Why are we here on earth? What did God intend when he created us and placed us on this planet? And what is the purpose of the human race's continued existence? These questions may never be fully answered. And even if they are, we may never fully comprehend the answers with our Finite minds. However, there is no reason we should not explore some possible answers. In fact, many people have already done so and have come to different conclusions.
Sadly, some of those conclusions have created “Christian glass ceilings.” By that, I mean limitations Christians have imposed on themselves because of a particular understanding of Scripture that emphasizes heaven over earth; spirit over mind and body; church and evangelism over work, commerce, and enterprise; and the planet Earth over the rest of the universe.
Creation Is Not Irrelevant
Before we consider these possible answers, however, let us imagine God at the moment before Creation took place. There he is, in all his eternal and infinite magnificence, beauty, and power. The physical universe as we know it does not exist. He then pronounces the words, “Let there be light,” and launches the whole universe into existence, with its billions of galaxies, stars, and planets. Then he picks one of those billions of planets, called Earth, and says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over all the earth” (Gen. 1:26).
Some contend that God created humans with the main purpose of bringing them to heaven, at which point the earth and the whole universe would be rolled back. But if that is so, then why did God make humans immortal when he created them? And why did he place them on earth, not in heaven?
According to Scripture, God created Adam and Eve and made them immortal. Not only that, but God placed them in the Garden of Eden - here on earth, not in heaven. This indicates that God intended for Adam and Eve to live here, on earth, forever. Moreover, before the Fall an intimate communion between God and Adam and Eve existed - and Adam and Eve were here on earth. The sole fact that God would impose such stiff penalties on the human race, including death and hell, demonstrates that their act of disobedience had broken something precious and invaluable - their close relationship with their Creator and his creation.
In his mercy God sent Jesus Christ, his son, to redeem the human race. Now, if we are going to believe that God's only intention is to bring all Christians with him to heaven and get rid of the rest of the universe, why did he not do it shortly after Jesus Christ came to earth? There were many people then who put their trust in him. Some may say that it is because the world was not yet fully evangelized, and that may be true. After all, Scripture does say that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come” (Mt. 24:14). I have heard evangelists say, based on this verse, that we must all evangelize unreached “people groups” so that we can “hurry up the return of the King.” But are we not overlooking the fact that God, though interested in the evangelization of the world, is also sovereign?
Moreover, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and thus the end of the world as we know it, is not linked to the full evangelization of the world, at least not in the minds of the apostles. As an example, Paul thought that Christ would come back before he died (1 Thes. 4:15, 17). Christians since Paul have continually made predictions about the end of the world, especially at the end of the first millennium and increasingly now as we enter a third millennium.
Another argument is that these are the “last days” of our world. That is true. But it was also true of the days of the twelve apostles, about two thousand years ago. Peter, in explaining the events at Pentecost when he and the other apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in different tongues, pointed out that it had already been prophesied by Joel that this would occur in the “last days” (Acts 2:16, 17). Others say that today we are two thousand years nearer to the end; thus, the end is approaching. But, following this line of reasoning, what would you think if a five-year-old child talked frequently about his or her “approaching” death? It is true that after we are born we start getting closer to death. It is also true that the young person would be five years “nearer” to his or her death. But what kind of mentality is that? It is possible that somebody will die young; in fact, many do. But early death is not guaranteed. In the same way, the Lord does not guarantee that our “death” as the human race will take place in a couple of years or months. The Lord Jesus Christ did say that he is coming back soon (Rev. 22:20), but we should know by now, after almost two thousand years, that the time span of his “soon” is much longer than our “soon.”
Still other individuals justify their preoccupation with “heavenly” matters at the expense of “earthly” affairs by quoting Colossians 3:2, which says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” They conclude that what we do here on earth, such as work, commerce, business, and so forth, is not really important. What we need to concentrate on are “things above,” the “heavenly things,” such as church, evangelism, and prayer. However, the context of this and similar verses leads us to a different conclusion. Further on, Colossians clarifies what it means by “things that are on earth” when it states in verses 5 and 6: “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come.”
“Things that are on earth,” therefore, does not refer to things such as business, politics, and economics, but to sin. Scripture's intention when instructing us to set our minds on “things above” is not to tell us to look at the clouds to see which one the Lord is riding in his Second Coming, or to evangelize all day, or to attend church day and night, but to understand that we have been regenerated, that we must stop sinning, and that we have been enabled to live a holy life in everything that we do.
The Three Glass Ceilings
Going back to the concept of the Christian glass ceilings, I believe that as a result of our prevalent theology we have set at least three glass ceilings against ourselves that are hindering our lives and our societal impact. The first glass ceiling is at the individual level. It is our overemphasis on the importance of our spirits at the expense of our bodies and, especially, our minds. The second glass ceiling is at the collective level. It is our insistence on putting the church, evangelism, and “spiritual disciplines” such as prayer and Bible reading over aspects of our lives such as family, work, community, and nation. The third glass ceiling we have constructed is found at the global level. We have set the earth and its resources as the limit of our discovery process, our imagination, and our commitment for exploration over and above the rest of the universe.
Now, having adopted this theology and these three glass ceilings, we have concluded that we have exhausted, or at least are close to exhausting, whatever was there to explore, conquer, know, or experience. As we contemplate our reduced and limited environment, which is the product of our Christian glass ceilings, we feel exhausted, cramped, and uneasy about staying here on earth any longer. We want to soar, but we want to soar in heaven - there is no more room to soar here on earth, or in the different spheres of life, or in our minds or bodies.
As we wait for final passage into heaven, once in a while we look up through the glass ceiling and see brief glimpses of other horizons, other realities, other frontiers to explore - in our minds, in the arts, in outer space. But since, according to our theology, those frontiers are not important, or relevant, or transcendent, we sadly look away, suppressing any excitement, attraction (which is even considered temptation by some), or motivation in exploring them. Heaven is sufficient, fast approaching, and all there is to our existence, both now and in the future.
What would our Lord Jesus Christ say or do in a similar situation? Let us consider for a moment Jesus, the carpenter. A client approaches Jesus and requests a table to be made. The price and time of delivery are agreed upon. At the due time the client is presented with a rough, unvarnished, unstable table, with one leg shorter than the others. In response to the client's justified complaint, Jesus provides this excuse: “Well, I have other more important, transcendent work to do. I have to read the Scriptures and visit the temple. I have to prepare myself for my ministry. I do not have time to spend on such an unimportant thing as making a table.” Do you believe for a moment that Jesus Christ would have been a mediocre carpenter? Of course, the Lord must have made the best tables and must have had the integrity and honesty to give his clients what they requested and their money's worth at the agreed time.
Moreover, if the “things of this world” are not important, Jesus Christ, the God of the universe, would not have taken up a human body and come into this world physically. He would never have eaten the products of this world, or mentioned seeds and coins and chickens in his teachings. If our spirits are the only things he is interested in, he could have saved us from his home in heaven.
Achievements Not Borne of Mediocrity and Isolation
The fact is that the God of the universe did decide to come in bodily form into this physical existence. Not only that, but he ended up using most of his limited time here on earth - thirty out of his thirty-three years - on “unimportant,” “non-transcendent,” “insignificant” and “non-spiritual” activities such as carpentry. He exercised his “ministry” (in the narrow view of this term) for only three years. Was that just a waste of time?
The fact is that all areas of our lives are interdependent and interconnected. Essential parts of our being are our mind and our body as well as our spirit. We could not function in this world if we did not have all of these acting in unison. The local church and evangelism would be impossible without the participation and contribution of people involved in science, carpentry, and printing. The technology that the evangelists are happily using to reach the world with the Gospel, once and for all, have not come out of the blue. In fact, they would never have been invented if previous generations had despised and minimized science, technology, business, and so on, as we are doing today. For science and technology to be possible, we need to build one step at a time, over a long period of time in a historical interconnection, from ancient and basic mathematical and physical calculations to the discovery of electricity, to the transistor, to the telephone, to the computer chip, to the World Wide Web. These were not achievements borne of mediocrity and isolation. They required centuries of hard work and scientific development with the active participation and, often, the leadership of Christians.
We also need a horizontal-spatial interconnection. The development of science and technology requires a strong, reliable political system, a prosperous economy, a legal system that encourages and protects invention and creativity, a strong work ethic, a long-term vision and commitment, high educational levels, and the national will to undertake larger-than-life projects. A short-term vision of the world would never have produced as complex a society as we have today.
If our forefathers had possessed this short-term mentality, the whole American experiment, with its contributions to the world in terms of constitutional principles, financial aid, and technological progress, would never have taken place. Not only that, but to insist on asserting a theology that despises science, technology, the arts, and progress in general is to declare that the American experiment has been but a waste.
Shattering the Glass Ceilings
We must live the Gospel, not just preach it, if we want to transform our world (evangelism in the broader sense) as well as reach the people of this world (evangelism in the narrow sense). Recent research published by the Barna Report demonstrates that “evangelism through personal relationships produces almost twice as many converts as do sermons, church services, and evangelistic events.” In other words, it is our lives, lived in the fullness of our humanness and in the full environment of economics, commerce, art, business, and politics that will ultimately accomplish the transformation of this world and will point people to Christ. As Saint Francis of Asissi would say, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if need be, use words.”
What must we do, then? I believe it is time to shatter the Christian glass ceilings at the individual, collective, and global levels, and to reach for Christ's ceiling, which encompasses spirit, body, and mind. It is big enough for church, work, family, business, science, and the arts. And it is magnificent enough to include the Earth, the moon, the planets, the Milky Way - indeed, the whole universe.