I’ve been camping once in my adult life. Me and my two oldest children, Kirstin and Iain, went down to the Shepton Mallet showground in Somerset to Soul Survivor, a Christian youth camp run by the church of the same name.
Now, with it being our first time camping we knew nothing of what we needed, or what constituted good or bad equipment. We bought a 2 man tent for Kirstin and a 4 man one for Iain and I from B&M in Stenhousemuir for a total of £30, thinking that’d do us for just a few days.
I think we first realised that the tents may not be up to scratch when we put them up and realised that they were so small in comparison to the tents around us that they resembled the house in the film Up,
where an old man’s tiny house ends up surrounded by high rise buildings and office blocks. Each tent was so cramped that we wondered how our 4 man tent could even get 3 in. 2 was a squeeze.
But the real issue came when the inevitable happened. It rained.
Almost every day.
Yes, everything got wet. The wind would blow the walls of the tent in so far that it smothered our heads at night, which also got rather damp. It was cold, wet, uncomfortable and generally unpleasant.
So, when I hear people speak about tents, this is what I think of. A temporary, flimsy structure which barely manages to do the job it was made to do most of the time. Something you are more comfortable out of than when you are inside.
I doubt very much that Paul had the same sort of thought when he described the body as a tent (2 Cor 5:1-10); after all, he was a tent maker by trade. He relied on tents being useful and doing their job for his livelihood. However, he will have realised that they were temporary and a lot less likely to survive heavy rain and wind than a brick or stone building. They need constant repair to keep them fit for purpose and, eventually, you will have to discard it.
That is what he’s saying about our bodies and, by extension, our lives on Earth. We are not built to last forever. Our bodies, our lives are just temporary and they were not built to house us forever, just for the time that we are on this specific journey. They do their job, but they’ll occasionally let us down, need repairs and, eventually, we will need to get rid of them.
All of which may not particularly uplifting. But, if that’s the case, it’s because our focus is on the wrong place. Paul says that believers in Christ are “full of courage”, twice.
He realises that the idea of life being fragile and temporary is scary and pretty negative. However, this life is just the journey to the ultimate destination. In his song ‘Abide With Me’ Matt Redman wrote this,
“I have a home
But for now I walk this broken world
You walked it first
You know our pain
But You show hope can rise again up from the grave“
He’s singing about exactly this. Life on earth is not forever. Life with God will be.
In the life we have on earth we find both good and bad, but the bad leaves us feeling tired, cynical and beaten down – Paul puts it in verse 4 that we “groan with a feeling of oppression”. But he then speaks of where we are heading, putting on a heavenly body so that we are “transformed by life”.
What an incredible phrase! “Transformed by life”! We are talking about what we see as death, the end of life. But Paul is saying that it isn’t the end, it is simply us arriving home at last and finding that endless bliss that comes from being in the presence of the Father for all of eternity.
Life is full of worries and troubles. Some of us put on a front, others wear their hearts on their sleeves, but we all have those things which make life difficult to live; illness, money troubles, unemployment, conflict, loneliness, oppression, stress at work… the list feels endless to us. And no matter how small our worries may feel to others, they feel large to us and make our time on earth more painful.
But they are not here forever.
Let me show you a couple of things. They are illustrations which are always pulled out to make people realise how small and insignificant we are, but I want to change that around a bit.
This is a 24 hour clock. It is condensing the time since the creation of Earth down to one solitary day. Earth was formed at midnight and, for the first 3 hours was bombarded with meteorites. Then, at 4am, the most basic of life started; probably bacteria in what evolutionary biologists refer to as the “primordial soup”. The oldest fossils we have found, also from prehistoric bacteria, were formed at 5.36am. It’s actually not until 2.08pm that single celled algae are formed. Plants finally grow on land at 9.52 pm and dinosaurs arrive at 10.56pm.
Human beings arrive at 11.58 and 43 seconds. 77 seconds out of the 24 hours of the clock. Almost the blink of an eye. So much has gone on before us and so much will go on afterwards.
Now I want to show you another image. This is called the Hubble Deep Field, or HDF. The Hubble Space Telescope was pointed at a dark part of the sky, covering about one 24 millionth of the whole sky. It is the equivalent size of the area blocked out by a tennis ball held 100 metres away, so very small. When the images Hubble took were returned, this was the result.
There are 3,000 galaxies in this photo, all of them containing billions of stars, many of them several million times the size of our Sun.
Our universe is so large and so old that our brains can’t actually handle it. We can’t truly understand the sheer vastness and age of the universe and, as a result, we can’t possibly fully understand the size and age of the one who created it.
But we can understand that, in comparison, we are tiny and seemingly insignificant.
And yet God, who is capable of creating such a vast, ancient universe with just a word, loves us. To us we are not insignificant, we are precious and loved and wanted and cared about. And God wants us to share this incomprehensibly vast existence, this true life, with him. Forever.
That is what we have to look forward to. Now, put your worries and troubles against that. Yes, they still hurt, they still make life difficult. But can you now see how Paul speaks of being full of courage? Can you see how Christians in countries where our faith is illegal are still able to praise and thank God every day? Can you see how life isn’t made easier, but it can be made bearable in the knowledge that one day we will get to leave this tent we have lived in for however long, and we will put on our heavenly bodies, new creations in God and with God forever. Transformed by life, a life lived to the fullest.
God is inviting us to live that life with him. New creations, standing in the grace of God, experiencing love and life in ways that we cannot even imagine, for eternity.
I don’t know about you, but that’s an invite I want to accept.