So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 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.
II Corinthians 4:16-18
Last weekend I had the delightful privilege of co-leading a men’s retreat with my son Rhett (http://rhettsmith.com/about/). In order to underscore our two different generations and thus two different approaches to men’s issues, we each wore our high school letter sweater or jacket. Rhett’s jacket had the year 1993 emblazoned on the side, and my sweater had the long ago year of 1966. Squeezing into my old sweater I was reminded of how much had changed since I last wore it, and how not all the changes were welcomed. I felt the truth of the Apostle Paul’s words in today’s text: “our outer nature is wasting away”.
Yes, I, along with the rest of the Baby Boomers am becoming aware that we are wearing out. I see it when I look in the mirror, and feel it when I ease more slowly out of a chair. I am reminded of a friend who returned from his high school reunion, and complained that everyone had changed so much that they didn’t recognize him! Baby Boomers will spend $114 billion in 2015 in the halting pursuit of the Fountain of Youth and in trying to keep signs of aging at bay.
But it is not just the Baby Boomers who struggle with “our outer nature wasting away”. I have a friend in his twenties who is beginning a second round of chemotherapy. I have another young friend in an endless search for relief from his chronic pain. I hurt for them, and appreciate that they deal with far more than an old sweater that doesn’t fit, or a knee that sometimes aches with the weather. And I wonder what to say, or what to think, as we struggle with the affects of the Fall, as our outer nature is wasting away?
I find some definite help and encouragement in today’s text. Note that Paul says in the face of all of this trouble, “We do not lose heart”. We don’t let ourselves get discouraged by all these outer changes in us because: “our inner nature is being renewed day by day”. Paul is no armchair theorist writing about bodily pain and trouble. In the context of this passage, and just a few verses earlier, Paul acknowledges the frailty our existence:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies (II Corinthians 4:8-10)
Later in this same letter Paul will mention his “imprisonments…lashes…stoning…shipwrecks…floggings… dangers…hunger…thirst…and pressure” (II Corinthians 11:23-28). The frailty of our humanity is not newsworthy. But what is newsworthy, and what is truly amazing, is that in the midst of all that life can throw at us, the inner person is being renewed and getting stronger! Over and over, renewed, and renewed, and renewed! Inwardly God matches step by step the steady wasting of our outer shell.
The outer nature is important! Our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, after all (I Corinthians 6:19). But what is going on inside us is more important. Christianity is far more than a “pie-in-the-sky-religion”. The Spirit of God is at work in us now! God’s work in us is ongoing; renewing everyday, even when it is not immediately apparent. We are being supplied with fresh grace (II Corinthians 4:15), fresh faith (II Corinthians 4:13), and fresh hope (II Corinthians 4:17-18).
The Spirit of God calls us to dig deep in the hard times. To look beneath the surface: “We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary but what can be seen is eternal”.
We may lose sleep, we may lose friends, we may lose our health. But we do not lose heart, because God is at work within us!
Grace and peace,
photo by Rita Smith