'So heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good.'
You’ve no doubt heard this phrase a thousand times. I was reminded of it in a recent panel discussion in which I was involved, when the claim was made that we can have our heads so involved in spiritual matters that we ignore or forget the material and physical struggles that people have – we can be of ‘no earthly good’. But I have a problem with the phrase – and my problem is that I think it’s not true.
Of course it’s possible to be ‘of no earthly good’. Sadly, many people do ignore the plight of their fellow humans. But what I would say is that this is not because they are too ‘heavenly-minded’ - it’s because they are not ‘heavenly-minded’ enough!
This is certainly the case if you consider how the scriptures talk about the life to come. For instance, in the story of the man who built bigger barns to store his wealth and whose life came to an abrupt end, Jesus says this: 'Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions' (Luke 12:15). Similarly, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the point is not to give us a literal description of heaven or hell, but to challenge our complacency regarding economic injustice.
The same point is made in Luke 14, in the parable of the great banquet where Jesus depicts 'the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame' as enjoying the feast with God. The challenge to Jesus’ hearers was why were such folk not enjoying such feasting now? How do we know that was his point? Because immediately before the parable Jesus said this: 'When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.' (Luke 14:12,13) The parable is not so much about feasting in the age to come as about feasting now!
The visions of the life to come, the new heavens and new earth, are not given to us as a glorified holiday destination: something that is of no relevance now, but to which we can look forward. Rather they are provided in order to make us reconsider the way in which we live and to motivate us to work with God in bringing his kingdom to come now. In light of this, it seems to me that one of the primary ways in which we can be 'of earthy good' is precisely by having such a vision of heaven, one which shows us the kind of society we could be building in the now.
The Bible And Tax - Revd David Haslam's in-depth exploration of the Biblical precedents for the Tax Justice Campaign with reference to both the Old and New Testaments and to theologian Ched Myers' ideas of 'Sabbath Economics'. Physical copies can be purchased at a cost of £1 per copy, £5 for 6 or £10 for 12. Email us at mail (at) catj.org.uk for more information..