October 31, 2005

Eternity is not the Present

Josh Kerr argues in a recent post that "...eternity is here and now. If I miss that--if I miss the present--then I've missed everything."

In a dissenting comment, Adria remarks that:

I think the idea of acting for now is important. I think forces every action to be important, instead of distant consequences.

Simultaneously, though, I've always believed that I'm running with endurance the race marked out for me, and that I'm running in such a way as to get the prize.

I have to agree with Adria. It seems to me that Josh is confusing the possibility of the joy and blessings in the Christian Walk on earth in the present with future rewards and joys in the next world. Both are available to the believer, but they are not the same thing.

Regarding future rewards and joy, as Adria already pointed out, Paul does not simply present us with a view to the present. He provides analogies and examples of enduring present suffering with future blessing in mind.

First, there is the example of the race:

1Co 9:24-27 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Paul speaks not of running the race for the races sake or because the race itself is enjoyable. Rather he speaks of running the race explicitily for future gain. To reinforce the analogy, he clearly compares it to a races familiar to the people of the time in which the winner received a "corruptible crown" of leaves that shortly withered and died. Those who ran did not win the crown by virtue simply of running. Indeed, only 1 of many received the crown. Furthermore, even the winner did not receive the crown while running. Certainly, the very act of running can be enjoyable at times, but that does not mean that the joy and blessing of running is the same as the joy and blessing of winning a race or the rewards of victory. Thus, it also seems falacious to me to assume that the rewards Paul speaks of are necessarily the same rewards as we currently enjoy.

Second, Paul points to the example of previous faithful men (Heb. 11) and Christ's own example:

Heb 12:1-2 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Frankly, I do not care how you look at it, but I would not consider the shame and torment of the crucifiction, the agony of Him who knew no sin becoming sin for us, or this list of tortures:

Heb 11:36-38 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

to be the kind of rewards we are promised or that Paul is referring to. Josh attempts to address this problem here:

Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear. Why? Because of the presence of God. Because of God's present comfort. Because God prepares for us a table in the very presence of our enemies. The shadow is of what is to come; the fear is of the possible future. But the prize is here, and now. Christ doesn't not promise us Christ's eventual presence: "Lo, I will be with you eventually, if you tough it out." Rather, Christ promises us love, which is always present. Love takes no record of the past, nor suspect of the future. Love is always a relatedness oriented toward the present. Greater love is that which lays down its life: completely present, giving up all claim to the future. The greatest form of love is not that which promises something later, if things go well. "If you can just suffer through this painful time, I'll love you again." Such are not the assurances of Christ.

However, while we need not fear and we have His love, we are promised much more than that! One must also be careful not to confuse one blessing with all blessings and NOTHING can separate us from the Love of God, that is not what this discussion is about at all. This is about enduring the refining fire of the difficult times of the present with the perspective of eternity rather than exclusively the present.

Paul presents some of the future blessings we will receive here:

Rom 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

1Co 3:12-15 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Rom 8:17-18 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

First, we are promised the redeption of our bodies at His coming. Second, the rewards of works. Certainly, obedience to God and good works have their own inherent reward in the present, but more than that is promised. Third, we are promised joint-heirship with Christ if so be that we suffer with him. That is, heirship and blessing is promised to all, but only those who endure the race receive the greatest rewards. Not all that we receive in this life is the prize. We have also to endure the suffering of life in a cursed world.

The present is not everything and can often be less than desirable, even if there is comfort available even for the darkest of times. However, the suffering of the present is not all that is not everything. Eternity is NOT here and the present is NOT everything. Eternity will not be more of the same, but something quite different, even if it includes some familiar features (such as God's love).

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