What are we to make of ESP, extra-sensory perception? Some claim they perceive things beyond the five senses, hence the expression “Sixth Sense.” Is it possible some people have a gift to glimpse another world, or another dimension beyond this one?
The pericope presented before us by the apostle Paul says, in principle, “Yes.” At the close of chapter 4, he writes: “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” This is a remarkable statement, something which the preacher will want to exploit since it relates so directly to our faith — the unseen Christ present with His people in Word and Sacrament. To begin with, it is self-contradictory. If something is unseen, how can you fix your eyes on it? It seems there must, in fact, be a gift of extra-sensory perception which is not given to all people, but we Christians, in fact, have such a gift. Those created in Christ Jesus are able to fix our eyes on what is unseen. Elsewhere, the same apostle speaks of, “Seeing through a glass darkly,” like glimpsing just the dim reflection of what we will one day see face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13). He wrote that about love, which may come closest to feeling some sort of extra-sensory perception, since such divine love possesses epistemic content not easily described. Sometimes we know the love we have for another and the love they have for us, though we would be hard-pressed to say exactly how we see it, or hear it, or taste it, or smell it, or touch it. It is trans-empirical. We perceive it in another way. We know it in another way — a way of perceiving and knowing far deeper and richer than empirically or rationally, a way more human and, at the same time, more divine.
For the baptized, this is precisely what trust is. According to the letter to the Hebrews 11, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
So, Paul is insisting on two things. Firstly, there is something else. There is, in this case, a world, a realm, a dimension beyond this one and the two dimensions comprise reality as we know it. Secondly, Christians in particular can perceive it. Therefore, we fix our eyes on what is not seen.
As for the life which is ordinarily seen, it is a temporary thing. “Outwardly,” he says, “we are wasting away.” Paul sees beyond the moment, fixing our eyes on unseen things. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed daily. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” This life is the temporary and passing and wasting forerunner of the real, eternal, and glorious reality.
This life is the temporary and passing and wasting forerunner of the real, eternal, and glorious reality.
That does not mean this life in unimportant. Just the opposite, in fact. Seeing the eternal dimension behind our lives shows us it has purpose and is not just a random series of meaningless events. It shows us God made this life, entered it in Christ to reconcile it to Himself, and finally is taking it to a goal — the redemption of Earth itself and the ultimate unveiling of the integration of Heaven and Earth. He brings the values of eternity, the mind of God we glimpse in the unseen. Bringing that into the world hallows and honors the world more than anything else could.
But the glimpse of the divine dimension we have seen in Christ also colors our view of this world. It transforms our life in the world. For one thing, it puts the material into perspective. The material (and it bears repeating again) is important. It is especially important to those who have insufficient amounts of it, but it is not in itself the point (if I can put it that way). “The pagans run after all these things,” explained Jesus, “Seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
That is the assurance of Jesus and it preaches well.
For a specific application, or a situation in normal life where the vision of the unseen changes a view of the material, Paul gives us an example when he writes: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or with gold or pearls or expensive clothes.” Now, let us hear him out, because he goes on, “But with good deeds appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” His point is not that he particularly objects to braided hair or jewelry since the whole message of our text is how such material things are not finally important. Rather, his point is that a person’s vision can be limited, and then their priorities will be wrong. It is not that pride in personal appearance is wrong, but it has to do with the temporary and the wasting away and an earthbound vision which can see no further.
It is not that pride in personal appearance is wrong, but it has to do with the temporary and the wasting away and an earthbound vision which can see no further.
These are outward preparations belonging to a temporary world. What about taking the same care over the things belonging to the eternal world? In this case, good deeds appropriate to those who profess to worship God. What about preparing those jewels that adorn the life of faith with such meticulous attention? What about looking past the earth’s joys which grow dim and whose glories fade away to cultivate an inner beauty as well?
As the text says, “Inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” So, while outwardly we waste away, inwardly God renews us. Day by day we are rejuvenated, not cosmetically, but really and inwardly. And the life that is eternal is sustained by the gifts of God, as if every day we are cleansed again in the water of our baptism and re-clothed in Christ.
There is one further thing. Eyes which are fixed on what is unseen will see the whole world in a different way. The vision of the unseen is penetrating into the world that is seen, so that, as our text has it, “The grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” It is grace reaching more people. What is unseen becoming more visible to more souls, and more visible to those who see as in a glass darkly. It is the eternal taking hold of the temporary, inwardly being renewed day by day.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1.