The Curtain (part 2)

The human condition can be summed up with one word: brokenness. That break can be traced back to man’s decision in the garden not to trust God. Before that break, mankind existed as an immortal spiritual and physical being. Both parts of immortality are part of the original design. The divine connection between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man became infinitely corrupted by man’s choice to disobey, and that break between spirits gave birth to man’s mortality. Mankind has since struggled in one form or another to return to a state of wholeness. The desire manifests in various ways (greed, lust, religion, fantasy), but the underlying expressed human manifestation of this condition is discontentment. There ought to be more. I ought to have more. I ought to feel more. The odd part, though, is that many Christians seem neither immune nor averse to experiencing this symptom despite claiming Jesus as the restorative agent in that brokenness equation. Why is that? Why does discontentment remain in the heart of the believer?

The Apostle Paul describes contentment as an initiation or a deep, mysterious educational experience, often translated as a secret. It was his relentless pursuit of Jesus that gave him a glance behind the curtain. That pursuit, that glance, allowed him to make the following statement:

Philippians 4:10-12

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Too often, Christians will focus solely on the verse immediately after this particular passage, taking it wildly out of context and using it as a sort of mantra to justify a certain decision or quest.

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

While the truth of verse thirteen shouldn’t be diminished, the context isn’t about saying “I can do anything.” It says, “I can do this seemingly impossible task, i.e. being content in all circumstances, because of Christ in me.” Paul knew that contentment without regard to circumstance was a tremendous challenge to all believers, which is why he made sure the church in Philippi understood his gratitude for the gifts they sent him while getting the point across that Jesus is always enough. So how does the man who made the following statement find unshakeable contentment in the midst of this earthly existence?

2 Corinthians 11:24-27

24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one (that’s 195 lashes for those who don’t math). 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Some people say Paul discovered the secret to satisfaction because of the trials he faced, but that is an insufficient answer. Many people have suffered greatly without it producing contentment, and people have found this peace without having to endure all that Paul did. The relentless pursuit of Jesus is what got Paul to the curtain separating this world from the next, but what did Paul see behind the curtain? What did he experience that allowed him to live an abundant life regardless of circumstances?

To be continued...