like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Psalm 131:2 ESV
I have been taught different truths before by C.J., our somewhat brain-damaged cat, but this morning was particularly wondrous.
My mind awakened this morning running at warp 12; it just wouldn’t shut up and let me get back to sleep. Finally surrendering to the inevitable, I got up and went into the ‘reading room’ to spend some time just trying to calm my spirit. C.J. normally follows me around in my morning ablutions and medicine taking, waiting (impatiently) for me to pick her up and hold her on my shoulder. It had never occurred to me how persistent she was throughout the day in having me do this; yes, she liked it when I refilled the food bowl or put fresh water in the water dish (with some ice mind you), but mostly just to be held on my shoulder and stroked. To be completely honest, at times it was rather distracting, even irritating to be pursued by this little creature. She would not stop crying until I acquiesced to her demands and picked her up!
Then, finally, this morning…
Awakened by a multitude of worries and problems, I just couldn’t go back to sleep. Getting out of bed and getting dressed, I wandered out into the ‘reading room’ and sat down to begin my daily devotions. It seemed that something was bothering me deep down and it just escaped me. Opening my web browser on my laptop, I connected to Bible Gateway and began searching for a study or devotional centered on the Psalms. Not finding what “I” was looking for, I just started looking for what was there and found Eternal Words, a series that combined Scripture readings with music designed to, “…bring Joy to your heart and Peace to your soul…” I opened the first one, and within it, a quote from Psalm 131 struck my heart as what I’d been looking for;
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Psalm 131:2 ESV
Okay, but what does that have to do with my roiled thoughts and anxiety this morning, and how does that fit in with C.J. normally following me around and crying to be picked up. Wait a minute; it’s been over 30 minutes since the bed spat me out and no C.J. Then it struck me; she wanted nothing more than to be held and cuddled by me. No treats, food, water (even ice!); she just wanted to spend some time being held on my shoulder.
A weaned child wants nothing so much from the mother other than just that thing. They may be hungry (especially once they are teenagers!), but the Psalmist is speaking of the desire for God’s presence rather than His presents. Magically (stop your laughing!), C.J. appeared crying to be picked up. We spent over 30 minutes with my holding her close to my shoulder as we both reveled in the time spent together.
That is what God seemed to be telling me; more than all that He has already gifted me with, He desires my heart to long to be with Him, to pursue Him and for that to be not only sufficient but to be completely satisfying to my soul.
Amazing how my little professor of Theology has once again taught me so much.
How can I understand all that has happened? At times I feel like a plaything, a toy boat tossed about on a pond by the dirt clods some boy is throwing at it. Can I be sure that it is God who is talking to me? Does it not seem presumptuous on my part that the Lord would communicate with this son of Eli? The dream or vision, could it not have been that spicy meal I had eaten or maybe some sour wine I’d drunk? I am no priest or scribe, how can I expect God to speak to me?
Lord, those who laugh at me openly don’t hurt so much, but I grieve at the sneers and whispers about my beloved Mary. Others shake their heads at me when they think I don’t see; am I a fool to believe all that I think you have told me? When she told me that she was with child, my heart stopped, Lord. She of whom I have loved and longed for had been with another! After all, that is what is needful for such to happen isn’t it, Lord? How could I marry her now, but if I publicly confront her, she’d be stoned! Lord, how can I let such happen to my Mary? I still love her, Lord, and I am trying to understand all that is happening. How can I, a simple carpenter who has become a plaything of God?
She looked so beautiful at the betrothal. My breath left me whenever our eyes met; so much promised in a look! How I worked to prepare a home for us, then the whispers began. Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth already showing her condition- and the story she told me! How can such things occur in our simple village? We are not related to the priests in Jerusalem, Lord. We are simple people!
Have I erred in keeping Mary as my wife? The dream I had, what the angel said about her – and the child within her! I would have to be mad to believe it! But when I talked with Mary, the tears in her eyes… Lord, I love her so!
Now, here outside this ….CAVE! Dear God, I would expect such a child to be born in a palace with many attending to Mary. But this filthy place! How can I but wonder where this child came from when we are forced to a hovel such as this to bring a child into the world. God of Israel, help me to understand! Help me to see your hand in all this. How can Messiah be born in such a place?
There! I said it! The Messiah! After all these years of waiting is it really the time we've yearned for, or am I the victim of a hoax? Help me, Adonai to see you in all this. Calm my heart that I may comfort Mary and protect her son. Her son! Is it pride, God, that has me so worked up? Am I jealous of the father of this child? But who is he? What the angel said. How is that possible? Am I, like our father Jacob, wrestling against God? Help me to know what is true, Lord. Calm my heart.
If this child is indeed Messiah, how can I teach him? How does a carpenter raise God’s Son, the King of kings? Lord, every time I accept this, more questions come. What do I do, Lord, to provide for all that will be needed? My shop and my customers are all in Nazareth. How can I hope to begin all over again here when I can’t even find a clean home – such a provider to birth a baby in a cave?
A baby, your Son? Incredible! The Son of God coming to visit us by being born to my Mary? Here? In a stable? Insanity! Dare I really believe this? Dare I not?
This was originally written while I was incarcerated; in it I sought to imagine myself in Joseph's place, how would I react to the events surrounding the birth of the Christ-child? How this man must have wrestled; how many of us still do with the idea of Immanuel entering His creation in such a manner. A blessed and wondrous Christ-mas to all.
In John Bunyan’s allegorical work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, we follow the trials and ultimate triumph of the main character Christian as he goes from his initial state in the slough of despond to the celestial city. Throughout his adventures (misadventures at times) there are times when those who seem to teach that once saved all your troubles are behind you are firmly repudiated. Indeed, looking at the life of early church fathers such as Paul also seem to deny the nonsense of life as a believer being one of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
In recent weeks this thought has been greatly reassuring; to refer to Bunyan’s Christian, there are times when it seems that I still wallow within my own slough of despond despite having many times seeing real evidence in my life of God’s amazing work of grace. Part of my struggle has been a result of my struggle to find meaningful work as well as being able to fit within the body of believers in a way that will benefit the kingdom and enable me to grow as a disciple of our Savior.
At present I seem to have reached a nadir in my walk with Christ; it seems more and more difficult for me to do more than put one foot in front of another, to take the next breath seems all that I can do. My daily reading of Scripture has all but stopped and my prayer life is pretty much nonexistent but for the inarticulate groan of a soul in torment.
Today was a new low; while sitting in the auditorium, listening to the worship team rehearse before the start of the first service, they began going over a song that declares that in Christ we can change the world. Something in me seemed to wither; I could not believe that it was possible for me to do anything to change the world. It seems that the world has left me standing outside with little or nothing for me to do other than keep out of the way. What previously had been a source of joy and refreshment now felt grating and dry, so I left and drove home.
As Job once stated, “…I know that my Redeemer lives…” (Job 19:25 ESV); that is a truth that I can still grasp and am thankful that it is His hand that holds me, not the other way around.
Amazing, really, how God can use some of his critters (even humankind!) to teach lessons to His children. Once again I venture into the vaguely disturbing and uncertain area of Cat Theology, or to put it differently, what our cats have once again taught me about my relationship with God.
We have three owners, excuse me, I meant to say pets who are all cats and all female; I seem to be the token male in our household, but that’s a story for another time. They each definitely have their own specific characteristics, but one in particular is the class clown for our family. Spanky. As the image shows, she is a black and white mix with an insatiable appetite for all manner of moist cat food, cheese, tuna, eggs (yeah, that was a surprise to us as well) and many other items (she draws the line at some things, but they are few and far between). We jokingly refer to her as a dat (dog-cat) or other admixture because unlike so many other felines, Spanky will rear up on her hind legs and beg as only a dog can do. She also slobbers (a lot!) when petted, so perhaps there is some boxer in her somehow?
Anyway, I arrived home from the USO-NC Center at the airport ready for a nap (I've been up since 4:50 and arrived at the Center at 6:00, just minutes ahead of 110 British Paratroopers on their way home from Ft. Bragg. The next four hours were, to put it mildly, somewhat hectic, but incredibly rewarding to see the faces of these troops respond to our providing for them not only food, but a place to relax while waiting for their rides home. So, yeah, I was tired when I got home and ready for a nap. Then Spanky jumps on the bed and proceeds to let me know that it is time for me to pay attention to her NOW!
There are many ways a cat has to show affection; purring, head-bumping the object of their affection, rubbing their whiskers on you (‘marking’ you as theirs) as well as others I’ve read about but cannot remember now. Spanky was exhibiting all of the above and more as I lay on the bed trying to sleep. Why all this affection; why was she so adamant about getting my attention? She wants something, pure and simple. Her little mind is so focused upon me as the giver of ‘goodies’ that it is all she cares about and all she is focused upon.
I remember wondering about my relation to God; do I love Him because of His presents or His presence. Yeah, the last few years have been ‘interesting’, but even in the darkest period, the way God continues to provide and bless Kathy and I is astounding. So, what if I was still in prison; what if I was unable to do so many of the things that bring me joy, would I still love Him? Do I pursue Him solely because He can provide or would I love Him if He left me bereft of friends and family.
The answer comes easy to my mind, but part of me hesitates as I struggle to be more honest with Him, with myself and others. All part of growing toward Home, I guess. All part of Cat Theology.
While I was in prison, still growing in faith, I had begun to record some of my thoughts about what Christ had done. The following is one such article that I sent home and which Kathy faithfully preserved over the years. More such will follow in the hope that others may be encouraged in their own struggle and find the solace and hope that I have in this incredible man named Jesus.
Olive trees covering a hill just across the Kidron valley from Jerusalem; a place of quiet especially meaningful amid the cacophony of this center of Judaism as Passover neared. Frequently Jesus had come here with His apostles seeking refuge and rest; no noisome, demanding crowds, just a place to rest and recuperate.
But not that night.
The Passover. A time of rejoicing and celebration for all Jews. Even with the ever-present yoke of Rome upon them, remembering this glorious past deliverance from another world power kept alive within all hearts the hope that such a deliverance would again be theirs. Jesus' entrance into the city earlier in the week had rekindled this in dramatic fashion as the crowds hailed his entrance in such a remarkable fashion that the religious leaders feared the fist of Rome descending upon them for such impudence. "Hosanna!" they had cried while waving palm branches; hailing Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Father had promised their race through the prophets. Their wild abandonment to their hope that the deliverance would come now (their cries of Hosanna meant just this, save us now!), was fueled by all that this man had done and said; if he were not the Promised One, then who else could they hope in? Their expectations were to be quashed this week, however, as they realized that this Jesus was not the deliverer they wanted; He had come to free them, but not in the way they wanted. This disappointment in Jesus would lead that crowd to scream a very different cry by the end of that week.
Knowing what was to come, Jesus' flesh shrank from the pain and horror of it all. What Jew was not all too familiar with how Rome executed non-citizens? Their perfection of crucifixion had become almost a perverse art form; a blending of shame and degradation together with unimaginable pain that could go on for days! But much more than that, Jesus wrestled with the burden He would soon bear; far more horrific than the pain of crucifixion.
He struggled through the dark hours as He faced the unimaginable terror of the perfect Son of God becoming sin--for me! Surrendering His place in Heaven to invade time, walking among His creation, all leading to this moment. He plead with the Father that there be another way, yet knew there was no other. His closest friends falling asleep and leaving Him alone while all the power of hell assailed Him. So great was the struggle within Him, that He began to sweat blood, a condition medicine has labeled hematidrosis that can occur under severe stress. Falling down in grief, crying out alone, yet He chose to obey the Father's will; by doing so, by learning obedience in the flesh and embracing the Father's way, He became the Way for me to enter eternity with Him.
Through the hours that followed He remained obedient to the Father's will. Not once did He call upon the myriad of angels who must have looked on with horror as the Son of God was mocked, beaten and nailed to the cross. Carrying my sin long before I was born, the One who was from eternity past Elohim became my sin and through His sacrifice paid my price. As a result of the sin of all mankind for all time that He now bore, the Father turned away from Him and Jesus was more alone than any being ever was.
More alone than the person in the deepest dungeon, more alone than any ever will be outside of Gehenna; all He did because He loved.
Allowing death to complete His ministry, His triumphant cry of "It is finished!" rang out over another hill, then died.
I cannot comprehend such Love for me; I do rejoice that I have surrendered to it.
In my reading this morning, I once again turned to the Gospel Coalition web site for my daily dose of D.A. Carson’s blog, but also looked to see what other articles/blogs had been posted since my last visit. I was attracted to an article by Matt Smethurst, an associate editor for Gospel Coalition, who wrote a brief blog in which he cites a sermon delivered by John Piper, Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East for what he refers to as seven principles regarding that roiled part of a troubled world that strip away the political and religious rhetoric and help us see how there really is only one solution to this and every part of our anxious world and its’ peoples.
I’ve followed the people and nation of Israel since serving in the Navy and being in a submarine operating in the Mediterranean Sea during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. From the birth of this nation by United Nations mandate in 1948 to the present they have been beset on every side by invective and attacks of isolated and widespread nature; even seemingly moments from being overwhelmed, they persevere as a nation and a people. I do admire their determination in the face of such opposition and well remember the history of this people as depicted in Scripture. Mr. Smethurt’s article and John Piper’s sermon give an insight that is rare in this sound bite filled world.
Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, once stated, “We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” There is a truth to that which is undeniable; I would ask, however, is it not also true for Israel? This ongoing and seemingly never-ending war between Israel and the Arab people is a drain on their peoples and resources as a constant flash point that will one day trigger a global conflagration beyond any imagining. There are valid reasons for the turmoil and stated purposes of each side, but in the end there can be only one solution to bring real peace to the Middle East and this sad, beleaguered world we all live on.
Ten years ago, John Piper offered a clear look at the war-torn Middle East from the view of Scripture that Matt Smethurst points us to that must be understood if we are to avoid the increasingly bitter bombast of all sides. There really is only one Solution and peace for the Middle East and Earth will only occur when He reigns.
Part of my morning routine is to open a link with the Gospel Coalition as I follow a daily devotional/blog by D.A. Carson, but today the title of one of the offered articles caught my eye; God Can Restore Your Lost Years by Colin Smith. The title alone called to my heart as few other things have recently and I chose to alter my routine by reading it first; this article in addition to some other events recently have filled me with a wonder that God does care for me despite my choices that did lead to far too many lost years.
Some background for those who are new to this blog; it has been an often tragic course I’ve travelled secondary to the choices I alluded to above. Beginning the destruction of a marriage while in the Navy, then completing the task while enrolled at UNC set the stage even as I embarked on a career as a nurse and paramedic; what seemed as a fresh start and an exciting and fulfilling career was endangered by my own lack of a moral compass and I didn’t have a clue! My background in the Navy as a nuclear-trained electrician on submarines seemed to fit me to be able to keep my head and focus in emergencies; those abilities came to the fore and were recognized by others as I began my career. Inside I was uncertain and confused at times; I was aware of course that others thought well of me for my abilities (at one point I had a medical center’s helicopter program competing with a large city’s EMS to hire me), but it was empty and without any real satisfaction. I loved what I was doing and did it well with compassion for those that others looked down upon, particularly when I worked as a paramedic in one city where my partner would deride the homeless to the point that I would always volunteer to care for them while she drove.
Despite this success (I’d been in line for a promotion to shift supervisor at one EMS organization) I felt empty, bereft of purpose or satisfaction and uncertain I was doing something that really mattered! My relationship with my second wife was, at best, stormy and we were each drifting apart as we sought to fill our own lives away from each other (she later told me that at this point in our lives, she’d considered leaving me). Then it all came crashing down as a choice I’d made almost a year previously came back to haunt me.
Something I wish I could tell all nursing and medical school graduates as well, as those now practicing, is that without a sound moral foundation they will one day be forced to make a decision (or decisions) that will not only endanger their career, but their livelihood and reputation as well. I made a choice that was wrong and resulted in the death of a patient; others have painted it as a compassionate choice to end the suffering of a family (the woman in question had been diagnosed as brain dead at some point prior to my caring for her this last time and had been in ICU for months), but I cannot honestly say that this was in my thinking at the time. I’d like to think it was; in light of subsequent events, however, I cannot categorically state that wanting to end the family’s struggle was even in my thoughts that night.
An indictment and subsequent conviction for murder followed and I entered the prison system without a real expectation of ever coming out or even surviving if I had a release date (I didn’t!). My sisters and Mom would write me, occasionally visiting (my Dad had died some years earlier), but it was my wife who would be the main support through the years; she said that she’d seen something in me years before and decided to stick around and see what happened after I was convicted. Friends vanished almost instantaneously with the judges’ gavel striking down when he pronounced sentence and I entered Central Prison.
I arrived there in the early morning in February in the middle of a storm with sleet falling; getting out of the car to shuffle to the door (I was handcuffed and shackled), I stopped for a moment to look up at the wall surrounding this dark place and remember thinking that this was where I belonged. Honestly, I expected to be killed in a short time; my idea of what life in prison were somewhat vague as the only time I’d ever been in a jail was as a paramedic to pick up a patient. It was horrific and the first weeks were a blur as I tried to apply the lessons one man had taught me while in jail prior to my sentencing (he’d been a repeat offender and had spent many years ‘inside’ and given me some advice laughingly calling it “Prison 101”). You never really trust anyone, especially those in authority, and the idea of keeping your head on a swivel (checking six in fighter pilot parlance) at all times, but at the same time, as the commercial once put it, “never let them see you sweat.” If you act like a victim or others sense your fear, you are toast!
Through my years ‘inside’ I did mourn the life I had thrown away and wondered what I would do if I was ever released. Coming to faith in Jesus gave me a source of hope that was comforting (about the only comfort I received!); many speak of ‘religion’ as a crutch for the weak and I have to agree with them, at least in regard to a relationship with Messiah. I was weak and unable to even live day-to-day in prison without some source of help and support and I found that help in my relationship with Messiah.
As I studied Scripture (finding the Bible Broadcasting Network station within range of whatever prison camp I was transferred to was always priority one!) I began a journey that continues to this day. Having been released a little over three years ago I have adapted pretty well to my new reality, re-connecting with the Chapel Hill Bible Church (this time listening with a new heart and seeking desperately to apply what I learn) and becoming involved in different ways in the community, but still without meaningful work outside of those volunteer activities (USO-NC, Our Children’s Place, Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, and Job Partners). Not having a job despite over 450 applications (to date) has been troubling; between my age and my felony I've learned that opportunities are few and far between. Because of an old back injury while working as an ICU nurse that was exacerbated through the health care offered ‘inside’ I am unable to perform much of the tasks that ex-felons are normally funneled toward (dish-washing, manual labor, etc.) and despite picking up an Associate’s degree in computers while in prison, no one seems willing to hire me. From office work to garbage pickup for an apartment complex Kathy and lived at for a while (until they found out about my felony), my efforts to obtain work have fallen flat and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find full-time work.
With no prospects and my only regular addition to the family income being my Social Security retirement check (not much because of the 23+ years in prison), I am adjusting to my new reality as house husband to Kathy (at least she likes my cooking!) and find satisfaction in helping others through the volunteer activities. Recently, however, there seems to be something else stirring in my heart that I have a hard time articulating and so have begun to reach out to those I respect for advice and suggestions. I’m not sure where this new ‘thing’ will take me or even if it will go anywhere. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you updated.
“And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
Isaiah 35:8-10 ESV
In my reading this morning I was reminded of how it is God who brought me to His Way through His gift of faith, but He keeps me daily in His Son even when my predilection is to stray. My old man is all too ready to abandon holiness for hedonism and the pleasures of the world; the allurements of the world blinding me to the wonder of a God who loves me and has for me so much more now and forever.
For some time now I’ve followed D.A. Carson’s blog, For the Love of God¸ on the website for the Gospel Coalition and the combination of four different Scripture readings along with his insights into a part of those readings have often called to my heart and this morning is no different. In Psalm 90, Moses tells me that God would have me to “…number my days…” that I would learn wisdom; this life is not forever and the all too fleeting pleasures and passions of today that too often can take my eyes off of Him are ephemeral and fleeting, leaving me empty of comfort or satisfaction. Walking in His Way will, however, give fulfillment and joy both now and forever and He promises to keep me in that Way.
Yes, as Isaiah has written, this fool is kept from going astray by a God who loves me more than I realize even though He knows me better than I know myself. That is truly Amazing Grace indeed!
Many times through the years since I initially surrendered to Christ a lesson that has been taught to me over and over (and over ad infinitum!) is how difficult it is for me to LISTEN and TRUST in the One who knows me more than I know myself. Far too often I want something that is not God’s will and when He chooses to close the door on that something, I whine and whine instead of stopping and listening for His leading.
Tonight, Kathy and I arrived at the home of a friend for our weekly Life Group meeting and in our discussions before the others arrived we wound up speaking to the results of the hearing before the NCREC regarding my being licensed as a Realtor as well as the response of many within an agency that I’d hoped to work with once I was licensed. It was disappointing and frustrating, but it seemed that despite an initial response that kept me in the vertical (to use some fighter-jock parlance I heard once that is particularly apropos), my heart had not yet surrendered to what God had for me and I still clung to MY goals, MY ambitions and that embracing of MY was stifling what that “…still small voice…” would say to me in this time of transition. My trust was still in MY ability and so I was blind to what God wanted for me; amazing considering how many times He has taken me to the woodshed over this very thing.
Our meeting tonight continued a discussion following the series of lessons from Galatians taught at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, specifically this week’s lesson from Galatians 6:1-10 where Paul admonishes the Galatians (and us) about selfishness and an egocentric attitude. The unholy trinity (Me, Myself, and I) is ever present in the lives of those who focus only upon themselves, not looking to the needs of others or how we may serve or benefit others first. With all that was shared, it didn't really hit home how much “I” had usurped the place that only God must fill, the throne of my heart. Thankfully my King was not content to let me stew any longer, deceiving myself with my platitudes and religious jargon covering up a stew of self-righteous indignation about how “I” had been treated by the Real Estate Commission as well as some others who’d pledged their support regardless of the outcome and then seemingly had turned away instead.
On the drive home, while listening to BBN, a pastor was teaching from different parts of Scripture, but centering the lesson on the idea of how we can be self-deceiving regarding our relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ; the idea of examining our own hearts rather than looking at others has been in the lesson we’d discussed earlier, but as this pastor spoke it seemed as if my King had opened my eyes to how ugly and sanctimonious I’d been in my serving up my own whine rather than the fruit God calls me to produce. It is a bitter brew unfit for any, especially so for a King’s kid, and my heart was pricked by conviction as we drove home from the meeting.
No, I still do not know what (if anything) in the way of income I will do; there is a certain angst about that and much of it is prideful as the man who is supposed to be the bread-winner, I am rather the one dependent upon my wife as the majority income producer. Being dependent upon her is an ego-hit big time for me, but am I also in this reflecting a heart that seeks to deny my dependence upon God? Do I really think that the Gift of salvation through Christ is something “I” can earn? Better question, can I learn to be content and even joyful in my unemployment, serving Kathy as a house-husband while also seeking other opportunities to serve others through my volunteer activities with the USO, Job Partners, and Our Children’s Place? Can I trust God to provide where I cannot and also to allow Him to work in me as He will?
Hard questions, but ones that do help me to see that stepping down from the throne and allowing the King His rightful place in my heart regardless of what may or may not happen today or whatever tomorrow He may give me. My struggle continues; I’m not Home yet, but it promises to be a journey that, even with the bumps and sometimes hairpin turns, is one that does lead me not only to a wonderful forever with Christ, but a more peaceful and joyful now.
"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 Corinthians 4:17, 18 ESV
Jay Thomas, lead pastor at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, taught Resurrection Morning on this Scripture which may seem somewhat off topic, but was in fact directly on topic. In the above verse Paul has the temerity to describe the day-to-day struggles and suffering so many go through as “…light and momentary…” Where does this man get off saying such to those enduring cancer, horrific pain from injury, the loss of a deeply loved spouse, or any of a myriad such that occur every day on this sad planet called Earth? Is Paul mad to say such or just incredibly cruel and heartless?
As with any successful study of Scripture, context is vitally important and such is especially true here as well. Earlier in this same section of 2 Corinthians, Paul states:
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
2 Corinthians 4:13-15 ESV
If ever there was an example of anyone who suffered throughout the history of Earth, it would be that of Jesus. He is described elsewhere as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief and using such language to describe God seems as mad as Paul’s statement above. But is it? Did Paul and other writers of Scripture have an understanding we often lack? Looking at Paul’s life as an apostle to Christ we see a man who did indeed suffer through beatings and persecution and even an attempted assassination via stoning; yet Paul describes this and all such suffering (earned or otherwise) as “…light and momentary…” Why?
Perspective can lift our eyes from the mud of daily life to the glory and wonder of what is coming; Paul leads up to his dramatic statement above by reminding us of the one truly innocent man who suffered far beyond any imagining and did so not out of duty, but from an overflowing of the love of God toward mankind throughout history, worthy or not. His sacrifice benefits us by extending an invitation to enter into God’s presence throughout eternity when we did nothing to deserve it, often quite the reverse!
“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 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV
It is all too easy to “…lose heart…” when we or those we love suffer or are treated unfairly, but Paul challenges us here not to lose heart, but to look beyond today into eternity. He seems to be telling us to live for what is to come more than what we may be facing now, this perspective can dramatically affect how we react to any perceived slight or illness. Jay spoke of the difference between looking at an anthill in the plains of West Texas versus the majestic reach of Mount Everest in the Himalayan Mountains. As the writer of Hebrews stated;
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1,2 ESV
Jesus looked forward to what was to come and not only endured, but embraced the cross that He would open the way Home for us and when we focus on eternity, on the “…eternal weight of glory…” to come, we too can lift our eyes from the mud of today into the glory of forever. Years ago I heard a bit of verse that has stayed with me and it seems to fit what Paul is speaking to, so I’ll share it here:
“Two men looked through prison bars, One saw mud, one saw stars” (Oscar Wilde)