I have been contemplating eternity this week. Why only just this week? That’s my main question.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 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 Cor. 4:16-18, NIV)
I have been immersed in 1 Corinthians 4 this week, reflecting on prayer and the eternal. What has captivated me in this prayerful walk has been Paul’s long view. I read these verses, look up Greek definitions, ponder the context, and many times I have simply asked tearfully, “Paul, what did you SEE?”
How was he able to move past the beatings and imprisonment, the hatred and the rejection, to a place where he dismissed all of it as temporary, then declared he had his eyes on what was eternal.
What did he see?
I reflect on this passage and find myself heading into the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a time to commemorate the work of Dr. King. It is a time to reflect on what has been done in civil rights… and the long journey still to go.
One of my favorite audio clips of Dr. King is his very last speech. The night before he was assassinated he gave a message at a church in Memphis, TN and those last moments are iconic. Chilling. Moving.
I will reflect on his powerful treatise, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, this weekend.
I will take to heart once again his powerful words he could have written directly to me:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
The life of Dr. King, his work, his example will keep on pushing me.
But I read the text of his last message as well. As I look over those words and hear him say them, I am struck by a man who, like Paul, understood the eternal. He saw the long road ahead in civil rights and somehow knew his journey would be over. But he was not weighted down by the journey still ahead. He was lifted up by what Paul called the “eternal weight of glory.” He saw the city whose builder and maker was God.
He knew the struggle still to come:
The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.
He knew the hope:
Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
He could SEE beyond the temporary struggles. In this passage, he refers to Bull Connor, a sheriff in Alabama who brutally attacked blacks in the south without regard to “human rights”:
Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.
Dr. King didn’t have in mind just a law. He didn’t have in mind just a court decision. Martin Luther King, Jr. had in mind what was eternal. THAT is what kept him going. He could not lose sight of the eternal.
I don’t have the struggles of Paul or Dr. King. Struggles I may have are generally struggles of my own making.
But I read the words of Paul. I read the words of Dr. King. And tearfully ask, “Please tell me! What did you SEE?”
The struggle for civil rights and equality that has demands far beyond any law or court decision cannot be fought with just the temporal in mind. We need sight of the eternal. We need the church to be the church of Jesus Christ once again. It is the church that would lead the way in Dr. King’s day. He could see the eternal and that is what propelled him. If we only see a fight right in front of us, we think that is a “weight.” Dr. King, with Paul, would say, “No. That is temporary. That is light.”
No matter the struggle we face, there are those who walk with God who have their eyes fixed on something different than everyone else. They see.
That is what drives me to my knees as I continue to walk through this passage. I cry out constantly, “What did you see?”
Lord, help me see!