Focusing on unseen, eternal realities

Posted May 13, 2020

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Daily Scripture

2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18

7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. 10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.

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16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

Reflection Questions

The apostle Paul wrote the letter we call 2 Corinthians after a painful time. Many of his converts in Corinth had turned against him, biased by a set of teachers Paul dubbed (ironically) the “super apostles.” Seeing his own converts reject him was heartbreaking—but Paul did not let it destroy him. In verse 10, he said he dealt with his struggles by remembering Jesus’ death (which looked like the worst heartbreak of all). But it wasn’t—it became a life-changing victory when he rose from the dead.

  • Paul called this life’s troubles “temporary minor problems.” He wasn’t in denial. He wasn’t trying to convince anyone that it’s great to be confused, harassed or knocked down. But he was clear that the greatest payoffs of serving Christ come in eternity, not now (“an eternal stockpile of glory”). And he was fine with that, convinced eternity was worth it. Are you?
  • Paul expressed his hopeful spirit in verse 16: “we aren’t depressed…. even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day.” Two months (so far) of pandemic cautions and shutdowns feel like forever. Yet like Paul’s earthly troubles they are a drop in the bucket to the long sweep of God’s life-reordering work. How can you let trouble and endurance build character and hope in you (cf. Romans 5:1-4)? How can Paul’s eternal outlook give you more resilience today?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, as your child I live in your eternal kingdom, shaped by your freeing, incredible grace. But I also live with headlines about still rising death tolls and infection rates. I thank you that this world isn’t all there is. I ask you to give me strength to live in your hope. Amen.

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Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, teaching at several seminaries. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

What has sustained you in the most difficult seasons or events of your life? Think back on a time that you struggled over something or someone in your life. Or a time when life just pulled the rug out from under you. As you look back, what allowed you to put one foot in front of the other and keep going? What sustained you through those times? What rooted your life or held it together, even if only barely?

In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes being confused, harassed, knocked down, yet focusing on the “unseen things that are eternal” where “the person we are on the inside is being renewed every day” (v. 16-18).

These “unseen things” that sustain us through hardship have a life that is bigger and more permanent than our immediate circumstances. These unseen realities connect us to a deeper reality that expands our field of vision. Eternal doesn’t mean later. It means the depth dimension of the now.

In my life right now, as I walk alongside my husband in his decline with frontotemporal dementia, it often feels like the ground beneath our feet is crumbling away. Each day brings new losses. At times, I’m heart-broken as he struggles to understand language or recognize faces. For me, in this season of loss, hope looks like living in this depth dimension of the now. I step into this depth dimension when I pause to simply behold his face, much like the way you behold a baby-–amazed at the sheer miracle of his existence. When I connect to the love we have known in our marriage and the greater Divine Love that holds our lives–-I find that both “unseen, eternal realities” cannot be destroyed, even by dementia. This is not a constant awareness, but I get glimpses of it daily. It can pierce through me at times to call me back to the “unseen realities that are eternal,” this larger framework of my life, bigger than this diminishment.

And this diminishment is real. I’m not pretending my husband doesn’t have dementia. I’m not saying you should just ignore the suffering in your life and pretend everything is OK. That sort of deception does not honor God. Quite the contrary. I’m saying that you and I do know suffering and that we also know, deep in our bones, that suffering doesn’t have the final word, suffering is not all there is. Your life has a “more,” a bigger framework, this depth dimension, that is both unseen and eternal. It sustains us through struggle, roots us during storms of life, holds our lives as we fall apart. It reminds us that “the person we are on the inside is being renewed every day”

Take a minute now to be a detective about your past. You have made it through really hard, sometimes devastating things. As you sift through those experiences, now, from a distance, name the life-giving people or words or practices that revealed this depth dimension of your life. Give thanks for these signposts of hope that now point the way.

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