Torn Between Two Desires

[reprinted from November 30, 2009]

— Henry Neufeld
1For we know that if this earthly body that houses us is destroyed, we have a place to live that comes from God, an eternal place to live that is eternal and not made by hands. 2For while we are in this body we groan, wanting to put on that body that is from heaven. 3For if it happens that this body is taken off, we won’t be naked. 4We do indeed grown, weighed down by this earthly body, because we don’t want to take it off, but to put on the new one, so that the corruptible can be swallowed up in the immortal. 5God has been working in us to accomplish this very destiny. He is the one who has given us the Holy Spirit to prove to us what he is doing. — 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (HN)

It’s advent season, in one sense the season of waiting—waiting for Jesus. Christians are used to waiting, though we can’t really get happy with it. Christians have expected the return of Jesus for nearly 2,000 years.

We also like to get things clear. When will the Messiah come? “Soon” doesn’t work all that well for us. We’d like a date, just like the Israelites would have liked in their time. There’s the struggle of waiting and being faithful where we are, while at the same time we stretch ourselves forward for what can be. Waiting and uncertainty are not popular. We are like Tolkien’s hobbits. He says that they liked books filled with lots of things they already knew set down plainly without contradiction. But our walk with God is often filled with uncertainties and paradoxes, and we have to deal with them.

As we grow older, I suspect we think of this more. There’s going to come an end to this life. There will be a last breath here, and then the next one will be in the kingdom. There are those who think that if one really believes in the afterlife, a place that is much better than this one, one should be in a hurry to get there. Perhaps not suicide—no mortal sins please!–but a certain amount of risk taking would be in order. Let’s get it over with and get to the other side!

But Paul points out the struggle that we all have. We have this one. We don’t necessarily feel safe losing it to be replaced with the heavenly body that Christ will provide. It’s a constant struggle, and Paul doesn’t try to pretend it’s anything else. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t instantly yell out “Hallelujah” the instant someone talks about Jesus coming, perhaps even today. There are lots of other people out there who feel much the same way. It’s just not “holy” to admit it.

We kind of like our lives here. We enjoy them and we don’t want to lose them. And that’s not a bad thing. God is preparing us for that new body, that great future, and as the first payment he has provided is with the Spirit. We truly are people divided between two kingdoms. The Spirit is working in us to prepare us for eternity, and at the same time we are enjoying this present life.

Advent is a good time to be torn. It’s not unnatural. That conflict is appropriate. Notice that Paul uses the word “we,” and he’s talking about his mission and ministry. Advent is, in many ways, the essence of the Christian life. We are in one world, longing for, waiting for, the next.

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