“So heavenly-minded that you’re of no earthly good”. I love that phrase, even though I’m not sure exactly what it means. I guess there are some people that focus so much on the finish line that they don’t watch their feet in the process. It’s been said that religion is the opiate of the masses- by numbing them through the agent of future hope, you distract people from the present injustices they suffer, and they don’t feel inclined to do anything about their present lot. They become physical sluggards while their hopes and dreams are active, alive and well. They dwell in shacks in the body, while in spirit mansions and utopia are their haunts. For every thousand lashes you lay on my bare back now, my reward in the life to come increases at compound interest. So the story goes.
I would query this on various levels. This ‘religion’ that works as an opiate of the people- is it true religion? Does true religion divorce the body from the soul, or is this a lie? Second, I wonder if it’s possible to wage a revolution with integrity without resort to some kind of future hope. On a fundamental level, every struggle against the status quo is based on the a priori thought that things can be different, and indeed ought to be different. It is the struggle of ‘is’ versus ‘ought’. Slavery existed, and in some parts of the world still does. How do you even begin a movement to abolish slavery without a sense that what is, the enslavement of certain people, is wrong or inappropriate and should not be? You look beyond what is, what is before your eyes, to a vision which transcends that and encompasses what you think things should be like. This vision of the new status quo is a hope. So in my mind every revolution is fuelled by a hope, by the ought struggling against the is. It means that ‘revolutionaries’ who think religion is bunk because it looks to some future hope for fuel are shooting themselves in the foot- they are using the same kind of stimulant for action. There are such things as false hopes, of course. Third, does looking to the world to come mean I necessarily become disinterested in the present, in present misery and suffering? I think it can be said that far from doing that, it is actually the only way we can truly make strides towards changing things, as we have the ultimate OUGHT before us as a template to work against. A child learns to write by having its father take its hand in his and showing it how to write out the letters. I’ll explain this last one more fully.
‘True religion’ that pleases God and that he accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1.27). The message we get loud and clear throughout the bible is that the body matters. God made it. He made it good. Even after the fall of man the body has value and that’s why it matters what you do with it- keep yourself from being polluted by the world, in all its manifestations. It also matters what you do with bodies of others- feeding them, taking care of them or abusing them. Matter matters. Justice matters and so both Testaments speak about doing righteousness toward others. The resurrection of Jesus was a resurrection of his body. He wasn’t some disembodied spirit; he ate fish, let his disciples touch him, and broke bread and such. We speak about this in our creeds- “I believe in the resurrection of the body”. When the new world comes, we shall be like him… Our bodies shall be transformed (1 Cor 15). New heavens and the new earth. The physical is not intrinsically evil. God will redeem what He’s made and this includes our bodies. Creation is groaning, waiting to be liberated from it’s bondage to decay. True religion does not divorce the body from the soul.
The vision most revolutionaries have is, in my mind, not as drastic as the overhaul God has in mind for this world. The world we all want and long for is the world that God has promised to bring about- no tears, no more death, no more hunger, sickness or oppression- ever again. There won’t be some diabolical dictator who will usurp the fruits of our labour and betray our ideals in years to come. This is a day that won’t see the setting of the sun. It was in looking into this far country that the ancient Christians were able to do much for this present world. The apostles who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the early Christians whose blood was the seed of the church and many others all left their mark on earth ‘precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this’. With a true understanding of the world to come, our labours in this life are all the more revitalized, not stifled. After speaking about the resurrection and the world to come, Paul reaches an interesting conclusion: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain”. This is not a summons to rest easy because the new world coming, but a clarion call to action.Because it is coming, work!!! He then goes on immediately to spur them on to take a collection for believers that were struggling financially. True religion is not an opiate, but the one true stimulant that can sustain us as we labour in the Lord in the present world, awaiting the one to come.