Should Christians Be Spiritual Enough to Not Love God’s Created World?
A few years ago, I spoke at a Desiring God National Conference in a session titled “C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth: God's Eternal Remedy to the Problem of Evil and Suffering.” One of the things I shared is the irony that in a day when many people edit theology to fit their desires, they ignore biblical truths about eternity that are far more desirable than what they falsely believe.
Shouldn’t we embrace the true biblical teaching of the resurrection and the New Earth and let ourselves and our children be excited about them? First, because it’s true, but with the added plus that it’s wonderful, so much better than we could ever have imagined!
Recently I came across this response to the video:
Let’s just make it through this life and leave the rest to God. Sounds like a great passion for the least important thing you could find in the Bible. Confusing your children 101. Preaching about a New Earth and body would probably appeal to non-Christians that love this world.
This comment reflects the misguided idea that we should be “spiritual” enough as Christians to not love God's created world. Believers who embrace this philosophy mistake the sinful world affected by the curse and the devil for the world God created for beauty and wonder and worship. To call the New Earth, which is itself inseparable from the doctrine of resurrection, “the least important thing you could find in the Bible” is staggering.
One of my concerns with such thinking is that our failure to teach about the meaning of resurrection and the New Earth actually pushes children in Christian homes away from the gospel and the church. Why? Because they are, in essence, told to find their happiness in the present world, since this life (we make them suppose) is their only chance to enjoy beauty, pleasures, art, and culture. The secular world, it seems, offers an unending smorgasbord of promised happiness. Seekers move from one false promise to another, ending in ruins before they discover what Solomon learned—that all these promises of happiness are empty. They are wind and vapor, not substance and reality.
Suppose instead, that churches taught and Christians believed that God calls them to view work, play, music, food, and drink as gracious gifts from God’s hand to be responsibly enjoyed within the parameters of His commands. If this were the reality, perhaps less young people raised in believing homes would see the Christian life divorced from pleasure, and that a relationship with Christ is the best and true way to experience lasting happiness, both in this life and in the one to come.
Unfortunately, ever since some of the church fathers were heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers, a hyper-spiritualized approach to Scripture and the Christian life has infected segments of the Western church. It has crippled people’s ability to understand what Scripture says about the goodness of God’s creation, as well as the delight and happiness He intends for us in the physical dimension. (Once, after I preached about the Resurrection and New Earth, a fine Christian man said to me, “This idea of having bodies and eating food and living in an earthly place . . . it just sounds so unspiritual.”)
Though Christoplatonism frowns upon the pleasures of the physical world, mistaking asceticism for spirituality, Scripture says we’re to put our hope not in material things but “in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
Why did God make our taste buds for us to enjoy food and dopamine to be generated in the “pleasure centers” of our brains? Why did He give us our ability to find joy in a cool swim and a hot shower, in listening to music and audiobooks, in hitting a golf ball, skiing down a slope, or running through a park? Why did He give us physical senses if not to know Him better and to be far happier in Him than we ever could be if He had instead made us disembodied spirits who couldn’t enjoy physical pleasures?
If we believe the physical world is evil, inferior, or unspiritual, we’ll inevitably be suspicious of everything in it. We’ll look down our noses at good food and wine, art and music (unless explicitly Christian), sports and culture, hobbies and recreation, drama and amusements. We will berate the notion of happiness because, after all, happiness is “worldly.” We’ll come to the conclusion that God’s people should be concerned only about holiness and perhaps some unemotional, transcendent concept called “joy” that never makes its way to our faces. We’ll also inevitably reject or spiritualize any biblical revelation about bodily resurrection or finding joy in God’s physical creation.
But this isn’t consistent with a biblical worldview. Scripture is clear that physical pleasures and even temporal happiness, such as what we experience from a good meal, fine art, and adventure, are from God, not Satan. Paul says it is demons and liars who portray the physical realm as unspiritual, forbid people from the joys of marriage, including sex, and “order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:3-5).
Although preoccupation with a God-given gift can turn into idolatry, enjoying that same gift with a grateful heart can draw us closer to God. In Heaven we’ll have no capacity to turn people or things into idols. When we find joy in God’s gifts, we’ll be finding our joy in Him.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”
Consider the old proverb, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” It assumes that the only earthly pleasures we’ll ever enjoy must be obtained now. As Christians, we should indeed eat, drink, and be merry—and also sacrifice, suffer, and die—all to the glory of God. In doing so, we’re preparing for an eternal life in which we’ll eat, drink, and be merry, but never again die. So this present life isn’t our last chance to eat, drink, and be merry—rather, it’s the last time our eating, drinking, and merrymaking can be corrupted by sin, death, and the Curse.
Every day we should see God in His creation: in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the friendships we enjoy, and the pleasures of family, work, and hobbies. Yes, we must sometimes forgo secondary pleasures, and we should never let them eclipse God. And we should avoid opulence and waste when others are needy. But we should happily thank God for all of life’s joys, large and small, and allow them to draw us to Him, and to point our hearts toward the coming New Earth.
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