I came across a TED talk by a man who has been given 2 months to live. He said that it was not okay with him that he was going to die, especially because he had some young kids, but he refused to be morose or become an object of pity. He said that you have to decide once and for all if you are going to be a Tigger or an Eeyore. You know Tigger. The happy bouncy character in Winnie the Pooh? And “the wonderful thing about Tigger is Tigger’s a wonderful thing.” Then there is Eyore. “Well I was going to have a picnic but then I saw some clouds which probably means it’s going to rain so I called the whole thing off.”
This talk got my attention precisely because he was not some motivational speaker charging an arm and a leg to inspire you to walk on hot coals. This guy is DYING. So his words carry weight with me. But they did even more so when I detected the same basic message in today’s Epistle. St. Paul decided to be a Tigger. He 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 momentary light affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
What I see St. Paul doing here is minimizing the negative by maximizing the positive. Or to put it another way, he is bathing his suffering with hope, and Scripture says that hope is the anchor of our souls. His focus is not on his challenges but on his glorious future that he says is beyond all comparison.
I love how St. Paul calls his circumstances a “momentary light affliction.” Later in this Epistle he gives us a rundown of those momentary light afflictions. We read in chapter 11; “Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.”
Any one of those things would have been enough to make me want to quit but not St. Paul. Why? Because, again, his focus was not on the present problems but on his glorious future. What you focus on makes that much of a difference. Think of it this way. The sun is almost 865,000 miles across but you can make it disappear if you hold a quarter close enough to your eye. In the same way we can make our glorious future disappear if we only focus on things that are passing away or on current afflictions.
Lest this sound like another version of positive thinking allow me to offer some theological background. Today we hear the story of the fall but don’t forget the amazing garden that they were placed in and their astonishing role of tending that garden for the Lord. This is what we were made for but the fall changed all that. And yet the fall did not have the last word.
You will recall that the prophets saw a spectacular day in the future when swords would be beaten into plowshares and the lion would lie down with the lamb. In this second letter to Corinth St. Paul makes the case that the kingdom of which he preaches is exactly what the prophets were speaking about.
In Acts Peter is preaching in Solomon’s Portico when he says, “For he (Jesus) must remain in heaven UNTIL the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Hear it again. “Until the final restoration of all things.”
When we go to the Revelation of St. John we get a clearer picture of what the final restoration will look like. This is from chapter 21.“Then I sawa new heaven and a new earth, forthe first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I sawthe holy city,new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God,preparedas a bride adorned for her husband.And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold,the dwelling placeof God is with man. He willdwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, anddeath shall be no more,neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Andhe who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, Iam making all things new.”
A new heaven and a new earth, the healing of the nations, the elimination of pain and sorrow and death, and all that is wrong being made right. The study notes in the English Standard Bible say “and the earth itself will be renewed even beyond the more abundant and productive state it had before Adam and Eve’s fall.” We are not going back to the garden…that one had a snake in it. We will be in a new world that will be more spectacular than we can even imagine.
I read a book called All Things Newthat challenged me to take this perspective a step further. He challenged his readers to make a list of the first three things they want to do at the final restoration of all things. To be honest when I first read that I thought he had gone a bit too far. That seemed a little kooky to me.
But then as I pondered it I realized how helpful that would be. After all we make a list of things we want to do in the future, when that future is a reality to us. For example next week, Lord willing, I am going to Israel as a delegate to GAFCON. So I have already booked a room in Tel Aviv and then I will travel to Jerusalem early Sunday morning to attend church. Then I will find my hotel and attend the conference Sunday evening. Making plans not only makes this upcoming trip more real to me but it also helps me prioritize the things that I need to do before I go.
In a similar manner planning for the final restoration not only makes it more real to us but it helps us prioritize my life here and now. It helps us, as St. Paul said, to focus on things eternal rather than things transient.
So what are my plans for the final restoration? I’ll tell you. I’m going to take God literally when He says that He will restore all things, that “all”means “all.”
First I want to see and speak with those I have loved that have gone before me. My Father passed a few years ago. There is a miscarried child I want to meet. I also have a good number of family and friends that I hope will be there. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Second I want to be reunited with my pets. Some object that there will not be animals in heaven because animals don’t have souls. I’m not even convinced that that they are souless. Why would God restore a new heaven and new earth and leave out the creatures that He made for the first heaven and earth? Besides the four horsemen of the apocalypse have to get their horses from somewhere!
Third I want to go and see the Milky Way. I mean in person! We know that Jesus after His resurrection had a body and ate and drank but He could also come and go as He pleased, even appearing in a room that had locked windows and doors, and then disappearing again. If we get similar bodies and can also come and go as we please I’m going to do a lot of traveling. I want to go to places that I never got to see in this life. And remember, we will live forever, so we won’t need a bucket list. There will plenty of time to do what we want to do.
Now I admit that what I have just spoken about is speculation on my part but I find it fun to dream. Even if I don’t get to see the Milky Way there is no doubt that we are promised a new world and Bishop NT Wrights goes on to say, “In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf.” So the author ends a chapter asking and answering this question. “What will you do in the life to come? Everything you were born to do. Everything you’ve always wanted to do. Everything the kingdom NEEDS you do to.”
I recognize that I have treated this topic somewhat lightly by using the imagery of Tigger and Eyore. I recognize at the same time it has a very sobering side. Hope is not a luxury. Hope is not optional.
This last week we saw the suicide of two very successful and famous people. I was shocked to learn that the suicide rate in the US has increased 40% since 1999 with a peak during the economic crash in 2008. Also in the news almost every day is the mention of our nation’s opioid epidemic. CBS reported that more Americans died just last year from drug overdoses than in the entire Vietnam War. And I would argue that the same hole in the soul that leads to suicide and overdose is what fuels teens turning guns on their fellow students or crazy men shooting up a concert or a church.
Hope is not a luxury. Hope is not an option. I heard the testimony of a soldier who survived the Battan Death March. He witnessed men give up hope and literally roll over in their beds and die. Without this anchor of hope our souls get tossed around by life like a piece of driftwood in a storm. But with this anchor we can weather whatever comes our way and maybe even refer to them as “momentary light afflictions.”
It is the hope of this glorious future, the hope of the restoration of all things, that anchors our soul in this present life. When you grasp the reality of that future there is no way to remain an Eeyore. You simply have to become a Tigger. And then “The wonderful thing about you, is that you’ll be a wonderful thing.”Amen.