Earthly Tents

A reflection upon:

"For we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands.

Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling,

since, when we have taken it off, we will not be found naked.

Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life.

Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment." -II Corinthians 5:1‭-‬5

Paul uses some funny illustrations to approach and address a very weighty topic/subject matter. His purpose when writing to the Corinthian church with this section of his letter was to get them to take their focus off of this life and to exercise their thoughts on God's Kingdom which is reserved in heaven.

In order to do this, Paul uses an analogy in which he likens our life on earth to tents [which the apostle Peter also uses when alluding to his approaching death in II Peter 1:13-14], whereas our heavenly dwelling is likened to a building built by God Himself. And Paul uses this imagery coupled with the apostles' example of life to convey how a mature Christian's mindset ought to look like: having a strong desire to put off our tents as we contemplate the heavenly dwelling. Paul uses a phrase to put things into better perspective for the church when speaking/describing their [the apostles'] life on earth:

"Indeed, we groan in this tent..."(2a)

And again,

"Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent.."(4a)

There are interesting things that we can surmise when examining Paul's writing from a writer's perspective. In Jewish literature, when an author desired to bring acute attention to something they would often repeat a word or phrase to ensure that the reader would comprehend the significance of what was said- "Verily, verily I say unto you", or "O Lord, Lord", etc.

The fact that Paul re-iterates himself means that he wants to draw us in and make sure the church didn't miss what he wanted them to know concerning the apostle's lives on earth. And notice how Paul begins his statement- both times he begins with "Indeed.." This is a word used both as a means of confirmation- "What I'm about to say is true", as well as a way to draw emphasis to- "listen closely to what I'm about to say."

We can now see that the apostle Paul wants us to pay close attention to the defining attribute which characterizing the life on earth for an apostle and minister of Jesus Christ [continuing from the context of the previous chapter], which is:

"We groan.."

In both instances when referring to the response to their life on earth, Paul summarizes it not in a page, not in a paragraph, nor sentence, nor even a phrase. No, he summarizes the essence of their life on earth with a single word: groan. When we think of the word "groan", we typically think it means complaining- "Oh man, you wouldn't believe so-and-so, they kept groaning all day and wouldn't shut up!" And although that is often associated to the term, the usage in the original Greek here [στενάζω] is defined as such:

1. Make a deep inarticulate sound in response to pain or despair.

2. (of a thing) make a low creaking or moaning sound when pressure or weight is applied.

In other words, it's the noise or cry which is produced as an innate response to intense and deeply felt inner pain and despair- or, hopelessness.

Looking at the imagery Paul uses once more and it becomes all the more understandable. I had the privilege of spending the night on the beach in a tent last summer, and I can comprehend [to an extent] why Paul uses a tent as a means to represent our lives on earth. That's because no matter how much of a privilege it was to camp out on the beach, I could not comfortably sleep knowing I was in a tent. Don't get me wrong, it my very well be a shelter- protecting from the weather, but there was absolutely no security in the tent. It was lightweight and temporary, it didn't take much to knock it around, and if anything or anyone wanted to tear it down to get to us they wouldn't have to put much effort in order to do it- some tents even collapse on their own to make it easier to store and fold up! My slumbering mind perceived every noise from outside to be some form of danger which caused me to be instantly jolted out of sleep and aware/alert because I had absolutely no trust in the tent to act as a viable means of protection for me.

Alas, so to is the life of the authentic born again Christian. Their lives are not marked by comfortability which enables them to slumber peacefully without any fears, problems, trials- even Abraham, who many wealthy Christians enjoy citing as an example for earthly blessings [he had many livestock and was considered a prince by those around him according to Genesis 24:6] lived in tents while awaiting for the city which would be built by God [Hebrews 11:9-10]. Their lives are rather marked by a unarticulated cry which is produced in response to deep pain, sorrow, and despair.

That's why I believe many Christians have a flawed understanding/comprehension of what they perceive to be "experiencing depression." Although we share a lot of the same characteristics as what the world would define it as- deep sorrow, pain and despair [or hopelessness], a Christian does not get depressed as the world does. instead they get homesick without realizing it- their soul inadvertently longs for this world to be over as a result of deep sorrow, pain etc. This is a good thing! The apostle Paul says- "WE groan." He doesn't say, "what's wrong with you? Why are you so sad all the time? Cheer up, that's not what a Christian is supposed to look like." No! He's saying "your not alone!" In the previous chapter he says:

"We are afflicted in every way", "we are perplexed [filled with uncertainty]", "we are persecuted", "we are struck down..."

This is why Paul attempts to remind and reassure the church of the hope reserved for them in heaven: "yes this life sucks. But that's ok! There's something far greater awaiting you in heaven!" He doesn't belittle them, but rather delicately reminds them that they differ from the world because they have this hope which ought to produce some stability in the midst of the deep sorrow, pain, and despair. That's why the entirety of the passage reads:

"Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed."(II Corinthians 4:8-9)

And it's ironic isn't it? One of the ways groaning is defined as is the cry produced by despair, which is hopelessness. When we find ourselves vehemently crying in anguish without word but rather inarticulate sounds, according to Romans 8:26 it's the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf as we reach a place where we are left without words to pray as we acknowledge our deep sorrow and pain. The Holy Spirit does this because He is given to us as a "down payment" for our inheritance for God's kingdom, and by doing this it is intended to remind us that we are not home, much as David describes in one of his Psalms:

"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner [on earth] like all my fathers."(Psalm 39:12)

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