Bearers of secrets
Do we live now as if we are heaven-bound?
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We Christians are bearers of secrets. I feel that way all the time—whenever the snowbirds winter in Boca Raton and summer in Quebec while I stay stuck in town. Whenever the reflection in the bathroom mirror tells of a soon shedding of this mortal coil. Whenever memory mocks me by refusing to divulge a common household word.
’Tis then that I remember our secret.
The insufficiently trumpeted thing about Christianity is its sheer practicality. If the Bible is taken to heart (we call that “faith”), then there is no need to conjure the virtues of peaceableness and equanimity: One simply finds them present as the byproduct of believing God.
The insufficiently trumpeted thing about Christianity is its sheer practicality.
To wit, we are going to heaven soon.
That’s it. That’s our secret. It’s so simple that one hardly hears it mentioned anymore.
Now for the practicality. Heaven is forever and ever. But suppose we could put a numerical figure on it, like a trillion trillion years—to the 10th power! Compare that duration to the number of elliptical loops around the sun that remain in your flu-prone, irritable bowel syndrome–susceptible matter, and you can readily calculate that there’s a bigger proportion of the hereafter than the here.
What will you not give up with a smile for a deal like that?
The author of Hebrews at least thinks so: “Recall the former days when … you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:32, 34).
That is an appeal to logic, gentlemen and gentlewomen. As martyred missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The man with treasure buried in the field (Matthew 13:44) is presented as the utterly practical man. Jesus does not mean for us to regard him as primarily pious but as primarily smart, calculating. He can afford to be generous of spirit with his fellows because he has buried treasure. Resources for any eventuality are assured.
The not-so-smart and calculating individual is the one who trades heaven’s eternity for a handful of years:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. At his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16:19-21).
Then the most predictable thing happened: “The poor man died. … The rich man also died” (v. 22).
Father Abraham said to the rich man, who was now in everlasting misery, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish” (v. 25).
But we are not to keep the secret to ourselves. Heaven is our secret in the sense that it is what delivers and empowers, but not in the sense that it can be hoarded with impunity. The four lepers by the gate of Samaria in Elisha’s time intuited that it would not go well with them if they kept good news from a starving population (2 Kings 7:9).
And surely, we live among a starving population.
God is always looking to enfold more people into the secret. A secret that, once a man has buried it in his heart, sets him free from envy of those who seem to be luckier (Psalm 73). It renders him able to forgive; to love; to be honest; to be uncontrolled by his issues, by other people’s issues, by fear of death, fear of man, fear of rejection, past wounds, bad memories—or the need to flee to Boca Raton.
Winter comes: Its chill is felt throughout our land. But keep the secret in your heart, and I will too. And we will make it through.
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