Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Look to the Unseen

In an age of rationalism, secularism, and an inordinate reliance on “science” to give us all the answers to the riddles of the universe, St Paul’s advice to “look to the things that are unseen” (2Cor. 4:18) may seem antiquated or irrelevant. Yet it is essential to the life of faith and hope, and hence to salvation.

He says a little further on that we walk by faith, not by sight. Faith is a kind of sight, however, yet not a bodily sight, for it looks to the Unseen. To live merely on the level of the senses is to resign oneself to a life that is ultimately unsatisfying and that leads to disintegration and despair. We are all in a slow process of aging and dying (though more noticeable to some than to others), but we don’t want to look at that, don’t want to know what our lives ultimately mean and where we are headed. The great health craze of the past couple decades—health clubs, “anti-aging” nutritional supplements, sex-enhancing drugs, the sort of self-hypnotism by which people positively-think they will be young and healthy for many decades to come—has its deepest foundation in the fear of death, though no one wants to come out and say it. It’s a symptom of a widespread loss of faith, loss of hope in the true and everlasting life to come—a giving up on looking to the Unseen. (We ought to take reasonably good care of our bodily health, but for too many it is practically an obsession. Physical health is not the primary or ultimate value of this life, as the saints will readily testify.)

St Paul’s Christian realism does not duck the inevitable decomposition of our mortal frames, does not deny the intimations of death that manifest in the sufferings of this life. But he injects them with faith and hope. “We have this treasure [i.e., “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God”] in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. 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 manifest in our bodies” (2Cor. 4:7-10).

What is his response to this state of affairs? “We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction [to discover Paul’s “slight momentary affliction” see 2Cor. 11:23-28] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (4:16-18).

Paul was a man who knew where he came from and where he was going. He would be horrified and nauseated (probably in that order) by the moral relativism, self-absorption, godless hubris, and myopic spiritual vision (if there’s any at all) of the present age. He was a man seeking the fullness of life, and he knew—by experience as well as by faith—that it could only be found in “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Therefore he wasn’t interested in “the things that are seen,” that is, the passing attractions, cheap seductions, or material advantages of this life. He strained forward, pressed on, “that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of me” (see Phil. 3:12-16).

So, let us not lose heart. Even though we may seem to be wasting away, if we believe in Christ and have hope for eternal life our inner nature is being daily renewed. Know where to look; know whence come peace, courage, joy and eternal blessedness. Look to the Unseen, for before too very long “Christ our life will appear, and you too will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4). Then begins the life that is life indeed.