I tried to peel myself off the alley as the Spanish words got louder, men’s voices, but my Columbia pants stuck to the dirt. My bones ached and bowels churned. Montezuma was mounting his revenge and it was one of the worst hours of my life.
It was also one of the best days of my life, but you have to widen the edges of the story to see it. Zooming out, you’d see the alley I lay plastered in, tucked high up on a jungle mountain. You might see that–by a miracle of nature–later that day I’d steady my limbs and force them up ancient steps until I could look back over the green and grey city of Machu Picchu.
One day, but two different stories depending on how wide you set the frame. In a similar way, Christians can cut the edges off God’s story. Sometimes we zoom in so tight on the cross, sanctification, and getting to Heaven when we die, that we crop the storyline. The Great Commission looms so large in our minds, that we almost forget about the first commission, the one God gave us in the Garden of Eden.
While God’s plan hinges on the cross, it’s framed within a larger story that begins in a garden and ends in a city (Gen 1-2, Rev 21-22). When we cut off these edges, even unintentionally, we warp the plot and undermine our sense of purpose for our everyday lives.
1. We divide life into “spiritual” and “physical” categories.
When we center our identity solely around the Great Commission (ie: getting saved and going to heaven), rather than both commissions, we begin to think of ourselves a spiritual beings. Our bodies become collateral–eating, dancing, and projects at work rank “secular” at worst and “spiritually neutral” at best. Within this frame God really cares about our “spiritual” activities and just tolerates everything else.
By my calculation, though, attending church, small group, or reading our Bibles comprise only about 12 hours, or 7%, of the average Christian’s week. Perhaps more, if we spend hours volunteering, evangelizing, or avoiding unethical shortcuts at work. But this consigns about 93% of our lives to the “unspiritual” category, the category we’re convinced God doesn’t really care about.
2. We blame our bodies.
When we cut off the edges of the story, our bodies begin to feel like the problem, the reason we find holiness so troublesome. And we begin to look forward to heaven as the time when we can ditch our bodies for good.
But this muddles what the Bible teaches. In fusing our created bodies with our sinful desires, we put the blame in the wrong place. While our bodies have been stained by sin and need to be resurrected, God’s solution to the problem was never a bodiless existence. The source of our problem is our bent away from God, not our bodies.
In a parallel vein, we’ve also managed to mash up heaven now with our final eternal destination. The Bible describes heaven now as a temporary, lay-over until we can get our resurrected bodies in the New Heaven and Earth. Bodies aren’t the problem, sin is.
3. We forget death is still an enemy.
When my grandfather died, people talked as if his current state with Jesus in heaven was God’s ultimate best. And while grandpa was (and is) free from sin and the Alzheimer’s that ate his brain, the Apostle Paul is emphatic that death–separation of spirit and body–is not a good thing, it is the enemy (1 Cor 15:26).
God’s original plan never included peeling spirits and bodies apart; that’s the catastrophe of death. Death is the enemy. My grandpa, along with you and me, is waiting for the day Jesus finally removes death and rolls out the Resurrection.
4. We lose purpose for the other 93% of our lives.
When we cut the edges of the story, we can be left thinking that the only thing that really matters is helping other people get to heaven. That and not racking up too much sin for ourselves in the mean time. With the lens zoomed in tight, we can easily forget that Jesus didn’t just die for our sins to rescue us from Hell, he also came to redeem our humanity. He came to restore our access to the tree of life and to connect us back to our original purpose as humans.
Long before for churches and evangelism, back before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, worship meant doing human-ish things in ways that imaged and extended God’s character on the earth. It meant expanding the borders of the Garden of Eden into an otherwise wild and uncultivated world. Worship meant resonating and reflecting God’s beautiful ways of creating and relating.
This is the beatific vision, God’s original and ultimate dream for humanity. Jesus came to make this dream possible again.
With this frame, we can rediscover purpose and meaning for the other 93% of our lives. We are called to cultivate our corners of the world by bringing bits of God’s goodness, beauty, and order into reality now, until he renews all things (Matt 19:28, NIV).
The cross is critical to our story, and we should center on this truth. But if, in centering on the cross, we neglect the bigger story, our truth will be incomplete. Perhaps if we find ourselves feeling purposeless at work, ambivalent about heaven, or critical of our bodies, we might look to see if we’ve cut the edges off the story and get around to gluing them back on.