So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV))
Last week, we talked about the importance of deciding what is eternal. My search started by looking at the evidence for believing that stuff is eternal. I found that it took as much faith to believe there is no God as it did to believe in God. I was stuck in the middle with too little faith to move in either direction. I became a believer because I was at the right place at the right time. I had decided that, even if I wasn’t ready to decide about “religion,” going to church was a good habit. So, I went. At the end of each service, the minister would ask people to come forward if they wanted to accept Jesus as their savior. One Sunday, I felt the urging to respond and my life has never been the same.
My “accidental” conversion didn’t take away my questions. Though, I found that my search for answers had helped me refine the questions that science or religion would need to answer. When I looked at Jesus’ claims again, his answers seemed to be a more satisfying response and required no more faith than believing the scientific explanations. For example, believing that God created the universe made as much sense as believing the universe had created itself. Believing God created life made as much sense as believing life sprung spontaneously from the chaos of the self-created universe. And, believing God gave us the moral laws made as much sense as believing the moral law is just one more piece of our evolution from one-celled organisms to complex societies. I had decided that God is eternal, that he has always existed and will always exist.
As I said last week, this discussion of the eternal is important when you dig into this week’s verse. In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he talks about the trials that he and the other Christian leaders had experienced. It is a theme he returns to several times in the letter. He sets up those descriptions with this explanation for why the hardships had not caused him to give up:
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV))
Paul is saying that our view of the eternal should determine how we respond to life’s day-to-day trials and hardships. Let’s take three examples from our discussion of the eternal. The first view is that matter is eternal. Could we take Paul’s view of our hardships if we believed only in an eternal universe in which life happened by accident? I don’t see how we could. We couldn’t say that our hardships and momentary trials are achieving for us an eternal glory. We would need to acknowledge instead that, if matter is eternal, the future isn’t very bright. Our bodies will run down and die just as the universe will eventually run down and die. What we do today doesn’t matter and has no purpose. I have heard folks try to mask this reality by saying things like, “The Universe willed it to happen.” Like the universe has a consciousness and the ability to manipulate people and events. Unfortunately, if someone denies the existence of the spiritual world, saying the universe willed something to happen is like saying your refrigerator willed something to happen. The first way sounds very grand and mystical, but it has the same meaning as the second. If matter is eternal, there is no basis for hope in the future because we can see already that the universe will end badly.
Many people take another approach. Rather than deciding whether God or stuff is eternal, we allow our day-to-day experiences to shape our thinking about what is eternal. This is the land of perpetual indecision where I found myself when my search for the eternal had stalled. If we have a good day and things happen that we like, we believe there may be a god or some greater power watching over us. Though, we don’t have a good definition of what that god or higher power might be. If we have a bad day and bad things happen, we believe there is no god, or at least no god we want to know or trust. We become a ship that has slipped its moorings. Instead of remaining steady in the storm of life, we are tossed about by waves of doubt, trials, and hardships.
By fixing our eyes on the eternal God, we tie our ship to a pier that will not move as we ride out the storm of life. Our connection to God is the source of the “peace that passes understanding” Paul talks about in his letter to the Philippians. We can have great hope if we follow Paul’s admonition to fix our eyes on the eternal. When we view the world through the lens of belief in an eternal God who created us and redeemed us, we understand that what we see and experience now will pass away and that which is now unseen, the kingdom where God reigns, will continue forever and we will be there with Him.