Heavenly minded or earthly good?
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Many people have requoted or rephrased Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.’s famous statement: “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” You can follow this link if you are curious about Holmes himself, but suffice it to say, the man was brilliant. That said, his now famous quote misses the mark.

I couldn’t discover the context for Holmes’ quote but did read in the Wikipedia article that his father was a minister and hoped his son would follow him into the ministry. Oliver’s dad enrolled him in the Phillips Academy to spend a year in theological training. Holmes changed schools a year later describing the professors at the academy as having “bigoted, narrow-minded, uncivilized” attitudes. It’s possible his years there contributed to his famous statement about people being so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good. It’s also possible that Holmes believed himself to have a superior intellect to those who taught biblical truth.

C.S. Lewis didn’t agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ten years after the death of Oliver Wendell Holmes, another brilliant man was born. He, like Holmes, was considered a literary scholar and gifted author. C.S. Lewis is famous for becoming a brilliant theologian as well. 

While Holmes said, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good,” C.S. Lewis had very different thoughts. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity was published in 1952 and is considered to be a literary and theological classic. It continues to be a best seller in Christian apologetics today. My husband Jim has often jokingly said, “I’m pretty sure no one can get into heaven until they read Mere Christianity” (Although when he reads this blog post he might tell me, “I’m not joking!”). Everyone who knows my husband, also a brilliant mind, knows he is a HUGE fan of Mere Christianity. 

Lewis has very different ideas from Oliver Wendell Holmes about being “heavenly minded.” In Mere Christianity Lewis said, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this: Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Lewis taught Christians that the most important way to be of earthly value was to be heavenly minded. Lewis points to world history to make his point, not his own intellect, as amazing as it was. C.S. Lewis died the same day that JFK was assassinated in Dallas. His death passed almost without notice because of the news. In many ways I’m reminded of the verse that says in heaven, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Earth lost a president the same day heaven gained a theological genius.

How heavenly minded do you choose to be?

I took a break while typing this blog post to go get my mom from her assisted living and take her to a cemetery that is just up the road from our home in Tyler. We sat on a bench labeled “Croswhite-Denison” and looked at the grave marker with my parents’ names. Dad passed away in July of 2016 and my mom is eighty-seven and slowing down. Jim and I purchased four plots side by side, and I began the process of having my dad’s remains moved from Dallas to his spot here in Tyler.

I enjoy thinking of my dad fishing in his heavenly boat on a breathtaking lake in heaven with St. Peter. Dad loved fishing and went every chance he could. I can’t know what heaven will be like, I just know it is perfect. My dad, fishing in that boat, would be his idea of perfect. 

I sat next to Mom on the bench that marks Dad’s burial place, and one day, will mark hers and ours. It is easy to think about heaven as I sit typing this blog post. My thoughts aren’t sad, they are hopeful. It will hurt to lose my mom one day, but there is joy knowing I’m just handing her to Jesus. I’ll see my parents again, in heavenly bodies that won’t decay and enjoying heavenly moments that will never end.

We need to be heavenly minded so that we can be filled with the hope that is our future reality in heaven. We need to be heavenly minded so that we make earthly choices that will be blessed eternally. We need to be heavenly minded so that we can do the most “earthly good” possible. Heavenly minded will help us to be Spirit-led on earth.

Earthly good from a heavenly mind.

Whenever I think of being heavenly minded I think of Philippians 4:8 that says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). 

Paul wrote his letter to the prosperous Roman colony of Philippi while under house arrest in Rome. He knew it wasn’t an easy life for the Christians in that city, and Paul wanted them to have joy, regardless of their circumstances. Christians today have a lot in common with those Philippian Christians as well as many Christians throughout history who have wrongly been labeled, “bigoted, narrow-minded, uncivilized.” 

There has never been a time in world history that Christians weren’t being persecuted somewhere. Open Doors reports that “More than 365 million (one in seven) Christians face high levels of persecution for their faith – and persecution is becoming dangerously violent in countries on the World Watch List. Attacks on churches and Christian properties sky-rocketed in 2023 as more Christians than ever faced violent attacks.”

With all the world’s rhetoric these days, we have a great need to be “heavenly minded.” Look again at the things Paul taught us to think about and then obey Paul’s admonishment. Think on those things. The earthly good you will do this week can be the product of your heavenly mind, filled with the heavenly thoughts you choose to think about. 

C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” What will you aim towards today? Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Oliver Wendell Holmes is often quoted, but his words are not fully true. Jesus taught his disciples what C.S. Lewis taught in Mere Christianity. The best way to accomplish earthly good is to live heavenly minded. Seek God as your King, seek to be filled by his righteousness, and you will have it all, now and in heaven.