Affliction and Preparation

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4 : 16-18

Before I go on, I do want to apologize. It has been a while since my last post. I could go on with the litany of things I’ve been involved with, but I won’t. I hope I can finish this series out sooner rather than later. On to the study!

This week, we circle back to chapter 4. Scripture is like that, I think, inviting us to read and reflect, then circle back to consider what it is saying again. Having made our way through most of chapter 8 of the letter, and in light of our present circumstances, we can take a step back and consider a bedrock comfort found at the heart of the letter. For Paul, for all Christians, our present affliction isn’t an accident of history that leaves us as victims. All things, even our present affliction, prepare us for God’s glory to dwell in us even more richly.

However, in order to get there, let’s consider where we find ourselves as individuals, church communities, regions, and nations. The pandemic has worn on into a second year, omicron is on the loose, and while we pray for peace, the world seems balanced on a knife’s edge. If we dare to take a look back and see what destruction has been wrought over the past several years, the numbers are chilling. As of today (February 16, 2022), we are really close to one million dead in the United States due to COVID, 6 million worldwide.

Just the individual stories of loss from this will be processed for decades to come. In a conversation with a brother in Christ some time back, I was struck by his description of his experience these last few years. He said he felt that he been walking in circles, around and around the tilt-a-whirl that is the pandemic. This, combined with all the other crises that seem to overtake the world, make us all feel that things are spinning out of control. Maybe Yeats was right

In the end, we are afflicted. We are weary. We long for deliverance. In our moments of weakness, we long for a sign of God’s presence amidst all the bad news.

And it is exactly at this point the church needs to hear Paul’s voice in 2nd Corinthians. Paul knew what it was to be afflicted, and tired, and sick, and near death, and longing for deliverance, either from his chains or from this life so that he could be with the Lord. On top of the sufferings he had endured in his body in prison and through other abuses, he was tired of defending himself to the irksome Corinthian church. Despite its place of privilege and relative ease, they refused to hear the simple, self-giving, loving, yet hard truths of the Gospel. They preferred to bury their heads in the sand of their desires and preferences instead.

Like Paul, we face the relentless onslaught of our present reality, in addition to the refusal of many we love and hold dear to acknowledge the reality of where we and the world find ourselves today. Like us, Paul knew the terror that flies by night. But it is in the face of such terror that Paul points out that we ought not lose heart. Nothing happens by accident. All that he has endured, he has carefully argued in this letter, has served God’s purpose of preparing him and the community to house the very glory and presence of God. Even the conflicts in the community will be and are being used to prepare the body for greater witness to the eternal lordship of Christ.

Our outer nature is wasting away, Paul tells us. It is likely that we’re going to be hearing a lot more news like that in the coming days and weeks. Faith informs us, however, that our inner nature, our inner person, our persons as known by God and destined for resurrection, that is being renewed in these present troubles. Our job in trying times like these are too look with eyes fixed on the eternal, even as the temporary passes away.

The question we are left with is what this will look like, in and among us? How does one live with eyes fixed on the eternal? What does that look like on an everyday level?

We will examine this question in subsequent weeks, but a hint is found in the Messiah himself. In the face of his own humiliation and suffering, even as his own outer nature began that process of passing away, there we a confidence and a joy. He knew the One to whom he belonged. In the end, when we carry ourselves in this manner, room is discovered for joy and anticipation of new life, new creation, new possibilities. The One who suffered our pain, even unto death, eventually made his way out of that cold, dark tomb.

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