When I was around eight years old I began to ask questions about time. I had a general idea about the notions of God and Heaven, but I wasn’t raised in an environment where Bible study was a component of my education. As such, the concept of an infinite eternity was overwhelming when I confronted it. Having been alive less than a decade and aware for an even shorter time, a period of just a couple months could feel like ‘forever’. One night while going to bed I started asking a few philosophical questions and immediately befuddled myself:
What happens when I die?
What is Heaven?
What does forever mean?
What comes after forever?
I had a basic answer for the first few questions given to me through church attendance on major holidays, but the last one really threw me for a loop. My reaction was to cry profusely, and I think my parents were rather surprised when they came to my rescue. To the best of my recollection I was told not to worry about it, and I eventually calmed myself by deciding that if Heaven and forever were all that they were cracked up to be then I could have as many copies of my favorite stuffed animal – and in any size – that I wanted. Before then I had imagined getting bored walking around on clouds with nothing to do for millions of years with no end in sight.
So why did this line of questioning upset me so much?
Presumably I won’t know the full story on this side of eternity, but I think that’s precisely the point. Our frame of reference during our lives pushes us through a constant stream of encounters with the temporary. We are conscious of the ongoing change and ultimate demise of our physical bodies, but we also see ice cream melt, relationships come and go, and time marching on incessantly. Our spirits are eternal, but in our day to day lives we encounter so many temporary and ephemeral things that it is easy for us to enter a decision-making mode entirely dedicated to these transitory moments of our lives.
I write often about an entire discipline that has been constructed to deal with optimizing scarce resources and time: economics. The central problem in economics is scarcity. We face these sorts of economic decisions on a regular basis and should be equipped with tools that help us properly evaluate them, but it is also necessary for us to take a step back and focus on the eternal picture in order to get our priorities straight. Our worldview determines our values which determine our priorities which determine our decisions which determine our identities. Ultimately, our worldview – core beliefs about questions of origin, morality, purpose, and destiny – is our foundational starting point.
I will be asking the question why we so often make poor economic decisions from the perspective of Orthodox Biblical Christianity that views the Bible as the inerrant Word of God that should be properly interpreted at face value and in context.
It is clear from scripture and from everyday observation that our lives are temporary and that we need to deal with this reality:
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. (James 4:14)
However, problems arise when we become so focused on temporary things that we ignore eternal things. Unfortunately this is an easy snare to fall into because the temporary things of this world simply don’t go away even if we’d like them to leave us alone. It would be nice if we could say to a collector that a bill is temporary and for the bill to terminate at that instant, but just because something is temporary doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or that it can’t outlast your wallet – which as a likely unneeded reminder is also temporary.
We are commanded to be responsible stewards and righteous representatives of the Kingdom of God through displaying by proper management of our financial estates and prudent decision making among other behaviors in addition to the primary aspect of loving each other. But when we spend every waking moment – and often while sleeping as well – on the temporary things of this world, particularly financial things, we can wind up actually shortchanging ourselves in an eternal sense. It is always worth remembering the words of Jesus:
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)
Here we need to ask ourselves a few things: what is the temporary in light of the eternal? What is the finite in light of the infinite? What is a moment in light of forever?
It is strikingly clear which side our values, priorities, decisions, and identities should gravitate towards. If this is reminiscent of Pascal’s Wager it’s because the same weighing of the balances is true in that apologetic approach, but since we’re already assuming a Christian worldview let’s leave that aside for the moment. Indeed, there should be no finite amount that anyone would trade for if it meant giving away something infinite. Tragically we don’t understand the infinite well at all because of our frame of reference and in doing so many end up making the trade that Jesus warns us against:
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matthew 8:36)
The profit is nothing because the loss is infinite. No finite gain can eclipse an infinite loss. However, we will all too often prioritize a perceived temporary gain or benefit over even an eternally valuable alternative. Moreover, we also pass up on something of infinite value in order to avoid dealing with a temporary hardship or setback. I am just a man and as such am not immune to this. I’ve avoided stopping to help someone or to share the gospel because of the thought that it would have made me late to meet a client for instance. But as much as I try to justify my actions because everyone in New York City acts that way or even because ‘God wants me to be punctual’, in my soul I know that the way Jesus instructs us to follow is the best way:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19)
The key difference between God’s Eternal Economy and man’s temporary economy is that God isn’t subject to scarcity or any sort of resource constraint. We can get so caught up in man’s economy that we miss out on the things that God has for us. I used to be a Wall Street investment banker and a hedge fund trader, and I’ve had some experience with man’s economy and that root of evil the love of money. I’ve seen many wealthy people who are miserable to themselves or to others. I’ve seen people who pursue wealth with incredible fervor and view their ability to sacrifice all other things in the pursuit of money as a blessing. Many of those in my former profession would view me as a burnout, someone who wasn’t skilled enough or too weak to make it. So be it and I thank God for it and give Him the glory remembering the song of David:
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. (Psalm 39:4-6)
Since coming to the Lord and being born again over two years ago now I have forgiven any and all of my former colleagues after realizing the damage that unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment can create and praying for the grace to let go of any and all conscious and unconscious animosity. I still think about these people, but now it is in the context of prayer. Yet I am still discovering pieces of that world and of the old man inside me that the Holy Spirit keeps bringing up. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God, and I am no exception as a fellow journeyman here in this life battling with sin, the adversary, and the tendencies of my own flesh. Yet when it comes to economic and financial decisions, I have decided to lay hold of a promise in the Word of God that when taken seriously is life-alteringly powerful:
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
Hallelujah and amen! Bless the Lord!
But why does it seem that this promise is far away or even inconceivable? Is it because we don’t understand true spiritual riches? Is it because we don’t understand eternity? Is it simply a lack of faith? All of these may play a part, and we shouldn’t forget our uncanny ability to overcomplicate things. The problem I have attempted to elucidate in a roundabout way in this article is that we are so immersed in the temporary, in the things that we see every day, that we can miss out on the eternal things, the unseen things of faith.
Please join me as I continue to pray for the grace and the faith to stay focused on eternal things beginning with the Word of God that will never pass away. Holy Spirit lead us into all truth and give us discernment and wisdom so that we would walk in the will of God for our lives in order for God to glorify His name in us and through us. Lord Jesus teach to prioritize the eternal over the temporary and show us each day what you would have us to do to store up treasures in Heaven. We pray this with praise and thanksgiving in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
So what comes after forever?
I’m not sure. My best guess is ‘and ever’, but I’ll let you know when I find out.
Steven Menking is the founder of the Amateur Society.