A Different Wasting Away

clay jarsLong before I knew him as the author of Old School, one of my favorite novels, Tobias Wolff was the author of one of my favorite quotes: we are made to persist– that’s how we find out who we are.  Last week I posed the question of what it might look like for us to persist in light of what some perceive to be an interregnum between “ages,” between worlds and ways of life.  This week, I’d like to spend some time drawing some spiritual connections for the contemporary moment, what it might look like to persist as Christians in this particular context.

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This past weekend I was reading a book that made passing mention of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 in the context of the spiritual life.  It’s a famous passage, though perhaps not as famous as Paul’s image ten verses earlier about “this treasure in jars of clay.”  Paul writes:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as 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.

Paul, of course, is writing to particular people in a particular context.  There are certain non-repeatable realities at play in first-century Corinth.  It is clear from the context of 2 Corinthians 4 that Paul and other Christians are experiencing a real “wasting away” of the body/outer self because of persecution and hard work.  At the same time, these many years later, we know (or are learning) what it feels like for our bodies to betray us, even if only from the normal wear-and-tear of life.  But what if the second half of the equation has changed?  What if, instead of daily renewal, we experience a kind of loss in the inner self?  Oswald Chambers, I think, called it “spiritual leakage” that you just don’t notice because the damage is subtle.  What if we have no real sense of the “eternal weight of glory” that we are being prepared for because our “theology of suffering” has itself suffered?  What if, in line with Ephraim Radner, our traversal of the Great Transition has left us with better physical health but with less ability to understand and nurture the necessary inner self?  What if our embrace of things transient has left us with little to no grasp of “the things that are unseen” and eternal?  And  how do we “redirect” ourselves in better ways that call us back to a daily renewal?
(image from neighbourhoodchurch.org)
This entry was posted in Books, Faith, Notes for a World's End. Bookmark the permalink.

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