I am a three-dimensional creature living in four dimensions, but I’m in love with an infinite Savior who has no dimensional limitations at all. As futile as it seems, I want to understand as much of Him as I can. He wrote me a Book which explains quite a lot, but even so it’s not easy to grasp the more trans-dimensional truths in it, such as grace and justice, predestination and freewill, death and life. I study and slowly grow in my understanding, knowing I will not fully comprehend until my limitations are shed and I am immortal. The living of my brief planet-side life is permeated with the fragrance of eternity. Christians do not view success, money, love, problems or suffering in the same way as those who cannot see beyond the grave. Persecutions, perplexities and paradoxes ensue.
A great passage for illustrating the paradoxes we experience is 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. I call it Paul’s List of Nines. He is writing to the church at Corinth about what they can look forward to as servants of God. First he lists nine things they (we) are likely to endure: “ afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” I can only put a check mark by a couple of those so far, but I try to stay familiar with the list for future reference.
Next Paul provides nine strategies for enduring these perplexing things. My old nature thinks the list should include a hearty supper, a softer pillow, a good defense lawyer, and so on. But Paul says to endure “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.”
Wow. There’s our lifetime assignment right there. Live with purity. Acquire knowledge. Develop patience and kindness. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Act in love, always speaking the truth. Ask for the power of God in your life, and fight with the weapons of righteousness. Hopefully as I live day by day, I am maturing in these things, and thus becoming more able to endure whatever I must in a way that’s pleasing to my Creator. I might still buy a new pillow, though.
Notice Paul’s emphasis is not on making the hard stuff go away (rats!), but on responding to it in a way that glorifies God. Perhaps our patient and powerful endurance of horrible circumstances will draw others to Jesus. We can’t know the full effect of living this way until we’re promoted to glory. Until then it will often seem a torturous effort, a waste, a failure. Paul understands, and encourages us to look at it from a different angle, a very wide angle that includes our earthly life and our trans-dimensional eternal life.
As an encouragement Paul lists for us nine paradoxes of obedience:
1. Honor and dishonor: a few of us may be honored on earth, but more likely we will suffer dishonor. But we WILL be honored before God if we are faithful.
2. Slander and praise: People will slander my name. But the sound of my Jesus saying, ‘well done, good and faithful servant,’ is the only praise I crave.
3. Treated as imposters, yet we are true: Even if I live a transparent life of trust in God, I may be labeled a hypocrite. But I know and God knows that I am true to Him.
4. Unknown yet well known: I am content to be unknown in the world, because my Creator knows every atom of my being and every thought in my mind before I do. He knows me far better than I know myself, and loves me anyway.
5. Dying, and behold, we live! Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25) Just bring on those paradoxes. I’m loving them.
6. Punished, and yet not killed: Yeah. Humans could punish me most horribly. They could even kill me, but not really. See the John 11 verse above.
7. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing: Go back a bit in 2 Corinthians to chapter four. Paul says that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” Read that whole passage for practical help in keeping suffering in perspective.
8. Poor, yet making many rich: Earthly riches may not come our way, but if we are telling the people around us how much Jesus loves them, we are sharing inexhaustible wealth.
9. Having nothing, yet possessing everything: Might our obedience to Christ cost us everything? Might we lose our jobs, our homes, our reputation, our freedom, and even our lives? Of course, we very well could, as have multitudes of our brothers and sisters before us. But then we are joint heirs with Christ, children of the Creator of the universe, and we will for eternity possess EVERYTHING. I’ll take my nothing now, and everything later. The reverse option is not for me.
I hope you will get familiar with Paul’s List of Nines and ponder the paradoxes in them. You may begin to get a faraway look in your eyes. That’s because you’ll be looking at Jesus, and at your glorious, unlimited, free, magnificent forever future with Him.