I sometimes wonder if, when I get to heaven some day, there’ll be a long line to see people like the Apostle Paul. Perhaps a longer line than some other folks in the Bible. It’s sort of like going to an amusement park, which I love, other than the fact that inevitably at the theme parks the best rides always have the longest lines and hence we can’t enjoy the best rides as much. Perhaps (and I know this isn’t Biblical, it’s allegorical) the most sought-after people in the Bible would have a longer line … for me, that would definitely include Paul. But there might be another person whose line might be longer in my opinion. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Paul impresses me for so many reasons. Yeah, he wrote some of my favorite books of the Bible. But perhaps more than that, the WAY he wrote and the topics about which he wrote are what mark me deeply. Case in point … this week I read from 1 Corinthians 15 to 2 Corinthians 4 … in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Paul writes:
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
What I love about Paul is that he was able to go through some of the most unimaginable experiences of pain, beatings and so on, and still maintain a kingdom orientation. That is, he retained a perspective that seems at times superhuman. Through his pain, God allows us to experience healing; through his struggles, God allows us to see perseverance; through his viewpoint, God allows us to see hope. Could you imagine the amazing conversation one could have with such a person? That’s why I suspect there will be a huge crowd and line of folks to wait to meet him, me included.
Beyond just the conversation, when we encounter people whose behavior and example betray conventional wisdom, it’s attractive. Because they don’t just adapt to the worst that life can sometimes offer, they adjust their line of sight. They just see life differently.
Paul was one of those types, and Timothy along with him. Throughout Paul’s letters, he delineates the horrors that befell them throughout their missionary journeys. But he also provides a new line of sight when he reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4 that while our bodies may be subjected to the unthinkable, our spirits are fortified. Their line of sight is not on the here and now, but on the soon to come eternity. Note that he doesn’t look past his woes … he acknowledges the difficulties as just that … difficulties. He doesn’t ignore the troubles, he sees them in their proper light.
Another example came to my attention this week in the form of a person I’d heard about and read about for a number of years, but whose story resurfaced this week. Something tells me someday in heaven, there’ll be a crazy long line to see him, too. Jake Olson has experienced hardships that nearly 100 percent of us have never experienced and will likely never experience. Click here for a video encompassing Jake’s story (and you’ll probably understand why it’s so close to my heart … haha).
As a young boy, Jake lost an eye to retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina. At age 12, Jake lost his other eye to the disease. While it’s mind-blowingly difficult to imagine losing one of our eyes, worse yet two, Jake lives on with the notion that cancer was the cause, and with cancer, we never have predictability with where it decides to invade next. For Jake, it could be just a matter of time.
Rather than quit on life, and an existence of perpetual bitterness, disappointment and depression, Jake simply changed his point of view, his line of sight (puns intended). He played football and golf in high school (yes, you read that correctly), and ultimately earned a scholarship to college. Just today, he participated in his first college football practice. Did I mention he has lost both eyes and can’t see?
People like Jake (and Paul and Timothy … and others in the Bible) don’t just accept their plight. They change the way they see it. It isn’t bad luck, or life dishing out healthy portions of torment, it’s purpose, it’s (eternal) impact, and it’s (God’s) kingdom-building. These types of people don’t assent to their circumstances, they joyfully (not to be confused with happily) envelop themselves in their circumstances.
Let me be crystal clear. I am not Jake or Paul or Timothy. I don’t pretend to be of the character of either of them sufficiently to be able to accept Jake-like conditions with a modicum of joy. I’m just not there. I guess in fairness I have no idea how I would respond to being Jake, because I’m not Jake and never will be. I can’t walk even a few feet in his shoes. What I can do is what I think God wants those of us who read about Paul, Timothy, Jake and others like them … I can learn from them, be shaped by them, and seek to shape others through them. He wants us … through these incredibly strong characters … to “fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen,” and trust that the “the things we cannot see will last forever.”
God doesn’t do anything on accident. He doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t say, “oops!” That’s not a word in His vocabulary. This is what Paul meant. There’s an eternal, timeless perspective that must be employed to understand why Paul’s, Timothy’s, Jake’s, and others’ stories are not tragedies but triumphs. That’s God’s perspective, and through Paul, He reminds us to seek the same. But it requires a different line of sight than what we normally carry around.
This week, let’s ask God not to remove our eyesight, but just like he did with Jake, to enhance it. But we should brace ourselves, because in the enhancement comes travails. Hence, let’s ask him not just for the change, but for the strength to embrace the change and envelop ourselves in it.
As for Jake … let’s not fool ourselves to think that he’s happy to have lost his eyesight. I don’t think that’s likely. He probably doesn’t wake up in the morning and say, “thank you God, for removing my eyes.” But I do think he has joy … I think he still thanks God for myriad things … I think God’s blessed him with perspective to replace his eyesight. I think God’s granted Jake an improved line of sight. And with that, I think he sees better than most of us. Tell you what, I plan to wait in a super long line some day (probably a long while from now) in heaven to ask him.
Soli Deo gloria!