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
Young John Keats was a genius tempered by heartbreak and suffering. Just two years before he died from tuberculosis, he wrote to his brother and sister: “Call the world if you please, ‘the vale of Soul-making’. Then you will find out the purpose of the world.”
As one who will frequently ask the purpose of this world, and ask the purpose of pain, I am again and again drawn to this young poet’s turn of phrase and insight into our world. Keats refused to call this world “the vale of tears”, as it was frequently called, but instead thought of it as that place perfectly created for the making of souls. And if souls are to be made in this world then Keats thought his troubles as essential for the refining. Keats continued his letter by asking his brother and sister: “Do you not see how necessary a World of pain and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?”
Often as I visit patients in the hospital, hospice or home, or sit alongside a friend overwhelmed by heartbreak, I am mindful that I am watching souls being made. Often as I struggle in my own life trying to get my thoughts around the trials and troubles, I go back to the modern classic, Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Wolterstorff is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, who writes tenderly of his wrestlings with his son’s death in an accident. Wolterstorff tells of lessons learned from pain: “In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.”
I read today’s Scripture text and it occurs to me that the great Apostle Paul sees this world as a vale of soul-making. He writes: “this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure”. Although Paul writes in the midst of “affliction…perplexity…persecution…and being struck down” (II Corinthians 4:8-9), he refuses to be discouraged. “We do not lose heart”, he declares.
I would never have thought of describing Paul’s afflictions as he describes them: “light affliction”. But Paul sees all afflictions, when weighed on heaven’s scales, as “light” compared to the “weight” of glory that awaits us. Put side by side there is no comparison.
Paul reminds us that as followers of Christ, our soul, or “inner nature”, is “being renewed day by day”. In the midst of fiery affliction we sense that we are being prepared for something, something big. God is preparing us for the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. We fix our eyes on things which cannot be seen, on things that are eternal and lasting.
C. S. Lewis is a writer who helps me better see this world and its afflictions in light of the glory to come. In Lewis’ children’s novel, The Final Battle, he writes about the end of time when Aslan, the Christ-figure, leads the children of the story into his country. As the children enter with Aslan into the Real Narnia, they symbolize Christ’s followers entering with Christ into glory:
For us this is the end of all stories… But for them it is only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world…has only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever and in every chapter is better than the one before.
Don’t lose heart!
photo by Fabiana Zonca