“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Paradox of Awaiting Eternity: Matthew 6 and 1 Corinthians 7

…The authors of Scripture say still stranger things concerning grief and joy. Paradoxically, we are to grieve as though we were not grieving, and to be happy as though we were not happy:

“Let those…who mourn [live] as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Why are Christians to live in such as strange way? Because, says Paul, the present form of this world is passing away. This is not a world of permanence, for which we long, but a passing realm, a frail and fleeting vapor (see “Whispers of Eternity”). It therefore makes little sense to invest our emotions so heavily in the momentary pleasures and pains this life offers – they are nothing compared to the larger Story that is being told. We must live fully, yet not as though this world is the fullness of life. We are travelers, and our home lies beyond death, through which we must pass. Jesus has a very similar message in his famous words in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:19-21, 25-33
The reason for this paradox – not building treasures in this world, or being anxious, or as Paul says, rejoicing as though we were not – is much the same as that for the paradox of joy and sorrow being intertwined – it is the nature of a fallen and passing world – not a world that is being destroyed, but a world that is being redeemed, and must therefore die first.

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