Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Created to Obsess

Chapter 7 of The Slumber of Christianity author Ted Dekker moves on to talk about the emotion of hope and how hope should drive us to prepare for heaven. He writes:
“If we don’t abandon ourselves to hope for the afterlife, we certainly won’t groan for it. If we discard hope as an untrustworthy emotion, or limit our hope to things that are immediately tangible, how can we develop great passion for something as intangible as heaven?

“We can’t.

“And so it is not wonder that our hope for glory has been put to sleep. We are far more comfortable clinging to and hoping for what we can see, here in this life, than hoping in a future that is not yet seen. As a result we have directed our hope toward objectives that are immediately tangible, the foretastes of the bliss that awaits us, and away from that which awaits us itself.” (p. 110)

To illustrate his point Dekker directs his readers to the parable Jesus told in Matthew 13:44:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field that a man found and hid. In his joy he went and sold everything he had and bought that field.” (ISV)

Do we show the same obsession for heaven as this man who was sold everything in order to buy a field and thus the treasure it contained. We go to great lengths to find pleasure in this world, but we hardly give heaven a second thought. Dekker goes on to say:
“Clearly, Christ wasn’t promoting deception, but he obviously thought it was a useful tool in showing just how far someone might go to secure the kingdom of heaven. He was promoting a kind of obsession with the kingdom of heaven.” (p. 113)

Are we obsessed with heaven? Speaking for myself I know that I am obsessed with this life. Things like getting married and having that perfect ministry dominate my thinking. I think I can safely assume other followers of Jesus Christ fall into the same trap. That is why this passage from Luke that Dekker cites is worth considering:
33 “Sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor. Make yourselves wallets that don't wear out—a dependable treasure in heaven, where no thief can get close and no moth can destroy anything. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34; ISV)

Dekker goes on to write:
“What bold statements! [he also cited 1 Timothy 6:19] Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If the treasure you obsess after is on this earth, your heart will remain on this earth; but if your treasure is in heaven, your heart will be there as well.” (p. 116)

The problem with obsessing over heaven is that it is unreasonable. It is much more reasonable to be concerned about the things of this life and to try to create a life that in some small way makes us happy. Why bank on something that is not visible? Dekker reminds us that following Jesus isn’t reasonable:
“But is following Christ reasonable?

“This is where the paths of Christianity as a religion and following Christ part ways in dramatic fashion. The fact is, following Christ is not a very reasonable thing to do in the eyes of unbelievers. Our following is based on faith, not on reason. There’s a tremendous amount of reason along the way, yes, but the journey itself is based on faith. This is a critical distinction when it come to understanding hope.” (p. 117)

The more a rely on reason the diminished capacity we have for hope, especially hope for heaven and eternal life. Dekker writes:
“We in the West are obsessed with reason, in the same way that I am going to suggest we be obsessed with hope. Our preoccupation with reason is what leads us to conclude that emotion is untrustworthy after we see it failing us repeatedly. So it could be said that one of the casualties of our reason is emotion, or passion for the afterlife. Our slumber is, in part, brought on by reason.” (p. 118)

Have we forgotten that as Christians we are to live a life of death? We are dead to sin, dead to this life, and that our lives are offered as a sacrifice to God. Yes, there is the power of the resurrection, but that power is only fully revealed to us after we have died. Dekker makes this point:
“What’s more, we Christians claim to live a life of death that brings life. ‘Take up your cross and follow me,’ Christ called. We are now dead to sin, buried and risen with Christ. True, Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Christ, and we like to live in resurrection power, but resurrection comes only after death and will not be complete until the day of our salvation after Christ returns.” (p. 119)

There is a great danger to forget about heaven. That danger is that we try to find all of God’s promises fulfilled in this life, but because we live in this world of sin that won’t happen. We will be disappointed and disillusioned. Read Dekker’s thoughts:
“But what if we who are being saved take our eyes off the great message of redemption at the end of time? Then we place responsibility for all of the gospel’s benefits on this life, and when those benefits fail to materialize as we once hoped they would, the gospel begins to sound a little foolish to us as well.” (p. 120)

Faith and hope really defy explanation. Sure we can cite reasons why we have faith and hope, but concrete realities allude us at times. There has to be a time in our lives, if we are really going to follow Jesus, when we say; “God, I don’t know, but I am going to trust You,” and then live our lives based on that commitment. Dekker writes:
“The day I tried to prove my faith in college was the day I lost that faith. When we shift the focus of our faith from the eyes of the heart to a purely rational exploration of fact, our faith will almost certainly weaken.” (p. 120)

I know that sounds like a scary thing. We want to be seen as reasonable and rational, but Christians throughout the centuries have appeared the opposite. The apostle Paul understood that this desire for heaven at times made him sound and look crazy:
13 So if we were crazy, it was for God; if we are sane, it is for you. (2 Corinthians 5:13; ISV)

Don’t allow the judgment of people deter you from pursuing heaven. While we are beings of reason and intellect we are also beings of emotions and desire. To hope is part of what it means to be human. Dekker writes:
“Birds and butterflies live in a world guided solely by the set of facts that surround them. They perform various functions based on a strict set of requirements for life.

“Not we humans, created in the image of God. We are guided by desire. We were created to hope, and the greatest kind of hope is nothing less than a form of obsession.” (p. 121)

Too many Christians have fallen asleep. We have settled for religion rather than living a life of desire for heaven.
“Christians have fallen asleep to the promise of the afterlife and no longer dream of that great day. Their obsession for eternity is in slumber. And being creatures created to obsess, many have redirected their obsession to the pleasures of this world alone.” (p. 121)

We do this to our own peril. This world can’t possible satisfy the cravings of our hearts. Not only do we do this to our own peril but we also do it to the neglect of Christ’s commission to make disciples. We are so consumed with creating life that we forget about the vast majority of people who have no hope for life. A desire for heaven opens our eyes to the evil and suffering of this world. When we understand the horrors of this life we will be motivated to bring hope to the hopeless.

Find the other chapters here:
Chapter 1: The Death of our Dreams
Chapter 2: The Search for Pleasure
Chapter 3: Foundations
Chapter 4: Give Me Pleasure or Give Me Death
Chapter 5: The Slippery Slope to Slumber
Chapter 6: In Living We Die; In Dying We Live

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