Monday, December 31, 2012

It's just a "flesh" wound...

     "I'm getting better!"  I write this as I sit at home with strep throat... 3/4 of my family has been stricken with this dreadful affliction (to emphasize the melodramatic).  So we proceed with a healthy (pun intended) sense of comedic irony...
     I've noticed I have a tendency, both in living and writing, to be pessimistic and negative (or as I put it, realistic and rational!);  so it is my pleasure in our jaunt through 2 Corinthians to zoom in on a passage that holds great encouragement for us in the suffering this life holds for us, both unintentional (general pain common to all people) and intentional (persecution for the cause of Christ):
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  (2 Cor 4:16-18)
     There are so many themes in these few verses to discuss... the transience of mortality, the proper Christian perspective on pain, the superreality of the spiritual, and what we dealt with last time, the selectivity of divinely-empowered perception.  We'll touch on all these as we stroll along...
     I love it when the biblical authors provide a unpolitically-correct "cup-check";  other great examples would include 1 Cor 16:13 and Heb 12:4.  And to be sure, these are gender-neutral:  men have no monopoly being commanded to or provided with spiritual toughness, as opposed to the insensitive, uncommunicative "manliness" that's often marketed in our culture.  So the point Paul intends is to combat the natural despair we experience when things are not precisely as we would wish them;  I was lamenting my own unconscious wimpyness when ill with a friend recently, and this has given me a new look at how to endure physical weakness to succeed in glorifying God through my words and deeds (especially helpful today!).  So all that to say:  Man Up!
"Death cannot stop true love..."
     Next, Paul forces us to admit the limitations that the Fall have introduced into the perfection God created;  namely, we die.  The moment we're born, our bodies begin to "waste away", and no amount of plastic surgery, Rogaine, or even Viagra can restore vitality to our moth-eaten corpses.  This adds new richness to the passages that describe us as spiritually dead (Rom 5:6, Eph 2:1, 5, etc.):  our bodies just take a while to catch up to the spiritual necrosis we experience at birth.  Or to put it another way, birth cannot stop true death.... "all it can do is delay it for a while".  God's word to Adam and Eve (" shall die") was true in every sense.
     But the breakdown of our bodies, and by extension every other trial, affliction and discomfort, is no excuse to descend into the doldrums;  on the contrary, the loss of everything our world prizes (youth, strength, energy, and most of all, life!) is merely a tool used by God to fix our attention on what God prizes:  an immeasurably rich, potent measure of the glory that belongs to Him!  If we weigh the pain possible here and now, even in Paul's life which was far beyond what 99.9% of us will experience, it simply doesn't compare to what will be ours in Christ for all eternity. Only by focusing on what's to come can we enjoy it now.
Yes, the stove is hot!  Once is enough...
     This reality is not apparent to everyone;  and a good thing too... if we focused on eternity, it would render all infomercials worthless!  So of course, just as no unbeliever would joyfully anticipate God's glory (or His judgment), the perception necessary to enjoy God's glory is restricted to the saints.  But equally obvious is the fact that Christians are not fixated on God every moment of their lives... they would be very different if we were.  This must be remedied, and in God's timely sanctification in each individual Christian, it will be.  Our text is just one of the many means used to change us into forward-looking, content folks... another is the actual experience of suffering.  As we wrestle with the seeming harshness of God's providence, we will be driven to the sufficiency of His grace and comfort.  If we come to this understanding sooner rather than later, further pain might not be necessary!

P.S.  During the course of writing, the nurse called and notified us we don't have strep in the technical sense, but just a nasty flu.  I feel better already.

Photo courtesy of tychay and eric pas d'accent

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