For example, when Hiebert was a missionary in India, there was an outbreak of smallpox in his village. Western doctors nearby had unsuccessfully tried to stop the spread and so many of the villagers turned to a diviner who claimed they would need to sacrifice a water buffalo to the goddess of smallpox named Museum in order to appease her anger with the village. The elders of the village went around collecting money from every household to purchase the buffalo, and were highly offended when the Christians refused to give them anything because it went against their religious beliefs. Because of this, Christians were excluded from drawing water in the village wells or purchasing food from merchants. Things came to a head for Hiebert when a young Christian girl contracted smallpox. A church elder named Yellayya came to the school where Hiebert was teaching to ask him to pray for God to heal the girl from smallpox. In Hiebert's words:
"My mind was in turmoil. I had learned to pray as a child, studied prayer in seminary, and preached it as a pastor. But now I was to pray for a sick child as all the village watched to see if the Christian God was able to heal."Hiebert points out, correctly I think, that sometimes we have created an unhelpful divide between heavenly matters and earthly matters. There are all the great doctrines and theologies about the nature of God, angels, demons, Heaven and Hell. 'Separate and apart' from these are the things we deal with every week that we consider 'this-worldly' things, such as our vocations, visits to the doctor's office, the sources and types of foods that we eat, and the relationships we have with our family and friends. In between these things is an area that we do not address enough of the time. How do Heaven and Earth actually interact with one another?
To the spiritualist who sees angels, demons, and miracles hiding under every rock, the secularist offers a valid corrective, that empirical data matters and we have a role in contributing to the path of our lives. To the secular materialist, who wants to claim that we came from nothing, will return to nothing, and our lives mean nothing, the spiritualist offers a valid corrective, that there is much about the world which matters deeply, yet evades our ability to measure, categorize, or explain it.
Fortunately, as Hiebert points out, Scripture offers us a third path which refuses to devalue either the spiritual realm or the world in which we live. God's call to us for salvation has eternal spiritual implications, but is also deeply rooted expectations for the way we love and treat everyone around us, from the President to the 'least of these'.
It is here in the middle that we find important questions addressed. It gives us a healthy place for reflection about things such as the meaning of life and death for those of us still alive, the way we think about blessings, illnesses, successes, and failures, and the way we navigate life in this world through our own uncharted waters. Even if we're going to Heaven when we die, what is our purpose for being here until then? What is the significance of how we use our time and energy in the lives of people around us? How exactly do we involve God in our lives, and what actually happens when we pray?
Scripture affirms both the spiritual and the physical, and I am convinced that the more our churches learn to live and teach into this middle area which connects them, the more people will find our faith relevant and useful in the world they actually inhabit.