Home > Uncategorized > The pearl of great price

The pearl of great price

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

There is nothing of greater value in the whole universe, in all that exists, than Jesus Christ. Such is the conclusion anyone may come to, and stake his life on that conclusion. And at the moment of decision, it seems simple enough: what does the rest of reality have to offer, apart from him? Success, pleasure, fame? These will all die. You may think yourself above such things, above the pursuits of the rabble, (as I do, in my pride), but that makes no difference. Our more subtle and refined idols will die as well.

What can a man really give in exchange for his life? The principle is simple enough; it is absurdity to cast our hope on anyone else but he whose very self defines goodness, and who can raise us from the dead. Yes, that is a simple truth, accessible to anyone who really considers his state in life, but it is easily forgotten, as life goes on. As life goes on, Christ seems abstract and far away, whereas all the hopes and goals of this life are tangible and real. I have my life before me to live, and so often the goals I have set for myself seem to be all that matters.

What if I never get my degree? What if I never make a valuable contribution to human knowledge? What if I never find love? These things, which motivate me, which build in me fear and anxiety–what have they ever truly delivered to me? Have they given me a moment of real peace? Why is it so hard to listen to the simple promise, of the Lord God Almighty, who made all things, to simply rest in him, in what he can do? I think it is because, deep down, I believe that if this whole thing turns out to be untrue, if what I stake all my hope in is not there at all, I want to still have lived a good life. In other words, I am double minded and wish to serve two masters.

This is how the world fools us. It is utterly unreasonable to put our eternal hope in that which will inevitably pass away. Yet we come to think just the opposite. We think it unreasonable to do otherwise. The tempter says to us: don’t waste your life chasing after an illusion, an ancient superstition! This life is what matters. You know that you have the here and now. Don’t waste it.

Of course it is a lie. Nothing that does not endure can truly be wasted, because it has no ultimate future anyway. This is obvious. Moreover, living for the world’s promises will not make one happy in the long run, will not give us real peace or joy. It can deliver a semblance of these things. But they, not being grounded in their true, ultimate source, and not being in accord with all his ways, will pass away. But Christ tells us,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14.27)

Not as the world gives does he give. Let us be glad in that.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 11, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    It seems to me Christ’s parables are about being empowered by the Kingdom of Heaven to live in truth, and a make a way in the world. The “two masters” are God and mammon, but in serving God one DOES in fact achieve a true life, gaining the ability to distinguish, the trader finding the one pearl, the leaven in the bread, etc. Isn’t the whole point of the parables, and the reason there are so many of them with such varied settings and narratives, meant to show that this power of the Kingdom cuts across the board, dividing the light from the dark. It doesn’t put a searchlight on Heaven itself at all.

  2. March 11, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    I agree that serving God brings true life to a person in “the world.” But there is also “the world” in the sense of that which is in this lifetime that is itself opposed to the kingdom of God. This is what I’m talking about when I speak of being double-minded, of listening to the temptations of this life, etc. I don’t mean by this (as I feel like you imply) that I don’t believe the kingdom of God applies to this life, or that I don’t believe it is active and brought about in a certain way by following God in this life. I am not opposing my whole life now to an a future heaven which is the “real aim,” and dismissing the former as worthless. I am talking about temptations I face towards looking at this life in a way that ignores God and how he would have me think of things.

    But I disagree that the parables, or the teachings of Christ in general, don’t put a “searchlight on Heaven,” if I understand what you mean by this phrase. Hope about the future complete redemption of the world, and the new heavens and the new earth, is one of the central themes of the bible. Jesus talks about final judgment in many of his parables. He also talks about future eternal rewards–for example:

    “12He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14.12-14)

    And Paul writes beautifully about the hope of resurrection:

    “18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8.18-25)

    Serving God in this life ought to lead one to a hope for the new heavens and the new earth, when God himself is known in all the fullness he means for us to know him. It should also prepare us for it, train us to live in a way that makes us suitable for such a place, all by the power of his grace and redeeming love, of course.

  3. March 12, 2010 at 4:19 am

    The phrase “searchlight on heaven” means concrete information about the world to come for a person who is thinking about being resurrected. The parables of Jesus decidedly do NOT do that, they are empirical, and they provide concrete inspiration as to how to live (as a believer) in this divided world. As I said, they are scenical and narrative, and often apocalyptic, which only prepares one to LEAVE this world—but giving no clue as to what is next. Only that there is a next. And of course that is quite a lot, but it still is not specific. And the point is this is what I LIKE about it, for it directs one to pursue what is already given: to live. Such belief (if one can achieve it) may guarantee resurrection, but it doesn’t spell it out, as least not in my reading of those type of down-home parables in Matthew.

    OTHER biblical passages, such as the ones you quote from Paul, give a different type of concrete vision and hope for a personal resurrection. But clearly they also give NO INFORMATION as to what the person will experience. Even the word “experience” pales in the context of Paul’s lofty and ambiguous terminology, which is wonderful and abstract and fills one with hope and even assurance (for one is, after all, a believer), but only for the totally threatening “revealing of the sons of God.” Or the “hope for what we do not see”! How is that for bluster, or, dare I say it: sheer poetry.

    Don’t get me wrong; I also like this truth rhetoric, I mean sermonizing, and take it to heart. It is just that in one short blog piece you blur these two Kingdom of Heaven references.

  4. March 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Well, it is an interesting question as to what information about what life is like in the future redeemed creation could really be provided by a text anyway. I think there are two ways this should be addressed. First there is the question of the bare, factual information communicated. If its just factual details on what heaven will be like, given by the plain meaning of the text, then the teachings of Jesus, and the rest of the scriptures, do, in fact, appear to provide this on some level. We can make certain factual deductions. For example, there will be no suffering or death or mourning. There will be a city in heaven, but there will be no sun. There won’t be marriage. Of course, there is within this exploration the issue of how metaphorically certain references are to be taken, but there are still things to be said, discussions to be had. Though I haven’t really used the right terms to suggest so, I would include in this category not just the literal and factual details given through the text, but also any poetic truth content that might be there and capable of communicating some reality–anything that the text has in itself simply by virtue of being a text.

    The second way to address this question is more experiential and has more to do with God’s active revelation and continued presence in the world. We have to, first of all, bring into consideration the activity of the Holy Spirit, in the READING of scripture as well as in the writing of it. What we, human beings, know about what heaven will be like is shaped not only by the factual information provided in scripture, but also by how God actively teaches us about himself through his Word.

    In addition, we have to consider this along with the other ways that God teaches us about himself and his plans–through people, through the church, through nature. We have to, in fact, consider the whole organic unity of God’s progressive revelation to humanity throughout history, of which the bible is a central part, but apart from which it cannot be properly understood. Thus I believe that, in a certain sense, the things you talk about me blurring in my original post are supposed to be blurred, because they are “eschatologically related.” The kingdom breaking into our lives now–both historically and in the life of the individual–gives us hints about the new heaven and the new earth. Christ’s parables are about this, and the reading of scripture in Christian tradition has built up in its understanding of them associations of the Kingdom of God “now,” with future kingdom of God in the new creation. The church has meditated on them and built its theology of the future world based on them and other scriptures, through God’s guidance. The church is not infallible, so it does not always give a perfect description of these things, and there have been times when key elements of the picture have become distorted. Nevertheless, the church presents a picture of heaven that is to be, in my estimation, highly regarded. It has rightly made associations that the “modern theologians” would like to do away with, to write off as a naive reading of the text that is ignorant of its historical context.

    Moving more to the personal now, I believe that the closer we are to God, and the more we live as disciples of Jesus, the more we will have internally a “feel” for what heaven is, what life in community with God is. That is because we are drawing nearer to such a thing in this life. Of course, whatever is in this life is, I believe, only a pale glimpse of that future reality. This, in fact, is part of why I found bothersome your insistence upon the parables as being teachings that only direct us towards this life. The parables are indeed supposed to encourage us to live life in the kingdom now, as citizens of the Kingdom of God here on earth. But this means that in doing so we are assuredly not supposed to feel entirely at home here. Indeed I think that part of the function of having a hope for heaven is to be reminded of that constantly, so as to set one’s heart again and again on the kingdom of God now, the road that leads there. I think my application of the pearl parable to my state of mind when I wrote the post is legitimate–indeed I hope it was God’s application, not my own. It served as a reminder of what my true treasure is, which is God and everything that comes along with him–life in this age and the age to come. And actually, looking back at it, I don’t think I was even really talking about heaven in the initial post. I was talking about having my heart set on things of the kingdom of God, on being faithful to God, versus having my heart set on things in this world in a way that is not in line with God’s kingdom. I admit this isn’t entirely clear, because of how I “blur” things. But I blur the “now and future” dimensions of these because I see them inextricably as tied together and dynamically related to each other in the life of a believer.

    Anyway, glad you like such posts overall–I just felt the need to defend my blurring a bit more!

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