Thursday, November 24, 2011

If You're Not Heavenly Minded You'll Be No Earthly Good

Cloud, over
Monroe, Michigan

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5, instructs the Corinthian Jesus-followers for fix their eyes on what is unseen, not on what is seen. To live by faith, not by sight.

The Corinthians are living too much by sight. They are especially concerned with appearance. Paul's point is that, when it comes to people, what appears to be is not the case. These Greek converts were smitten by Sophistic rhetoric. Paul, on the other hand, has admitted that he is an uneloquent, bad speaker. And history records that Paul was physically unimpressive. The historian Tertullian describes Paul as short, bald, having a big nose, and possessing a unibrow (eyebrows that met, like the Muppets' "Bert"). All Paul had, he confessed, was the gospel + signs and wonders. The Corinthians saw and heard Paul and concluded that this cannot be a true apostle from God.

More than this, the Corinthians looked at Paul's beat-up physical body and all the stuff that body went through and wondered, what the heck is this about if Jesus is Lord and King? In 2 Corinthians Paul gives us those lists of all the suffering and struggle and persecution and bodily wear-and-tear he underwent. The Corinthians ask, "Why?" Paul's answer is: Because I fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger told us that the way to live life was to fix on death. One's future demise casts either a shadow or a light on one's present existence and its meaning. Live focused on the future reality of death. Paul, in this way, is Heideggarian. Two future certainties lie before him. They are:
  1. I will one day be resurrected as Christ has been raised from the dead.
  2. I will one day receive a new, everlasting physical body to replace this fragile, itinerant "tent." It will be a house, not made by human hands, but by God.
I like how Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright express Paul's understanding of #2.

Witherington: “Paul seems to believe that believers’ resurrection bodies are already prepared in heaven, in heavenly cold storage so to speak. This is part of his overall view that what will yet be on earth is even now stored up in heaven, including the New Jerusalem.” (Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 391)

Wright: ’Heaven’ is not the place we go to when we die, but rather the place where God has our future bodies already in store for us.” (Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, 52) 

Paul was certain of these two things. His certainty was not theoretical, but existential and experiential. This is important because experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Because Christ lives, I can face tomorrow.

The reality of our certain future with Christ, now unseen but one day known face to face, allows us to abandon our entire being to the Kingdom-cause of Christ today. If we cling to this life as the only life our effectiveness for Christ will diminish.

Paul believed that, when he stands before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be good. His desire was to be with the One who rescued him. The love of Christ compelled him, and therefore Paul made it his aim to please Him. The eschatological promise of life forever with Christ sustained him. That, argues Paul, is why he lives as he does in this present darkness.

From Paul's POV this is true: If I'm not heavenly-minded I will be no earthly good.