On this Saturday morning the blog continues to examine St. Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous blogs on this topic and others can be found in my archive The daily headline is a reminder of the world in which we live.
1 Corinthians 8
23 But I do it all because of the rewards promised by the Good News, so that I may share in them along with the others who come to trust. 24 Don’t you know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one wins the prize? So then, run to win! 25 Now every athlete in training submits himself to strict discipline, and he does it just to win a laurel wreath that will soon wither away. But we do it to win a crown that will last forever. 26 Accordingly, I don’t run aimlessly but straight for the finish line; I don’t shadow-box but try to make every punch count. 27 I treat my body hard and make it my slave so that, after prociming the Good News to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
Paul wrote that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling rather than taking God’s kindness as an excuse for laziness. Here he emphasises the effort that should be used to make the most of what we have been freely given by God. We do not strain to gain God’s kindness; we start from God’s kindness and work like athletes for our own perfection.
A lot of contemporary attention to training the body is narcissistic – we work hard to look good, which given the inevitability of ageing, may not succeed for very long. But Paul is aware that undisciplined bodies as well as undisciplined minds, can let us down in the struggle to be the best we can be.
But Paul is also sure there is a reward for persistence, which he only describes as the crown that will last for ever, God’s recognition of our effort. I’m reminded that Jesus also spoke much about reward. Virtue may be its own reward, but faith trusts in God’s assurance that He is not ashamed to be called our God because he has prepared a city for us. I haven’t a clue what that means, but it gives me leave to hope, and to stay focused, as Paul did.
The issue of eschatology, that is the study of what ends or completes individual lives and the life of this world, is surely crucial to Chritian faith. “If for this life only we have hope, then we are of people the most miserable,” Paul said and I tend to agree with him. If we are to reject treasure on earth in favour of treasure in heaven, then heaven better be real. Indeed, heaven is no more improbable than God, I guess. Sometimes I feel that the improbability of God drifts in the direction of a near certainty of his non – existence. But just at these moments there is often an event that suggests infuriatingly that God is just hiding, somewhere nearby. Meister Eckhart says that God is like a man hiding from his friend who gives himself away by clearing his throat. John Bell and Graham Maule use this image in their great hymn about Jesus:
In a garden just at dawn
near the grave of human violence
the most precious word of life
cleared his throat and ended silence
for the good of us all.
Yes, that’s the hope of an unfading crown. Meantime, it’s back to the training.