The Unbearable Lightness of Being

* The following was originally delivered as a sermon at the Czech Brethren Church in Česká Třebová on July 26, 2015.

 

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” —2 Corinthians 4:17

I

Milan Kundera was one of the great Czech writers of the 20th century. His greatest work is about something that is inherent in all life. The theme of this book is captured in its title: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

The problem is that this life is the most real and permanent thing we have ever known from experience, and the present moment is as real of a moment as we will ever know.

But there is a strange impermanence about life:

·         It has a beginning and an end

·         It is short

·         It is uncertain.

As a result, we find ourselves in a certain type of despair about our impermanence—about how unbearable our lightness truly is.

We act in response of this situation in different ways.

·         Sometimes we are caught up in the struggle to attain permanence. You can see this on display in the attempt to accumulate more and more things, and money. Or in the cult of youth which is so common today, where people try to stave off the natural wrinkles of time, become forever young.

·         At other times we are simply caught up in the celebration of our impermanence. We say, ‘life is fleeting, and therefore let us go “wherever the wind blows us” and “Carpe Diem” (seize the day) because, “you only live once.”’ There is a sort of scream in this way of responding

·         Most of the time, most of us live something like an agnostic existence. In other words, we throw up our hands at the situation, and simply try to go through the natural course of life without thinking too much about how fleeting it is.

But one day something happens to you that places you face to face with the urgent fact that there is not long left to live. It may be the death of someone close to you—it may be a simple question that pops into your head, that you simply cannot forget.

In the moments we hear the voice of eternity calling out to us. It says to us, “Your life is brief, momentary, and light.” It is unbearably light.

What are we to do when such a voice calls out to us? When we realize that what lies before us is a gaping abyss?

II

When you get to the bottom of it, there are basically three worldviews which characterize all forms of spirituality.

1.       There is the worldview which sees all things as part of the divine. In this view, death is a transition to something else, and a kind of next step for the soul. Usually death is considered to be some kind of escape from the troubles of life, but the afterlife is rather bleak, for example in reincarnation or in the Greek concept of Hades.

2.       There is another worldview which sees a great chasm between the spirit-world and our world. In this view, God is distant. Heaven is far-off, and is the resting place from an evil world. The earth is seen as something to escape, and so the goal is to get to heaven. This view is common in Islam and many versions of Christianity.

3.       But the Bible speaks about a third view about the relationship between the spirit-world and the world we know. It says that God is near, and yet transcendent. It says that the spirit-world and our own are not identical to each other (as in the first view). It says that they are not opposed to each other (as in the second view). Instead this third view says that heaven and earth are “over-lapping and inter-locking.”

In this view, Heaven simply means, “the place where God reigns.” That may be upon the earth or in some other dimension.

In this view, God is actively involved with his creation, and is transforming it even as we gather here today. God is taking a beautiful world that has become broken and scary, and people who are like glorious ruins—and he is renewing them. He is literally making them new, all over again.

It is a strange & wonderful promise.

III

St. Paul speaks of it constantly, and especially in 2 Corinthians. He writes, “17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

An “eternal weight of glory.” Permanence. The very thing that is so unachievable in this life, is promised to us in all its fullness. For this life is light and momentary, and full of affliction. But the life that God speaks about is eternal, and weighty, and glorious. Paul says that such glory is beyond comparison.

That’s such a funny way to talk about something, because he himself has just made the comparison. Upon reflection we realize that he is talking about something like the incomparability of any number, with the number infinity. 

But what is the basis of this hope for a renewed life and creation?

To find out, we have to look closely at Paul’s argument. He begins v. 17 with the word, “because,” which refers us back to the last idea, in v. 16. We notice that v. 17 speaks about why we should not to “lose heart.”

But it refers us back again, because it begins with the word, “therefore.” It means that something he just said provides another reason not to “lose heart.” I believe we find this reason precisely in v. 14. We do not lose heart because we know that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.”

The hope for a new life and creation is found in the resurrection of Jesus, and the promise that we too will be raised up with him. And that we will share in all life, and glory, and joy.

IV

This hope is not available for people who do not love Jesus Christ. It is not available, because it is not their hope. It would be like hoping to become a doctor after university because your friend is studying medicine—even though you are studying literature.

No. You cannot hope in God’s renewal and joining of heaven and earth if you do not follow Jesus Christ.

But for anyone who would follow Jesus, this hope is for your joy. For anyone who would accept the eternal son of God as their own Lord, this hope is ready to meet you wherever you are.

And this hope will not only bring comfort, like the kind wishful thinking that wants all of life to end like a Disney movie. It will indeed bring comfort. But it will also deliver you into the love of God, because it is a hope about something that is real. It is like the hope that the dawn will break in, even in the darkest hour of night.

Because dawn will break through the darkness, and God will renew his creation. The question is whether you want to be part of God’s newness, or want to cling to the unbearable lightness of your being.

 

Mike Littell

July 26, 2015

Česká Třebová, CZ