“The Highs and Lows of Perspective”
II Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
This morning, emotional upheaval seems to be rampant. Today’s age is marked by heightened duress, medicated depression, violence of various stripes, and many other things that directly link to people’s swinging emotions. While today’s entertainment is supposed to give a “high,” it is always transitory and fleeting. Today’s tensions generate “lows” that either hit the cliff wall or fall into the murky abyss. Solomon declares that life under the sun yields helplessness and hopelessness at times when viewed from the natural perspective. However, though we live with a natural vantage point, we do not have to keep a natural perspective. If all we had was life under this sun, we would be of all men most miserable, but since we have life under a different Son, we can stand with courage and peace rather than helpless and hopeless lives.
Our study verses are what I like to call “perspective texts.” Perspective can be a powerful thing, as we tend to view our perspective as reality. The truth is that reality is reality no matter whether I view it or not. As many ministers have declared, “The truth of Scripture is true whether anyone believes it or not.” If I was blind and could not tell light from dark, my perspective would not have day and night, sun and moon, etc. However, reality is still the same though I would not see it. Perspective governs what and how we think rather than what reality and truth are. Therefore, we should always try to tailor what we perceive to align with the truth rather than suppose that truth aligns with what we see.
Consider the magnitude and power of what Paul declares in these verses. Paul has labored in the context to show that persecutions and problems in this world do not change the truth. Though he and other ministers had suffered for the cause of Christ, nothing changed what God had worked in. The inward man is still renewed day by day no matter how much the outward man perishes. (Verse 16) Right after our study verses, Paul will go on in the next chapter to describe the reality of what awaits after this life. Nothing here changes that. Nothing can hinder it. That is reality. Praise God it is! But, the power of perspective is still clearly shown in these verses. Something is described as light and easy, while something else is described as weighty and powerful. Suffering here is light; eternal glory is weighty. Surely all of us in our right mind would freely confess to this truth. Heaven and immortal glory is go great and majestic that all things here pale in comparison. Paul attested the same in Romans 8:18.
However, though that is the truth, that is not exactly Paul’s point. It may be hard to convey the point to someone in dire suffering here of how light it is. It may be hard to convey the point to someone in the prime of life how weighty and glorious heaven is. Why is this hard to do? To the man dying of cancer whose body is wracked with pain, he sees the affliction as heavy rather than light. To the youth full of vim and vigor, heaven may be a distant thought because so much fun in life is right before him. The perspective determines how meaningful these truths are to the individual. In our present age, I have heard many ministers lament the experience that many of us have that people are not as energized and engaged in the gospel as they should be. However, one of the gospel’s functions is to comfort the child of God. How do you comfort someone who does not feel to need it? As a minister among us is known to say, “You can’t comfort people who are too comfortable to be comforted.”
Paul’s encouragement to this church is to align their perspective to the truth and reality of our suffering and future home. The reality is that suffering is light. The reality is that heaven is weighty. How do we see it? There is a condition. To see it as it should be, we must look at one set of things while ignoring or denying the other. We must set our affection on things above focusing on things that only faith can see. We must look up and above the vain and perishable things of this old world. When we constantly look down at the shifting sands of time, we will fall prey to sorrow, anger, depression, and other emotions that will drive down upon us until our knees buckle under the strain. When we focus our minds unto the hills from which cometh our help, we feel and understand that no matter the bondage here, the release and liberty is better.
When people find out that I am a preacher, I constantly have to field a specific question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Over the years, I have tried to formulate responses that are less offensive than others, and I also try to tailor the wording to the circumstance that they are focused on at the time. However, the simple answer is this. If we ask the wrong question, we will get the wrong answer. In computer programming lingo, “Garbage in equals garbage out.” We deserve nothing good as fallen creatures, and therefore, it is more fitting to ask, “Why do good things happen to any of us?” Grace is the only suitable reply to this question, and what a glorious answer it is!
Yet, let us probe a little further about suffering in this life. First and foremost, suffering in this world is a direct result of sin. To deny this truth is to turn a blind eye to plain Scriptural declaration. Creation’s original state was deemed good and very good by her Creator. The problems all came after the fall of man in the garden. So, no sin, no suffering. But, sin is a reality, and therefore, suffering is seen. Does this mean that suffering in this life cannot do anything good for us? Is all suffering needless and pointless? Not according to Paul in these verses. Yes, we do suffer a lot of needless and pointless things due to our own failings, but the general sufferings of life can actually help arm our perspective. Look at Paul’s specific language. The suffering “worketh for us” that which makes heaven appear weightier. Now, this powerful point will only apply when our perspective is focused where it should be. If someone is doggedly looking down at this life, they will either become despondent or embittered when suffering occurs. The pity parties and the “Why me?” statements will ensue. But, if we meet the condition of looking above, these sufferings actually draw our mind to think of heaven better and brighter than we may have before.
Friends, heaven is more glorious than we can imagine. It is more weighty and majestic than we can possibly consider. However, our minds and spirits get closer to that reality when we look above during the sufferings of this life. To the faithful saint upon his/her deathbed, heaven seems close enough to touch sometimes. As I heard a minister relate recently, a mule plows better when pointed towards the barn than away from it. As he is older himself, he said, “I feel like I’m heading towards the barn. I can see it, and I’m plowing away knowing that it’s getting close.” As we age and the body peels away from us, we can see that glorious city dawning closer and closer. Though I am not an old man by any stretch of the imagination, I can feel things inside me that were likely ignored as a youth. It is that powerful yearning to be home and at rest. To feel this and nurture this perspective, we need to spend our thoughts and moments in things that endure rather than with things that quickly pass through this temporal sod.
Several years ago, I viewed a “computer junkpile.” A company had set up to take old computers to get some of the material still inside them. As I looked at the various models stacked together it dawned on me that at one time these were all the happening new thing. They were the toys of the hour. Yet, looking at them now, they were so old and obsolete. Things of life are that way. New cars get dated quickly. Fashion styles leave and disappear. Today’s news lines tomorrow’s trash cans. Yet, there are things that are just as real today as they were yesterday, and if there is a tomorrow, they will be just as real then and through all eternity. Thinking and looking by faith at these things helps us keep things in frame. One of my favorite verses at the close of Isaiah 40 talks about mounting up like an eagle. Consider that perspective. An eagle flying through the heaven does not see “big” things on the ground as large as I do. His vantage point makes them smaller in sight than I see them from the ground. Yet, no matter how high he flies, the heavens above him are still stretched out grand and seemingly without end. If natural creation becomes bigger looking at those heights, how much more the heaven of heavens? If natural things can look so much smaller, how much more from God’s sight at the foot of His throne? Let us mind the things above, for when we do, our afflictions will be lighter and heaven more heavy. Does cancer still hurt? Sure it does. Can heaven still seem far away at times? Sure it can. However, minding things above will align us better and get us closer to thinking of things the way they really are.