Below as Above

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The bumper sticker glows with promise, its simple message “below as above,” a three-word summary of Jesus’ prayer, that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Art from http://www.deborahbell.org)

The headline news jars us into reality, a man murders his two daughters then himself, hunters die in a shoot-off over a hunting stand, an elderly woman dies when medical professionals inject the wrong fluid into her system evil intentioned or accidental these stories are representative of our fallen-ness, indicators that things on earth are not as above.

C.S. Lewis argues that Christians who think most of God’s spiritual world are those who DO most in this one. “The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”

Lewis adds, “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ¢â‚¬Ëœthrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

The evangelistic/soteriological pre-occupation of American evangelicals (are you saved? will you go to heaven when you die? where will you spend eternity?) focuses on God’s eternal and ethereal kingdom often to the exclusion of the kingdom of God NOW.

Many evangelicals love the “Left Behind” series but Nicholas Kristof voices the dismay shared by many others, “if America’s secular liberals think they have it rough now, just wait till the Second Coming.The “Left Behind” series, the best-selling novels for adults in the U.S., enthusiastically depict Jesus returning to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The world’s Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics, along with many Catholics and Unitarians, are heaved into everlasting fire: “Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and . . . they tumbled in, howling and screeching.” “Gosh, what an uplifting scene! If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.” Kristof compares this literal, violent end times reading to the Islamic terrorist who justifies his violence by citing the Koran.

He also finds the commercialization of such a message distressing. “Being wrong has rarely been so lucrative. “Now we have the hugely profitable “Left Behind” financial empire, whose Web site flatly says that the authors “think this generation will witness the end of history.” The site sells every “Left Behind” spinoff imaginable, including screen savers, regular prophecies sent to your mobile phone, children’s versions of the books, audiobooks, graphic novels, videos, calendars, music and a $6.50-a-month prophesy club. This isn’t religion, this is brand management.”

Kristof’s assessment careens wildly from valid insight to blatant misunderstanding of Christian teaching, but as it relates to “on earth as it is in heaven,” he exposes evangelical’s focus on the end (and an unpleasant one for unbelievers), and on Heaven as a future place and reward, rather than on pursuing and displaying the kingdom NOW.

Lewis said, “We shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.”

Christian pursuits of the kingdom are driven by our familiarity and passion for the eternal NOW, not by naƒ¯ve prospects for successful social engineering, but they should be focused on the NOW and not just the future. Each day we should seek to calibrate our will, values and behaviors to God’s; should this happen, evangelical trivialities, the pursuit of earthly power and wealth, the accumulation of stuff, would all melt away when basked in the sun of a better way NOW.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in November 24, 2004 by | No Comments »

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