Heavenly Minded

Years ago, I recall hearing someone complain about zealous Christians, “They are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” The truth of the statement depends entirely on the understanding of heaven and earth. It is possible to pursue a version of “heaven” such that the spiritual life is undermined. It is also possible to pursue heaven in such a way that the world around us is transformed. It is an important difference.

The principle difference lies in a heaven of the imagination and a heaven that is an in-breaking reality. History, particularly modern history, is replete with various fanciful utopias. The promise of a “better world to come,” does not always come with a proper commentary to guide the hopeful. Thus everything from Marxist totalitarianism to America’s Shining City on a Hill have been thrust forward as “better worlds.” Both, of course, have their dark sides though I by no means draw an equivalence.

But for the Christian, a concern for the “things to come” is right and proper. Eschatology (the study of the “last things”) is an irreplaceable part of Christian understanding. The eschatology on which I was raised was a version of Darbyite Dispensationalism. There was a fascination with world events and the expectation of a soon return of Christ. But the end of things only brought another literalism – a world better than the one we inhabit – but in many ways, not so different. The imagination was not concerned with the “things of heaven” but with the events that would bring us there. Of course there are dangers associated with this form of eschatology, primarily from its inherent involvement with politics. It is a dangerous thing to vote on the Second Coming of Christ.

Orthodox eschatology could best be illustrated from Scripture:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Cor. 13:12).

Of course, I could choose many other passages to consider Orthodox eschatology – but, rightly read, the entirety of Scripture is eschatological. For the Scriptures bear the truth to us (which is always from the eschaton, the end). The truth of things is only to be found fully in their end.

It is this in-breaking of the truth to which the faith bears witness. Though it be seen but dimly in a mirror – it is still the Face which we shall behold ourselves when all has been done.

It is this same Face that is manifest in everything about us (though some mirrors are far more dim than others). It is the sight of a Face that does not render us “too heavenly minded to be of earthly good,” but a Face that reveals to us the true character of earthly good.

To see the Face of Christ in the face of another human being is not becoming “of no earthly good,” but to begin to see clearly the true character of our brothers and sisters. The Face also reveals to us the true character of the sinful distortions we would cast into the mirrors around us. Only with the vision of the one true Face, are we able to correct the distortions and find ourselves corrected as well.

Orthodox eschatology makes no extreme claims of “realized eschatology” (as in Dodd’s work), but of an unrealized eschatology that nonetheless makes itself manifest to us in a manner that is frequently more real than the mirror in which it is beheld. The theology of icon and the revelation of beauty both point beyond themselves to the Image that has already come among us, is already abiding with us, and is yet to come (Rev. 1:8).

Christ offered a glimpse of the eschatological principle when he said: “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). The union of heaven and earth (which is how St. Maximus the Confessor describes the eschaton) is not the destruction of earth – but its fulfillment. The Face that we behold is the True Image – in which we were created and according to which we will be recreated. That is a great earthly and heavenly good.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





9 responses to “Heavenly Minded”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Veronica du Bruyn, Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο. Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο said: Heavenly Minded: Years ago, I recall hearing someone complain about zealous Christians, “They are so heavenly mind… http://bit.ly/d4SMGp […]

  2. Darrell Lahay Avatar
    Darrell Lahay

    Thanks Father.

    Our eschatology will inevitably determine our ecclesiology..


  3. Jeremiah Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I am slowly learning that in Orthodoxy, the Eschaton is a “here and now” as well as a “someday” experience. I too have been brought up in a very distorted form of Premillennial Dispensational tradition that lauded such works as Left Behind, and stands behind anything pro-Israel.
    Having been raised in such a tradition, I find that I have not quite shaken that theology out of my head yet (so to speak). I still have a lot of questions when it comes to the Orthodox position (overall) on eschatology. I have not yet had the chance to read the Old Testament from the Orthodox Study Bible, so my only reference of OT prophecy about the End Times is from the King James.
    Is it the Orthodox position that Jesus will actually rule on the New Earth from Jerusalem? And if so, do the ethnic Jews have a specific place within that kingdom, based on the OT covenants regarding the land?
    I know this is completely beside the point you were trying to make, but the subject of eschatology is a curiosity that is hard for this former Dispensationalist to shake.
    Thank You

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    The second coming of Christ is a new creation – life in the resurrection. The sort of earthly kingdom described by some dispensationalists is not part of Orthodox teaching. There is no general acceptance of the post 1948 teaching on the land of Israel within Orthodox writers, as far as I have seen. Almost the opposite. The Orthodox are the largest Christian group in the middle east and are mostly Arabic, and endure continuing pressure from the various non-Christian groups and powers that be.

  5. Darlene Avatar

    Dear Jeremiah,

    I understand your concerns as regards your premil disp. background and now attempting to view things outside of that tradition. Perhaps if one looks at the eschaton more simply, then such concerns as yours can be put into a different perspective, one that can yield peace and comfort in our Christian hope – the resurrection of our bodies.

    This past Friday I met with evangelical Christians from the tradition of which you speak, and the focus of the Bible study was on the Rapture. While I am an Orthodox Christian (chrismated this yr.), I do understand the mindset (to some degree) of those who focus on the end times from a pre-mil POV. One of the primary focuses is to be released from this wicked world, which is on the brink of destruction. However, often the result of those who hold to this view is one that ends up focusing quite a bit on this world and its events. Such a world view can often breed an anxiety. Thus, we hear talk of Obama being the anti-Christ, and the financial markets in Europe coming to a collapse, and the government implanting computer chips in its citizens with the mark of the beast.

    Did Jesus speak about the end times, cautioning us to be ready? I think it is clear that He did in such passages as Matthew 24. However, being ready for the eschaton is a matter of living in Christ every moment, being faithful to Him by obedience and picking up our crosses daily.

    Knowing facts about a particular government’s enconomy, about daily events occuring in the nation of Israel, about the dwindling oil supply throughout the world, etc. cannot arouse faithfulness or obedience. Remember the verse in Daniel 11:32 so often used in reference to the end times and particularly the anti-Christ? “He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” Is it not those who “know” their God who will be ready for whatever events unfold? And in using the word “know,” it is clear throughout Scripture and Christian history, that such “knowing” is not a recitation of facts.

    Rather, such knowing is being in continual communion with Christ our God. Is it not so that in Him we live, and move, and have our being? Is it not so that if we abide in Him, as St. John 15 urges us to do, then we will be spared the fate of the branches that were burnt up? So then, if we love Christ and keep His commandments, and repent when we fail, trusting in His mercy, then we can be assured that He will enable us to be strong in sufferings, afflictions, persecutions, and tribulation.

    Knowing facts will not deliver us…but rather, humility of heart before God. “A broken and contrite heart, Oh God, thou wilt not despise.” Preparing ourselves for the Day of Judgment begins by being mindful of God at all times, and all places, and living in and communing with Him. Daily repentance is part of this life in Christ, turning away from sin and looking toward Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.

    May Christ our God lead you on the path that brings you into deeper communion with Him, that you might be “changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.”

  6. davidperi Avatar

    Too heavenly minded….heard that many times when I went to a Luth seminary. So 35 yrs later, then becoming Orthodox, my communion with Him is more precious than I realized before. Thanks for posting. the article.

  7. Darlene Avatar


    Charles H. Spurgeon is known for saying, “One can be so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” I reiterated his words on various occasions.

    Now that I am Orthodox, I understand that Heaven and earth have been united in the Second Person of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ.

  8. George Avatar

    What a wonderful post! Thank you Father.

    This is something that people from Jeremiah’s, Darlene’s and my (OLD CAMP) have to struggle with as they ponder Orthodoxy. I am still on my way, and look forward to Chrismation, but the folly of the old Eschatology has been met head on. I find in Orthodoxy such a perspective of Heaven, the Earth and the Fulfillment of all things, that leads me to a greater peace for my journey of faith. It echoes my sentiments that I felt even while raised amidst all the talk of spooky end time chatter – mainly that to be focused on the hope of Christ’s return and the resurrection, than to center on the unknown is fruitless. It causes a distraction.

    To be heavenly minded as you have put Father and to seek the face of Christ does indeed transform our lives in this world, and to know that Heaven and Earth are closer together than we can even comprehend, can lead us to live lives devoted to the eternal in the present. We are empowered to live our lives and make manifest that which already is and will be. It urges me on towards a real desire to live a consecrated and holy life… although I so often fail.

    Blessings to each of you in the name of Christ our God!

    P.S. Darlene, I didn’t know you were Chrismated! Congrats!!! May the Lord be with you in all you do.

  9. Darlene Avatar


    Yes, I was chrismated on Lazarus Saturday. It was not without a great deal of struggle and inner turmoil preceding the event. There were those from the Evangelical Prot. camp who tried to dissuade me. There were voice from within and without. Nonetheless, God brought me through all of it. And yet, there is so much more. So much more…

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