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 instead 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 instead 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. -2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1-5
This has been a tough week. Within a couple days, I received news that one of our board members in a country in Asia had lost her battle to COVID. Her husband is chairman of our board in this country. I have preached in their church several times, and he has stayed in our home. They also wrote together one of our Basic Series Discipleship booklets on Love, Marriage, and Family. The book’s focus makes her death all the sadder to think that their life together on earth has been cut short. They also have a young daughter about the age of our daughters.
A few days later, I received news that the co-founder and first President of the mission organization I lead, ServeNow, had also passed away from her battle with cancer. She also is a young mother who leaves behind three kids and a husband.
These situations are so sad and tragic. There is no denying the sorrow, grief, and disappointment. But, these deaths are reminders that life on this earth is short, often too short. In fact, it just so happened that a couple hours before I received news of our co-founder’s death, I was recording a message for a country in Asia that goes out in three languages every week across the island. The weekly Scripture passage was from 1 Corinthians 4:16-5:1-5 quoted above. It is such a beautiful passage and timely reminder. It provides the perspective and comfort we often need in facing the reality of death, whether loss of loved ones or contemplating our own eventual death.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul masterfully balances the tension between our earthly suffering and eternal hope. We live in the here and now, but the here and now are temporary. The eternal is yet to come, but it is what we have to look forward to as believers in Jesus Christ. And Paul, while not diminishing the reality of earthly pain, does put it in perspective. Compared to eternity which will last forever, our suffering on earth is momentary. It gives way to our true home in the presence of God. We live in this tension every day. We are awaiting the transition from the earthly and imperfect; to the eternal and perfect. The paradox of the Christian life is that though we die, death does not have the final word. Just as the weakness of the cross gave way to the power of the resurrection, we have the same hope in Jesus. And that is why despite our earthly struggles, we do not lose hope in our eternal future.
But part of us does not like to face our earthly mortality, frailty, and finiteness. We have plans, dreams, ambitions, hopes, and desires. Life was not intended to involve death originally. We live with a restless uneasiness that death could strike at any moment but also live as if it is always far off in the future. I would argue, though, that facing our mortality and human weakness can provide us perspective and intentionality in the short time we have on this earth. It is why the Apostle Paul calls us to fix our eyes not on what is seen but unseen. Life on earth really only makes sense in light of eternity. This is the theme of my second book coming out in the fall of 2021. The working title is Everything is Meaningless: Finding Purpose in a World of Despair. It is a journey through some key themes from the book of Ecclesiastes, a book of the bible often neglected and misunderstood.
But this earth, in its present condition, is not where we ultimately belong. Jesus will be creating a new heavens and a new earth. Just as he was raised from the dead to new life, we too will follow in his footsteps. A new body awaits us free of the sin, suffering, and sorrow of these present fallen bodies. Think of a hermit crab. When I was little, I was fascinated by these little creatures and often would try to secretly watch to witness them come out of their current shell to find a home in a new shell. They do this to find a home that will protect them better than their present one. During that transition, they are vulnerable and exposed; but soon, they take up residence in a new shell.
This, to me, is an example from nature of the transition we go through in death. We have temporary tents that we reside in now. But God has prepared a better “shell” for us upon death. Death is not the end. Death is a transition. And the glory of what lies on the other side is unspeakable and indescribable. The bible does convey some imagery and information, but it seems all words and comparisons fall short. We just know it is good. It is our true home. It is where we belong if we belong to Jesus Christ.
And that is why the Apostle Paul reminds us a couple times in this portion of Scripture that we do not lose heart or give up. Even at our weakest, his power is displayed most clearly in us and through us. Even as our bodies age and deteriorate, we do not need to live in denial or try so desperately to reverse the reality of aging. In fact, though outwardly we may be falling apart, inwardly, we can be renewed and made stronger and stronger in the image and likeness of our Savior. It is what we do not see that matters most because that is what will last forever. What we see is temporary. We often get this reversed. We live as if what we see is all that is or will be. My encouragement is what Scripture calls us to here and elsewhere, live life on earth in light of eternity. It is the only way to make sense of this earthly life and have hope for the future. Beyond that, it’s also true, because Jesus himself has conquered death. And he has assured those who believe in him that they will be with him for all eternity.
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. -1 Corinthians 15:19-22