Sometimes I must admit I wish the opposite were true. I wish I could look forward to vast treasures and great wealth. Instead, Randall nailed it on the head when he spoke of the importance of relationship, specifically speaking the idea that “the closest thing we have to Jesus on earth is one another.”
Many Sundays contained within my mental recesses of childhood (it’s really all one big ‘recess’) were spent at my grandparents. They were, and still remain, the perfect Baptist, Bible-belt grandparents. The small, country Baptist church boasted a 90+ year-old worship leader and the choir would take whoever wanted to sit up there. I would tag along with my grandmother, sitting up there just so I could look out over the crowd and seem more important than the other kids (after all, the most important were on stage).
Songs like “I’ll Fly Away”, “When The Roll is Called Up Yonder”, “I’ve Got A Mansion” and the like instilled within me from an early age that there was a vast storage of riches in heaven and they were available to the good ones here on earth. When I was nice to a friend, I pictured a new gemstone in my crown, while telling lies reduced the size of my future home. After all, Jesus left to prepare me a new place and it’s certainly the kind super-athletes like Michael Jordan would be proud of.
I’ve always kept that childhood mentality until, sorry to say, fairly recently. The N.T. book of Revelation seems to pervade this “vast riches” mentality (as does the Trump-ly ornate TBN set). But something about that seems, well, materialistic. As a pastor preaching sermons each week that touch on the down and out and God’s heart for the oppressed, the afterlife as Uncle Scrooge’s vault seems rather funny – an eternal tease of the poor finally receiving riches when it won’t even matter anymore.
In Ephesians, Paul prays for us to understand a few things about God and His Kingdom – one of those being “his vast inheritance in the saints…” That single line made me pause and seemed to flip everything around, suddenly causing miles of other passages to make sense (at least to me). The riches are His people. The inheritance to come can be found in the people being saved around us. Indeed, God’s most prized creation – man and woman – is indeed the treasure that Heaven will be full of.
I’m learning this changes the way I view the world around me. Building privacy fences here on Planet Earth keeps me away from the future treasure I was so looking forward to (and which my grandparents still sing about). We’re not leaving this ole’ world behind to find some lavish resort all to ourselves. We’re fully surrounded by the very treasure and inheritance of God right now and someday the Kingdom of God will be fully revealed and restored and we will be made new, but we will still be all around each other just as we were before. Only we will be completely who we were made to be.
Thus, you are my treasure, like it or not. And dreaming of “flying away” only keeps me from appreciating the beauty of you. Eugene Peterson writes about this in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. He mentions people who say they want to get in touch with Creation and then they speak of escaping to mountains or retiring to oceanside villas. But instead, Peterson notes that to get in touch with the Creator, to truly appreciate Creation is to spend time with humanity. “Go to a tavern” or “ride the bus” is Peterson’s recommendation for truly getting in touch with these things.
I’m not as inclined to agree as I wish I was. But I’m beginning to understand a bit more…
Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.