Eat this scroll (or, how to become earthly good).

You’ve heard it said that a person can be so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Sounds catchy enough to be true, doesn’t it? It ends up being terrible theology, not to mention indefensible. I would argue that if you want to be any earthly good at all, you are better served by a mind that fixes on higher things. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that the world is better served by those who spend their lives looking for signs of the in-breaking Kingdom than by those who don’t have eyes to see beyond this world.

Being heavenly minded is precisely what makes us earthly good.

Some of the greatest influences on humanity have been heavenly minded. In his classic Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis famously wrote:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. 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. 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. 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 “thrown in;” aim at earth and you will get neither.

Being heavenly minded is the point. It is what Paul meant when he instructed new believers to set their minds on things above. It is what Ezekiel was called to when he was told to eat the scroll, on which were written the lamentations of God. Those words were the very heart of God for his people. When God instructed Ezekiel to eat the scroll, he was saying, in effect, “Unless you have internalized my heart for my people, you won’t be any good for them. If you have any hope of following through on any of the weird stuff that is in your future, you’re going to need to operate not out of an external word but out of something rooted inside.”

In leadership, the quickest way to kill a great idea is to ask someone to do it before they own it. Hannah Whitall Smith (Quaker theologian) wrote that it is our nature to rebel against laws that are outside of us, but we embrace that which springs up from within. She was right. How often have you resisted someone else’s idea until you decided it was your own? God’s way of working in us is to get possession of us, so he can make his ideas our ideas.

This is how we become heavenly minded. Eat this scroll, God said. Gain the heart of God for people. Internalize it. Own it. Let it do its work in you. This could well be the most powerful word in the Bible about the Bible. Only as we steep in the Word are we able to internalize and own the very heart of God, allowing it to change the way we think.

If being heavenly minded is the only way we can do any earthly good (and I am convinced it is), then the path to that posture runs through the Word of God. Not counter to it.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

3 thoughts on “Eat this scroll (or, how to become earthly good).

  1. Well put! But if I may… I would offer some qualification to the language of heavenly mindedness to risk it not being misconstrued. The issue of being “heavenly minded” is whether we are trying to understand the “science” of heaven, that is explore the way things function in heavenly realm, or the way of life of heaven, that is, the will of God. Put in a different metaphor, are we trying to understand the geography of heaven or the society of heaven?

    In the former, we are trying to understanding a bunch of ideas to which we have no reference to compare them to; hence the ideas we come are simply constructs of our imagination and whatever formed that imagination. Heavenly-mindedness in this sense is simply talk about invisible entities that we construct that we readily use to avoid dealing with earthly realities OR controlling people according to veil self-interest. This is a potentially toxic thing that we do need to warn against.

    But what you are talking about is searching out for the way of life in heaven, the kingdom of God, that we are expecting to break in our domain. Here, in repentance (which is what protects against toxicity in this form), we are casting aside self-interest to look for God’s own will. We don’t evaluate people and the world based upon how they line up with what I want for myself or based upon what those with political power tell us (which is influenced by their own values and the social values influenced them), but we are seeking to understand how God sees and values people and the world as a whole. But this is not just some exploration of some hidden value tucked away in the heavens, but the very heavenly action that is impinging in our domain of earth. In other words, to be heavenly minded is to align ourselves with the part of the Lord’s prayer that says: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. In this sense, heavenly-mindedness is not seeking to explore some invisible realm to which we can find a source of our ethics, but instead, we are seeking to learn from those places where God’s will has broken in and making those events (most prototypically and importantly, in Jesus Christ) the object of our learning and focus, which the Scriptures are a witness of and to.

    Put another way, Paul isn’t trying to get people to reason about the hidden realms, which can make us no earthly good, but rather about the very manifestation of heaven in our domain of life, which, as you say, makes us earthly good.

    1. You’re on it, Owen. Well said. And a good distinction. Being an escapist who spends all one’s time prognosticating the endtimes is not the same as being a missionary who spends time looking for the in-breaking Kingdom, speaking into lives about how that ought to change us. Thanks for the insight.

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