And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! ...If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." -- 1 Corinthians 15:30-32
This is another one of Paul's theses that I find difficult: if there is no life after death, no eternal reward of living in Heaven to look forward to, why work so hard? As he says in verse 17, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
I can understand Paul's words here better when I think of the hard life Paul had as a follower of Christ. His life was full of sacrifice, physical hardship, trials, and prison. He clearly looked forward to an afterlife that was free of all of these things. And, to be fair, in the later letters of Paul, he shares more of his sense of the blessings that are found in this life. In Philippians especially, he is not sure which is more bountiful, this life or the afterlife: For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. (1:21-22)
So, perhaps I should just overlook Paul's depressing sentiments regarding this life on earth which are found in the readings for today. I am not an expert on Paul. Perhaps if I studied his writings more thoroughly I would have a more complete understanding of his theology. However, I will explore this idea more because I think many Christians today echo Paul's sentiments in 1 Corinthians, Ch. 15. They disregard life on earth. They live for the afterlife. As if we are in a holding pattern here on earth, and our true lives will be lived only after we die.
But then if that is true, why did Jesus teach us so much about how to live our lives on earth? Why are we taught to live more deeply attuned to the needs of others? Are we taught these things so that we will be rewarded in the afterlife? If this is the case, if that is why we follow Jesus, then I would say that our motives are suspect.
Christ helped people, healed people, and taught people, because he had compassion for them. His motivation was love, pure and simple -- not gain. He did not die for us in order to be raised from the dead. He died for us because he loved us. But first, he lived abundantly, because he loved us.
We, too, are to grow in love and compassion for others so that we might attain the same love that Christ had. That in itself is our reward. The peace and joy which come from this kind of selfless love is our reward for following the way Jesus taught. This is abundant life, because it is life lived with and in and through Jesus Christ, who lived with and in and through God. "You know him, for he dwells in you, and will be in you...."; "Abide in me and I in you."; "And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 14:17, 15:4, 17:3).
This all reminds me of the story I read to my children last night: James Thurbers' "Many Moons." The King's daughter wishes for the moon -- it will help her feel better. The King, not knowing how to get the moon for his daughter, asks his Chief Advisor to get it. The Chief Advisor knows it is impossible to get the moon because the moon is too big and too far away. So, the King asks the Wizard to get it. The Wizard knows it is impossible to get the moon because it is even bigger and further away than the Advisor thought. Then the King asks the Mathematician. The Mathematician knows it is impossible to get the moon because it is even bigger and further away than the Wizard thought. Only the Jester thinks to ask the King's daughter how big and far away the moon is. It turns out that the moon gets caught in the branches of the tree outside her window every night, is about as big as her thumb, and is made of gold. It turns out that it is possible to have the moon, and to wear it around your neck, even.
Eternal life is not something far away in Heaven, unattainable until after we die. Eternal life is within reach and attainable in this life. All we need do is desire to love God as God loves us.
Dear Heavenly Father, fill me with an everlasting desire for you. And help me to grow in love and compassion for all. Love always, Pam