Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our Future Lives

Today's reading had to do with longing for our eternal life and not loving our current life.  Isn't that what this life is about, preparing ourselves for the next life where we are present with Christ for eternity?  That in itself should make us look forward to eternal life.  We also must endure hardships in this life which also should make us focus on the future.  "Whatever kind of tribulation presses upon us, we must ever look to this end: to accustom ourselves to contempt for the present life and to be aroused thereby to meditate upon the future life."  This is something that significantly differentiates us from all other creatures on earth: we look forward to heavenly immortality.  No other animal does this.  Sometimes we are lured back into loving this life too much.  God knows this and assists His people by sending appropriate afflictions to combat particular failings.  Examples that Calvin uses are like someone who is too secure in this world, God may allow him to be robbed or drawn into wars or allow other injuries.  Someone who loves his riches may be subject to fire, flood, theft, exile, or other means to draw his attention back to the future life instead of loving this one.  God wants us to be discontent with this life so we can focus on our future lives.  "For this we must believe: that the mind is never seriously aroused to desire and ponder the life to come unless it be previously imbued with contempt for the present life."

There is no compromise: either we must reject this world or love it.  The present life has many alluring features to make us want to love it, but it is not the present life that we should love.  We often act (and even feel) that this present life will last forever, but clearly it will not.  Like I tell people, there is just about a 1-to-1 ratio for death among people in this life.  It is for our benefit that God reminds us what this world is truly like.  This world has been broken by sin, and we need God to teach us this truth.  "But if God has to instruct us, it is our duty, in turn, to listen to him calling us, shaking us out of our sluggishness, that, holding the world in contempt, we may strive with all our heart to meditate upon the life to come."

Now here is a fine line that must not be crossed.  Although we are called to hold this life in contempt, we must not hold any ingratitude against God.  Even though this life is rife with miseries, we must still count them as blessings from the Father.  These miseries are a preface to eternal glory.  Scripture and nature both exhort us to "give thanks to the Lord because he has brought us into its light, granted us the use of it, and provided all the necessary means to preserve it."  For God has deemed that those who are destined for eternal life must first experience and struggle in life on earth.  We do struggle on earth, but we must be thankful to God for this present life.  These struggles prepare us for our future.

Calvin looks at the attitudes of men without salvation toward birthdays and funerals.  He says that unbelievers who wished that they had never been born or wished to die quickly, that rejoice at funerals and morn at birthdays are of sound judgment (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3).  Calvin says in contrast, believers should despise this current life in comparison to our heavenly lives to come, however, we should never despise life itself.  "Let the aim of believers in judging mortal life, then, be that while they understand it to be of itself nothing but misery, they may with greater eagerness and dispatch betake themselves wholly to meditate upon that eternal life to come."  Later he writes, "For, if heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but our place of exile?"  Although this is a temporary place for us, we must "be prepared to abide in it at the Lord's pleasure, so that our weariness may be far from all murmuring and impatience."

It is natural to fear death.  It is an unknown and I think that is what most people fear about it.  None of us know anyone who has come back from death and told us of his or her experience.  It isn't like taking a vacation to an exotic destination where friends have told you the best sights to see.  However, it is something for Christians to look forward to.  Calvin writes, "But monstrous it is that man who boast themselves Christians are gripped by such a great fear of death, rather than a desire for it, that they tremble at the least mention of it, as of something utterly dire and disastrous."  All life desires to endure, but God loves us in a way that only He can make our lives endure forever.  We should "joyfully await our day of death and final resurrection."  Calvin tells us that we should await the Lord's coming "not only with longing, but also with groaning and sighs, as the happiest thing of all."  This sentence reminded me of our doberman that we lost last year.  When he would climb into our bed and would receive affection from us, he would groan and sigh because to him this was the happiest thing of all.  This image of his happiness, helped me to really appreciate the longing we should have for the coming of the Lord.

We are comforted in this world by the hope of our lives to come.  We can bear the miseries of this broken world knowing that we are going to a perfect world.  "To conclude in a word: if believers' eyes are turned to the power of the resurrection, in their hearts the cross of Christ will at last triumph over the devil, flesh, sin, and wicked men."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.10.1-3.10.6

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