NOTEworthy June 14

City Called Heaven – arr. Poelinitz

“I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow,
I’m left in this wide world alone
Ain’t got no hope for tomorrow
I’m trying to make Heaven my home

Sometimes I’m tossed and I’m driven, Lord
Sometimes I don’t know which way to turn
I’ve heard of a city called Heaven
I’m trying to make it my home”

Anyone else feeling a bit ‘off’ these days? I know I am. The world around me feels farther away than usual. Perhaps it is the virus that necessitates greater physical distance, or maybe it is the political and economic issues that are so big and complex that I cannot solve them myself. Whatever it is, I think I’m not the only one who feels, though maybe not quite like a “poor pilgrim of sorrow,” a little bit more “tossed and driven” than usual.

In times when the world seems confused and upended, it is easy to fantasize about Heaven in the same way we fantasize about a weekend at the beach during a busy workday. The promise of Heaven becomes a sort of escapism. It allows us to escape the inadequacies of our world by imagining a world that, by its very nature, is perfect. It’s a comforting release, but using Heaven as an escapist ideal has its dangers, too.

If our head is in the clouds of the Heaven we imagine, it becomes easier for us to disassociate with the world in which we live. Heaven becomes a daydream, rather than a blueprint. It may seem like both can be true, and maybe they can, but a Heaven that exists as a daydream only can be confounding.

I know I have fallen into this trap before. It goes something like this:

  1. The difference between Earth and Heaven is their proximity to and relationship with God. True.
  2. It follows, then, that the issues facing the world are issues of the spirit, which, at its core, is also correct.
  3. If the issues are spiritual in nature, then they need a spiritual salve, which only comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.
  4. Thus, the only things I can do to help address these spiritual problems are prayer, witnessing, and other overtly spiritual acts.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: Prayer, sharing your faith, etc. are absolutely life-giving, necessary, and worthy spiritual acts. I do not mean to demean or devalue them in any way.

I merely argue that there are more ways to address the spiritual deficit we see in the world around us.

My undergraduate degree focused on Music Education, and in the world of educational psychology there is a concept called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (pictured below). The idea behind the theory is that those needs toward the bottom of the pyramid must be attended to before an individual can attend to those needs towards the top (e.g. If I do not have food security, solving that issue is prioritized before I am concerned with writing my first novel).

This framework can apply to how we as Christians interact with the world. Though we could definitely argue that a relationship with Christ should be at the bottom of the pyramid, the reality of most people’s experience would put spiritual needs higher up than the basic, physical needs on the pyramid.

The Bible backs this up: We see in the story of Job how deprivation of physical needs and well-being can take a toll on someone’s spiritual life. When Christ is tempted in the desert, the tempter only approaches after his 40 days of fasting, and his first temptation is to turn stones to bread (Matthew 4:1-3). Clearly there is a biblical correlation between physical needs and spiritual needs.

With this in mind, I posit that the ways we help people with their basic, non-spiritual needs also serve as crucial bricks in the building of that “City called Heaven.”

So let’s try that list one more time.

  1. The difference between Earth and Heaven is their proximity to and relationship with God.
  2. It follows, then, that the issues facing the world are issues of the spirit.
  3. Issues of the spirit need a spiritual salve through Jesus Christ, but may have roots in unmet basic, physical needs as well.
  4. Whether my work is overtly spiritual or addresses the basic, physical needs, when I look out for my brothers and sisters here on earth, I point them towards God.

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
Proverbs 19:17