This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.
Or any of these:
In heaven, time shall be no more.
Only three things are eternal: God, souls, and God’s Word.
We’ll spend all eternity undistracted by earthly things, worshiping God.
You can’t take it [that is, a material possession] with you [when you die].
Several things have brought these to my mind, starting with my “open letter” last month about the contemporary Christian movie Courageous. In that column I attempted to react to the movie not just as a story, or just as a sermon, but both. After all, its creators had said they wanted make a sermon-story, so I felt the movie should be praised or critiqued accordingly. But soon that discussion developed into — you never can be too sure about these things — a subtopic about whether the iPhone, though developed by presumed non-Christian Steve Jobs, could be used in Heaven.
Actually, this subtopic wasn’t really that random. That’s because in the film’s ending scene, with a church altar-call-esque summons for men to be men, one character says:
“You can’t fall asleep at the wheel only to wake up one day and realize that your job and your hobbies have no eternal value, but the souls of your children do.”
Transcription courtesy of Christian Jaeschke, from the novelization of Courageous by Randy Alcorn
“Your job and your hobbies have no eternal value.”
Yes, that part — like several of the above clichés — leaped out to me as both poor story and un-Biblical sermon.
But hey, I’ve been there, done that about Courageous. I don’t want to blame the movie’s screenwriters, who surely meant well. Lines like “your job and your hobbies have no eternal value” are the result of ongoing evangelical myths. They are not the source.
So my hope in this series is to identify the problem’s source. Then prove that it is a problem. Then show from Scripture how these are not Biblical, and why it matters.
This definitely applies to Christians as people. It also applies to those who have devoted significant amounts of time to their hobbies or even jobs of reading/writing the best speculative stories they can (given that hobbies and jobs are often interchangeable).
But first I have a few problems of my own to overcome.
1. I just finished a miniseries about going beyond story battles.
I loved writing that short series. It gave me a chance to remember what all our love for stories, and ultimately God’s original and ongoing Story, is all about. It’s not just about generating controversy (as Fred Warren underscored on Tuesday), or beating back un-Biblically “safe” views of story or speculative genres. Those issues are important, but they are temporary. Rather, I want to love and promote great stories because they are special agents of worship. Unlike nonfiction teaching, or even art forms like music, stories help us “get more,” in unique ways, of the same God Who has revealed Himself.
This new series, though, should expand those themes.
I don’t believe that manmade stories, like controversy, are temporary. I hope to prove proactively in this series that all of a Christian’s God-honoring talents, ambitions, even accomplishments — including our stories — may just follow us into the New Earth.
My goal is not just whacking wrong Heaven/New Earth beliefs. Sure, that’ll come, but only while a-passing through to the final destination. My hope is to encourage.
2. Talking about the goodness of material Things could seem like justification for greed and materialism, “prosperity gospel” garbage, or neglect of holiness.
You’re a child of the king, so you should live as the King wants you to live, coo the friendly, smiling, too-easy-to-take-cheap-shots-at television preachers, to gullible, self-centered followers. But true children of the King store up treasures in Heaven (Matt. 6: 19-21), and are eager to give, at personal cost and from Christ-endorsed “selfish” desire for the greatest reward that He promises: Himself and His Kingdom (Luke 12: 32-34).
But in some sense, I’ll assume in this series that you already know the danger of valuing God’s gifts more highly than their Giver; or that greed and sin are nasty; or that God may call us to give up ambitions, talents, or anything else, to serve Him in other ways.
Of course, true to form, I might still issue a sporadic disclaimer about those. But not every book, sermon, or series can take care of every angle of every Christian issue.
And nowadays, I’m seeing a lot of pushback against things like The American Dream, ambition, possessions, even personal talents. And there could be a chance — I’ve been noticing this — that we push too far. That we wind up in the opposite extremes. That in correcting for materialism, we wind up with spiritualism — Gnosticism-infected beliefs that fail to recall that God is redeeming not just souls, but His world.
These hurt our holiness. Worse, they accidentally deny God’s Word. They imply that the material world itself — not just its present evil age — isn’t worth God’s time. That the world to come is vague and unearthly. That only our “spiritual” deeds and work matters.
I think I’ve been saying this often, but more vaguely. Until now.
How vital is this topic? I suggest this: If we don’t have some hope that our story-related hobbies/jobs could enter eternity, we should stop doing them. Now.
3. I don’t want to assume readers believe New-Earth myths that they don’t.
Last week I said that more Christians need not fear painting only in pastel, fuzzy tones about the New Earth. This applies especially to Christian storytellers. All Christians are in the business of pointing to everlasting life. Our stories in particular should arouse this longing deep in the hearts of hearers, and in one way or another, point to its Source.
To discern and enjoy man’s stories, and know how their music — in sounds and lyrics — are echoic remixes of Heaven, we must be more familiar with the original Song.
Some of us may have grown up hearing sermons or seeing images that imply Christians have only the clichéd “sitting on clouds and playing harps” lifestyle to “anticipate” after we die. Others, though, may have more often heard rebuttals. How silly, the rebutters may say. Really, we can’t know exactly what Heaven will be like, but that’s where God is.
And too often also might one set out to debunk myths, having not taken stock of what folks actually believe and would say outright, or believe deep down and haven’t thought of it in a while. That’s why I’m asking: what do you believe about the After-world?
Perhaps giving away my challenges to some of the above clichés may help — if for no other reason than for readers to say, Hey, I’ve never believed that. You’re behind, brother.
Yet again, my hope is not just to myth-bust, but to encourage all Christians.
That goes especially for those who love stories, and/or writing, and would love to keep their favorites right on into everlasting life, but aren’t sure if that’s a Godly desire.
So this series will start with this: For readers and writers of stories whose themes and excellencies are meant to glorify God — according to His own nature and revelation about how He seeks His glory — your hobbies and jobs are not automatically worthless.
Scripture doesn’t say that this world, or time, or “earthly things,” are temporary.
God’s Word itself never claims that only God, souls, and itself will last forever.
In fact, it speaks of fire that purges and cleanses the curse of sin from the Earth (2 Peter 3). As the stars melt and the skies tear apart, the Earth does not. Instead it is “exposed” (verse 10). Made new. Reforged. A real, solid, perfect planet. Crown jewel of the divine empire.
That has implications. And prophecy is clear that the new world will also have Things.
Why should those Things not include manmade stories? More on that, next week.