The Apostle Paul’s prison-bound desire:
“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain... my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better...”
~Philippians 1:21, 23b (NRSV).
Anger. Seething anger, pulsing viscerally — in the midst of happy-clappy church. Times like this you don’t want to be there.
Times like these — as they sweep over us, given to anger for social claustrophobia — we yearn for the time when we’re called home. We’re clearly not of our soundest mind, for the many blessings of this life are discounted and considered worth a pittance.
This, therefore, is a very one-sided article. It focuses on one half of Paul’s reality.
In the context of Philippians, Paul is perplexed because he has two places he richly desires to be. He yearns for heaven, whilst at the same time he knows his role is with the church, ministering to its leaders and the spiritually needy alike. But, being incarcerated means that Paul is nowhere near either reality.
Desiring Heaven – Not An Unhealthy Desire... But
It’s not an unhealthy desire to want heaven, but to want to be gone from this life — without hope here — is missing some of the components of the spiritual reality we have in God.
Our faith is always about two realities: heaven here and heaven in heaven — yes, eternal life in both locations.
To desire to be in heaven, and only that, is to miss the majority slice of life here on earth.
Yet, the anger that we experience when we so richly desire the Lord and respite from people is indicative of spiritual imbalance.
When we’re crowded with people, problems, programs and priorities — these getting us down — heaven is an alluring prospect. Indeed, the world wanes into insignificance when it probably shouldn’t.
Death – No Big Deal for Paul
It’s clear that Paul straddles the portents of life as he conceives death. This section of Philippians shows us a Paul experiencing a paradoxical joy.
He is shown a part of life that we’re not usually cursed enough to see. Imagine being hemmed in by those supposedly of the faith and the Romans — the politics of the time. We can be sure that Paul will have felt torn between being oppressed and knowing the joy of the Lord.
Knowing such a stark life, Paul must have known an intimacy with God second to none. Therefore, it’s logical to make a conclusive leap in logic; he could live with either reality; here or away. All this in detention!
Guarding Our Desires to Be ‘Gone’
It’s both understandable but reprehensible to want to be gone from this life.
We can understand people in vast amounts of pain — whether physically or spiritually — desiring the splendour that awaits them in heaven. It’s so tempting when we’re crowded and hemmed in by life to put those pressures behind us.
But we can be sure that this focus alone, without the focus to endure this passage according to God’s will, is a trick of the enemy’s. This is one way the enemy gets us down, and keeps us down — yearning for that which God’s not yet prepared.
We must always desire to hold both heavenly realities in the air simultaneously.
Let’s be ready for both.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.