The Other World

From the earliest moments of our childhood, we've been taught to believe in another realm other than this world. Whether it was C.S. Lewis' Narnia or Christopher Robbins' 100-acre woods, this "other world" becomes a natural part of our universe. We can't see or feel it, but that doesn't mean we don't experience it as children. In some our "other worlds," stuffed animals become playmates, the prince slays the dragon to save the princess, or heroes of old come to life again. The sad thing is that, as adults, we tend to become "too mature" for this "other world." In fact, we snicker behind the backs of those whose love of Middle Earth or Star Trek we deem to be a tad sophomoric. It's time to wake up, smell the roses, and live in the real world, we tell ourselves.

Little wonder, then, that when the Scriptures speak of this "other world," children don't ask many questions. They just believe it and move on as effortlessly as they believe in the North Pole, Candyland, and a galaxy far, far away.

In Ephesians, Paul mentions "the heavenlies" on a regular basis. The word in Greek is only used by Paul in the New Testament, and occurs no less than five times in Ephesians (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 5:12). Rather than being limited to the realm of God or "heaven," the term refers to the entire spiritual realm that is hidden from our view, but remains real nonetheless.

There's no question that Paul lived with an awareness of the spiritual realm. He certainly didn't have his mind in the heavenlies so much that he was of no earthly good. Rather, Paul was one who understood that the spiritual and physical mirror each other. Not unlike how Tolkien's or Lewis' worlds reflected our own.

One of the greatest enemies of our appreciation of this "other world," the one thing that most successfully roots it out of the adult heart, is materialism. The more focused we become on this life and this world, the less able we are to believe and see what God is doing in the heavenlies. High school and college condition us to think regarding "here and now." The friends I have now. The homework I have now. The parties going on now. And that turns into a pursuit of making ends meet. The job I have now. The projects I have now. The bills I have now.

Whenever we feel an emptiness in our souls, we try to fill it with things of this realm. Education. Entertainment. Spending-sprees. But the emptiness never abates. Materialism conditions us to think we are only one better-paying job, one new wardrobe, one new car, one new house, one tax-refund, one new politician, one new concert, one season ticket, one championship, one new market rally away from being happy. But counting on these things for satisfaction in life is like eating cotton candy. We bite into it, only to discover that there wasn't much there save a bunch of stuff that wasn't good for us in the first place.

Perhaps the reason Paul could write in another epistle (Philippians) that he was so content in life is because he spent endless fellowship with God and Christ "in the heavenlies." Paul knew about "the other world," believed in it, and communed with it. Is it possible that Paul's view of reality was reversed, that he saw this "other world," the heavenlies, as reality, and physical realm as the world of make-believe?

Lest you get the wrong idea, I'm not suggesting that we start gathering for incantations, voodoo ceremonies, or the like in order to commune with the holy. No stakes or snakes required. But when we pray, we certainly acknowledge and enter this "other world." When we read and meditate on Scripture, we participate in this "other world." When we practice the presence of God, we betray our belief that the spiritual realm, and that this world is made up more of make-believe. As corny as it sounds, I've been known (when dining solo) to set a place at the table for Jesus, if only to remind myself that he was already present. Your mileage may vary, but don't know what you haven't tried.

I have a suggestion for all of us, myself included. For the next week, keep a log of how you spend your time and how you spend your money. Account for every minute and every dollar. Jesus told once that our hearts are where our treasure is. And the most precious resources we have are our time and our money. If we saw where our time and money were going, we'd have a better idea of just how much we have invested in this "other realm."

You may have your own ideas; if so, full speed ahead. Just for a week, I want us to appreciate more "the heavenlies" that Paul spoke of in Ephesians, and to reflect on how this realm is more real than the "real world" around us. Wake up and smell the roses? No thanks.

I'd rather taste and see that the Lord is good.