By Anthony Casperson
Though it has been a while since I’ve played a SimCity game, or one like it, I remember spending hours crafting a virtual community. Building the roads. Laying down a sewer system. Making sure power lines connected to all of the areas. Raising and lowering taxes as need be.
It could be a difficult game if you’re too impatient with the standard method of building the city. Mostly, because money ran out incredibly quickly.
But then, some of us would discover something secret within the game: cheat codes. Just hit these couple of buttons while typing in this series of letters and money suddenly appears in your game’s bank account. Cha-ching! Instant gratification to continue on your chosen path. Performing the correct sequence of events causes monetary blessing.
I wonder sometimes if we followers of Jesus think there is something similar in our spiritual lives. If we just tick these couple of boxes (attend gatherings of worship, pray, read our bible, and a couple of other things), then God will just rain blessing down on us. Cheat codes to this life for happiness and good.
While most wouldn’t want to make their thoughts sound this cynical, many people act as though this spiritual method of cause and effect is how the world works. I’ve even heard a number of followers of Jesus state that we all have a little prosperity gospel in us. We kinda want a world where, if we do the right things, then a specific reward is automatically promised to us.
I believe that some of the blame for this way of thinking comes from how we look at the promises of God’s blessing to his people. We want to make as many of these promises point to an earthly blessing as we can. And those which can’t be forced into that direction, we allocate to that confusing time of the future “heavenly life.”
But just maybe, we should consider blessing as spiritual first and then possibly physical.
I started thinking about this while preparing a sermon for my series through the book of Hebrews. In chapter 9 of the book, the author writes about how the earthly tabernacle (and by extension the temple in Jerusalem) was merely a shadow of the heavenly tabernacle (including the throne room of God). The real thing is the spiritual while the physical and earthly is merely a shadowy representation. An incomplete and somewhat distorted version of the real thing.
Now, some might be wondering what this teaching has to do with the promised blessings of God. What can the comparison of the shadowy and earthly tabernacle with the real and heavenly tabernacle show us about the godly blessings?
Well, if we extrapolate the concept that God used the earthly copy to help explain that very heavenly reality it represents, then maybe we can see that God’s dealings with Israel during the Old Testament (including the physical blessings promised them) represent a spiritual reality for God’s interactions with we followers of Jesus (including the spiritual blessings of we who belong to his eternal kingdom).
See, many who try to speak to earthly blessings point back to God’s promises to Israel and say that God will do exactly the same thing for us. One common example comes from 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
This verse has often been used by preachers, pastors, and theologians to call those under their teaching to repentance with a promise of God healing and blessing the country (especially for America, if you take the word of many teaching this promise). But if you look at the surrounding verses, you’ll see that it’s a promise concerning the temple during Solomon’s dedication of it to God.
It’s a promise made about the earthly temple, the Israelites, and the Promised Land in Canaan. The physical blessing of earthly things is made for the people under the whole temple system of the Old Testament. The one which the author of Hebrews calls but a copy of the heavenly reality.
So yes, we should be able to apply the 2 Chronicles passage to the life of the follower of Jesus, but just like the temple itself, the earthly blessing is but a representation of a grander heavenly reality. Our land being the real kingdom of God that currently resides in heaven and within the lives of we followers of Jesus.
While these thoughts were percolating in my head, I tried to come up with a single place in the gospels where Jesus promises earthly and physical blessing, as opposed to a spiritual blessing, to those following him. The only one I could find (in my honestly rapid search, so there could be more that I forgot or missed) came from Mark 10:29-30.
There, Jesus promises that all who forsake their houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, or lands for the sake of the gospel will receive a hundredfold of those same things in this time (meaning, in this earthly existence). What these words point to is not really a hundred times the physical relationships, but a spiritual family found among the rest of we who follow Jesus and also live in this earthly place.
Even the present earthly blessing Jesus mentions has a largely spiritual reality in mind.
And let’s also not forget that along with that promised blessing, the rest of the verse shows Jesus promising that persecutions will also come in this earthly existence for his people. Something that Jesus promises in several other locations for this earthly life. One of which is from John 16:33 where he flat out says that his followers will have troubles/tribulations in this world. Quite the opposite of the earthly blessings of a good life for those who do the right things in the correct order and sequence.
This idea of thinking about spiritual blessings more than earthly ones is proven as the better option when we hear Jesus’ words recorded both in Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 where he says that our hearts will be where our treasure is. If we’re focused so much on earthly blessings from God, then do we really have our minds in the right place?
If our treasures are the unfading crown of glory from 1 Peter 5:4, the crown of righteousness mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:8, and the crown of life found in James 1:12, then does it matter what designer fashioned our clothes, how much money is in our bank accounts, or what car we drive?
It really shouldn’t.
That’s not to say that God can’t choose to give good things to certain members of his people in this world. But it does mean that we shouldn’t force promises of spiritual blessing into earthly blessing.
There are no cheat codes to this life for automatic earthly blessing for we who follow Jesus.
So, let’s stop settling for the shadowy promises of earthly things. Rather, let’s seek first the spiritual and real blessings of God.