One recurring theme of my thinking/preaching/blogging has to do with the question, "Who is in charge here?" I regularly have this rekindled when I run across a verse like what I saw in 2 Corinthians 4:1-12 today. It is timely as I am reading Peter Enns' blog and he has asked the question, "Why are you still a Christian?" recently. He comes from a more conservative evangelical background and is wrestling with the issues from that perspective. If you want to take a peak you will find him here:
I was raised in a different stream of Jesus-loving disciples and many of the evangelical "problems" (couched in terms like inerrancy or evolution) are not as big an issue for me. However, the question of believing is existentially a huge one for me. I have wondered if I believe or if I should believe or if I can believe better most of my life. I know faith is a gift but as I have shared before it seems that there is a great deal of effort and struggle involved in receiving that gift. I have known many people who verbalize the desire for faith and bemoan the sad reality that they do not have it. While I am not always sure I trust people's insight into their own hearts (I do not think most people are very adept at it) I cannot say I think they are totally deceived. The reality is, believing does not come easily, especially in our Western culture. Unbelief is common and growing.
Paul reflects on that today. He says that the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. Now such language is rather off-putting and it lends itself to diatribes from religio-warriors. As I tend to overstatement and emotionality, I get Paul. I also know that sometimes it is best to not be too, too woodenly literal. (like when Paul says he is the worst of all sinners) What is Paul's point?
There are basically two kinds of people. One group does not love and serve the Lord. They are in a different kingdom. The other group worships YHWH (later revealed as the Triune God). They recognize that the God (revealed to the Jews) who created all things is the God Who rescued Israel from slavery and made covenant with His people, Who planted them in the holy land and set them up as a light to the nations, and Who seeks to reach the entire world in and through His covenant people. In these last days, the Jewish Messiah (God the Son Incarnate, as it turns out) has come among us, told us the truth about God, suffered and died on our behalf and was raised and exalted as Eternal King. In Jesus, Paul again (2 Cor 4), we see "the image of God" and we have "knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This Jesus proclaimed God's Kingdom is at hand and invited all manner of people to become citizens of the reign of God.
Paul says that his ministry is "by God's mercy" and therefore he "do[es] not lose heart." Why would he lose heart? Every sincere minister gets this! Because people do not respond more enthusiastically. They just do not care about God and His ways as seriously as they should. Most people like salvation talk and blessing talk but they bristle when discipleship talk gets too focused on Jesus' demands (that whole pick up your cross thing, or sell what you have and give to the poor, or that negative harping on repenting of sins).
Why are some on board and others aren't. Paul says that they are blinded by "the god of this world." Such language is stunning. It runs against much of the providence talk I was raised on (and I have written about this a bunch so I do not want to be repetitious here). God may have been able to do it another way, but He has chosen to have a creation which is run by someone else. Among those are humans (given dominion on day one) and the spiritual forces, including the demonic (god of this world here; in John Jesus talks about the "Prince of this World," elsewhere Paul talks of principalities and powers) which hold sway over created reality. God is not (totally) running the show right now. He is present among us. He interevenes and exerts influence and control in places. However, like with that tornado recently, the world runs on its own in many ways. The flesh and the devil have their sway as well. God is NOT running things, He is in the process of redeeming them!!!
The problem of evil is real, it is just misunderstood. For most people the problem of evil is expressed "if God is all powerful why is there evil/suffering." In fact the message of The Book (ta biblia in Greek, or Bible) is that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you (the Jesus follower). Folks, we are not passive victims, we are called to be active warriors. The problem of evil is eradicating evil. The problem of evil is people do not join forces with God in taking a stand against it, taking on their God-given role as co-redeemers ina nd through Jesus, taking on their Holy Spirit-filled vocation as the Body of Christ on earth here and now! The world is under the influence of a god-demon until our Lord establishes His kingdom. We are "not yet" even if we "already" are assured of victory (when the Son/God Incarnate took on human nature and died then rose). We are impatient for the full flowering of that victory (and well we should be) but the angel said that we should stop staring up into heaven for Jesus who has ascended. He will be back, but we await the fullness of the kingdom in God's choice of the time. Until then we live in a world where the dying and perishing live behind a veil, not seeing or understanding (and arguably we who live unveiled still see unclearly as in an ancient mirror). We who trust in Him are called to give ourselves over to the battle, that apocalyptic battle of the children of God vs. the children of the god of this world (the Prince of Darkness). Be clear, for most of us our citizenship is in both worlds. Even those of us who belong to Jesus continue to see the world through the lense of this world. The Truth is twisted and perverted even by us. We are saved by faith/trust in God. We rely on Him. In the meantime, aware of our own brokeness, we humbly proclaim Him. I loved that point Paul emphasizes in 2 Cor 4. We do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus. In the meantime, forgive my failures to do just that! This dual citizenship (serving God and demons) is a constant source of problems, but I look to Jesus for final deliverance.