This Earthly Tent
My neighbor, George, isn't doing well. He is in his eighties and his health is not great. Every once in a while we run into each other, usually in the early morning. He goes off to have coffee and breakfast with some of his buddies, and I am usually in the midst of my morning chores. I always ask how he is doing, and he always shrugs his shoulders, and tilting his head to the side says, "Not so good, Marsh....not so good. Take my advice. Don't get old." The first time he said this to me, when my wife and I first moved into the neighborhood, I told him something another senior (100+) told me years ago...."Getting old is not for sissies."
So, that is our personal liturgy:
Me: "Hey George, how are you doing?"
George: "Ah, Marsh, so-so."
George: "Yeah, Marsh....take my advice, don't get old...."
Me: "That's right....getting old isn't for sissies."
George (big smile): "No...no, Marsh. Getting old isn't for sissies...."
...and from there, we talk. We talk about the weather, the state of things in the country, you name it. Life is not easy for George. His health has had him in the hospital for the past couple of weeks. I worry that we won't have many more occasions to share our morning liturgy.
That does sadden me, but I also know from experience that this is the way life works out in the end. Bodies wear down, and they wear out. As Paul alludes to us, we do live in earthly tents. As much as we aspire to a spiritual reunion with God in eternity, for now we are bound, in the flesh....we are flesh. And flesh is impermanent, passing. As good as life can possibly be, we all face its conclusion when the fleshly tent finally cannot sustain us.
Paul knew it, and used that reality to point to a greater testament of God's permanent and enduring love for us. Through the resurrection of Christ, even death will not prevail; and even though suffering and death are still with us we can still through Christ know real living...and real life.
That is Job's struggle, once all he has in life has been torn from him. He had it all, as much as any of us can have anything. Yet in a moment, over a "bet" God has with the Adversary, it's all gone. His family is decimated. His wealth destroyed. His health and well-being are forfeit. Even his wife tells him to curse God and die. What's the point? He holds on for a long time...persisting in this odd suspension of self while he sits in his ash heap, scratching at his boils with a potsherd. He holds on until his friends come to console him, and then he finally lets it out....he names his suffering, announces his pain, articulates his frustration, fear and grief. That admission is much more operatic than anything I note above with regard to Paul, or my neighbor George; but, it is the one thing in the life of faith we have to deal with as we confront our inevitable mortality. It is the deepest challenge to us as we make our witness to our faith in God....that even though this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we still have hope. We still have a faith that not only keeps us moving forward, but also testifies through us that even when death comes God is not done with us. Not by a long shot.