Can passion for the world to come actually bear good fruit in this present world? Doesn’t such a future orientation make us subject to the old charge that Christians are so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good? Doesn’t it lead to a withdrawal from this present world?

Certainly many people have thought so. Henry David Thoreau laid the blame squarely at the feet of the founder of Christianity. “[Jesus] taught mankind but imperfectly how to live; his thoughts were all directed toward another world.” Thoreau believed people too interested in obtaining eternal life in the world to come were in fact useless in this world; they “have a singular desire to be good without being good for anything.” In fact, some Christians have actually argued that because God intends to destroy this present world, it doesn’t matter what we do with it. Is this a necessary implication of the biblical encouragement to focus on the world to come?

Within the creative tension of restlessness and patience, as the Christian leans forward toward God’s eternal future, the actual result is productive engagement in the world and spiritual transformation within. C. S. Lewis’s words on this matter are justly famous: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

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