deepest commitments are centered on this, my life will be worth living.”
When we think this way, we become like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable, who like Ebenezer Scrooge counts up all his money and material goods and preaches a mini-sermon to his own soul: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God preaches a contradicting mini-sermon to him, saying, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be” (Luke 12:13-21)?
What makes this man a fool? First, he is shortsighted. With the mortality rate being one person per every one person, sooner or later he will die. When he does, he will not be able to take his things with them. They will offer no comfort, no support, and no salvation for him. As another rich, yet much wiser man once said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
He is also a fool for depending on created things to do for him what only his Creator can do. As Blaise Pascal once said, in each of us there is an “infinite abyss (that) can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” Every pursuit of ultimate satisfaction outside of God himself will lead to less satisfaction.
It’s simple math, really. Everything minus Jesus equals nothing, and Jesus plus nothing equals everything. With Jesus, every other person, place, or thing we are given to enjoy is bonus—not something to plug our emotional umbilical cords into, but rather something to offer thanks for to God.
As the Puritan, whose possessions were reduced to a single piece of bread and a single glass of water, said:
“What? All this and Jesus Christ too?”
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