For about a hundred pages of one of my favorite fiction books, Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, there is a not-so-brief history lesson on the Battle of Waterloo. You could easily read it and wonder halfway through, “What happened to the story?” “What’s the point of this?” The answer, I think, is context. The author apparently felt that for his readers to get the full weight of the story there were certain things they would need to understand from a historical perspective. Makes sense to me. Now I’m obviously no Victor Hugo, and my work is far short of a masterpiece. However, if I may borrow the strategy for a day, I’d like to go on a little aside and provide some context before moving to my next reflection. The aside I have in mind is a consideration, or really just a reminder, of what it means to keep an eternal perspective on things.
I’m guessing it’s a safe bet that you’ve heard someone described as “so heavenly minded” that he or she is “no earthly good.” I think I get the sentiment—that some people do in fact seem to render themselves somewhat impotent (socially speaking) because of their preoccupation with some other time or place, unwilling to see or do something about the problems staring them in the face, seeing them instead as some sort of doctrinal validation, so we best avoid them. But I have to admit that while I take the sentiment seriously, I’ve come to really dislike the phrase. My reason? For starters, it seems to me that the person this phrase attempts to describe has precisely the opposite problem. He’s too earthly minded, which is deeply unbiblical. Colossians 3:2 actually commands us to “set [our] minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth” (HCSB).
I think C.S. Lewis put it well: “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.” In my estimation, this is a far more accurate characterization. If I really am passionate about something, doesn’t that cause me to talk about it more? Even convert people to my way of thinking? Whether it’s my favorite sports team, musical preferences, or life and death itself, if I really care about something and dwell on it constantly I’ll be a greater ambassador on its behalf, not a poorer one. So if I find that I just can’t stop thinking about heaven, I’ll probably find that I can’t help but want to “give ‘em heaven.”
You might be wondering what this could possibly have to do with free will and divine sovereignty. It’s simple really. A heavenly minded person is an eternally minded person, and eternity is the ultimate perspective changer. And if this is true, then getting eternity right can make all the difference in the world. For the Apostle Paul, even his great earthly suffering could be regarded as “a light and momentary affliction” when considered in light of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). I think this is one of the most profound indications of just how powerful an effect the reality of Heaven (or eternity) can have on Christ-followers.
If ever there were an issue that could use an infusion of heavenly perspective, it’s the doctrine of salvation. My next two reflections in this series will venture into just that issue. This is where the whole free will vs. divine sovereignty issue gets really sticky. So before offering my thoughts on it, I think it’s beneficial to remind ourselves that when we’re talking about salvation, we’re taking about eternity. While there might be a process involved, there is nothing temporary about it. It is my personal belief that one of the reasons this doctrine of the relationship between free will and divine sovereignty is so difficult for many of us is that we are stuck in “earthly minded” ways of thinking (I’ll expand on this later). And if we’re going to understand how these two concepts work together, we’re going to need a strong dose of eternal-mindedness. We must proceed with caution and humility.