Hop Along Religion
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
When I was younger I used to hate it when Tennessee would loose a football game. Obviously, I have had a touch football season this year. When Tennessee would be playing bad, I would always, immediately after the game go and play my Play Station Game on NCAA football and play the team that was playing Tennessee just so I could beat them. For some reason, this made me feel better.
In reality, I knew that my playing the Play Station game did not actually make Tennessee win, but if made me feel better knowing that they could have won in another world. This is kind of what atheists accuse Christians of when it comes to our belief in eternal life. Christopher Hitchens, in his book God is not Great, says that religion is “ultimately grounded in wish-thinking.” The argument can be laid out as follows,
1. People are scared of dying for two reasons. They do not know what will happen to them when they die and they do not want to loose loved ones when they die.
2. In order to have hope, people believe in eternal life to as a means of comfort.
3. Whish thinking does not make the thing itself true
4. Instead, we should live our lives to leave a legacy.
Hitchens and others would argue that people who believe in eternal life are like me playing the play station in order to have a different outcome than the one that occurs in reality. Instead, we should just own up to the truth that this life is all that we have, so we ought to make the most out of it.
I do understand the complaint that Hitchens is addressing. Sometimes in our belief in an afterlife, we too quickly neglect this life. I hear people make these statements all the time such as “This world is not my home, I am just passing through.” On one hand, I will admit that there is some truth in this statement, but without proper context, it appears that religion only teaches “escapism.” We only want to fly away and let the world go to hell. I want to suggest that this is NOT what the Bible had in mind when he talked about eternal life. Let me share Paul’s words to the Corinthians for you so we can put “This world is not my home, I am just passing through” into come context.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
This seems like a lot to digest, so let me suggest a way to understand this passage. Paul uses the word gar four times in this passage, in which we translate “for.” This is a conjunction that is used to give explanation. In this passage, Paul gives us four statements and then explains why he has made this statement.
First, in verse 16 he tells them not to loose heart, although physically they are wasting away due to persecution and hardships because they are being renewed. In verse 17 we see the “why?” Paul tells them that the momentary troubles they all are for an eternal glory that outweighs all their struggles. In this passage as in other places, Paul is convinced that hardships and sufferings in the life of a person produce something greater. Often Paul tells his readers that they produce the character of a person that God desires for all of us to have. He uses the phrase “eternal glory” in this passage, maybe to suggest that God will use trials in our lives to produce the character in us so that we will be fit for all that God has in store for us.
Next, Paul says that we are not to fix our eyes on what we can see, but rather what is unseen. He compares what we see with the temporal and what we cannot see with the eternal. Then he says this is because when our present body is destroyed, we will have waiting on us an eternal body. The image of a tent is important because many people traveled and used tents temporary homes. Paul uses this image to say that our body is like a tent that we will exchange for a permanent home.
Then Paul says that due to our temporary body we long for something more than what we presently have because we want to be clothed with our heavenly body. In other words, we are always wanting something more than what we presently have and we were created this way by God. So, why would God give us a body like we have that is incomplete? He does so to draw us to himself. Paul then says he even gives us his Spirit as a foretaste of what God has planned to give us at the end.
Finally Paul tells his readers that they are to please God no matter what state they are in, in the present body or in the future one because we must all appear before God and be accountable for our lives.
It is clear to me that Paul is in some way, affirming the belief that this world is not our home and we are traveling through. It seems that he is suggesting that the things in this life will not satisfy us completely and that we need to set our minds on eternal things. CS Lewis puts it like this,
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthy pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.
Lewis, like Paul is not saying like so many people have in the past, that the things of this world are bad. Not at all, he is just saying they are here to give us a taste of what is waiting on us.
When I had only been here a short time, a member of PCS passed away and his family asked me to do the funeral. He was a Jewish man who was not active in the synagogue so First-Centenary was the closes thing he had to a church family. One of the things that became clear to me was that he liked to dance. In his funeral, I talked about his love for dancing and how dancing was a good thing. I then said that things like dancing gives us a foretaste of what true love and joy looks like in heaven.
I do not think it is a bad thing to have hope in eternal joy and happiness. I do believe as Christians, we can look forward to the moment when God will make our joy complete and we will be completely satisfied in God.
I also think it is important to understand that our hope in heaven should not cause us to want to escape this life. Paul is very clear that we have responsibility here and now. To really understand this passage we have to understand the broader argument Paul is making. The Corinthians are upset at him about a letter he sent to them that they found offensive. This was probably not the 1 Corinthian letter, but maybe one that was lost or perhaps it was added to the back end of 2 Corinthians in chapters 10-13.
Paul is actually defending his own character by saying that the letter he wrote, while it may have seemed mean was actually written in love to help them. While they may have thought he meant death, he meant it for life. He then talks about his own hardships in spreading the gospel and while he is suffering, God can take this and bring life. He uses the passage we read this morning to talk about how God is bringing life even thought they can’t see it.
What is important to know is that Paul’s hope in eternal life is not about giving up on this life. It actually makes this life more meaningful. Instead of living our lives to “leave a legacy,” are hope causes us to live to make the world a more meaningful place.