When Pastor Tim Keller’s memorial service aired about a week and a half ago, I had the good fortune to be able to watch part of the service at work.
As Keller’s family commented on throughout the service, Tim had planned nearly every detail of it, much like the hundreds of funerals services he had planned and delivered across his lifetime. It was so touching to see his favorite hymn choices and hear his family narrate Tim’s first-person commentary introducing them as well as some of his favorite quotes, including multiple excerpts from his lifelong hero, C.S. Lewis.
We shared that in common, since I have been indelibly marked by my high school (and subsequent) readings of Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia (and, by now, the majority of Lewis’ writings).
The two Lewis selections that Dr. Keller picked for his service (and read by the fabulous Max McClean who has great expertise in depicting Lewis) had a similar theme—the ultimate redemption and transformation of the human soul.
The first excerpt was from Weight of Glory, which I have only recently read:
It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Lately, I keep encountering the Scripture verse on which this is based: II Corinthians 4:17:
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory...” (KJV)
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (NIV)
How very poetic of Paul to term our afflictions light and our glory heavy! And this from someone who knew difficulty who, in fact, had just finished describing some of it in his letter to the Corinthians:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (II Corinthians 4:8-12, NIV).
In the big scheme of things, our afflictions are light indeed. As Keller himself wrote regarding this verse, in one of his last books before his passing (Hope in Times of Fear), “Paul says because the resurrection of Jesus happened, it’s the very meaning of history that redemption comes out of injustice; that life comes out of death.”
Momentary troubles, but eternal and weighty glory. I know I don't really understand glory. The more I learn, the more I realize what is true for myself and--I suspect--most of us. We put on a big game of pretend when we act like we truly understand basic concepts like Glory or Faith. We could spend a lifetime deepening understanding. I'd like to try!
The little bit I've explored regarding II Corinthians 4 and why glory is weighty, is that Paul is being a little clever here, building off of the dual meaning of glory in Hebrew (kavod)--honor as well as weightiness. Here are some great resources for this: https://firmisrael.org/learn/the-weight-of-glory-and-the-hebrew-word-kavod/ and https://www.gotquestions.org/glorification.html.
As Avital Snow writes in the former link above, Psalm 3 is a great example of both meanings.
But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
In my prayers for myself and others lately, I've been asking God to be our Rock and our Shield, as I use the Psalms as a model. God as Shield--ancient shields are heavy and large enough to protect the whole body. God is our Shield and our weighty glory. These are connected words and images.
This helps somewhat, and I'm also OK with the mystery of it all. Considering God's glory helps me get past myself! Sometimes I think that the larger purpose of prayer is for our own benefit; that God let's us co-participate through prayer so that we can at least mentally focus on others for a little bit when we're praying for them! Also, it's so common in American society to say, "I need to take care of myself right now," when things get difficult. We become more self-focused during times of difficulty. And some of this is healthy; for example, self-care and rest is good. Sabbaths are Biblical ideas, and are psychologically sound. Yet, the immediate impulse to turn inward at the sign of distress is not necessarily what is good for us and is definitely not the full solution.
Study after study shows that volunteering, charitable giving, taking care of others (again, with self-care and support ideally present), and overall being others-focused is associated with greater psychological well-being. There are tons of examples--here is one published study from Chinese young adults as well as a medical article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8777250/ and https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-giving-is-good-for-your-health/
So, it's OK if we don't have a perfect handle on the weight of glory; it is for our benefit to elevate our minds and our very selves by setting "our affection on things above" (Colossians 3:2) by dwelling on the things of God.
And, as Lewis and Keller point out, our glory is connected to God's glory. Some day, we will also be glorified, according to Christian theology. How beautiful that Keller's mind was on this at the end of his life: what a beautiful and stunning hope indeed!
The second Lewis quote at Keller’s memorial service was from Mere Christianity:
He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into…a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said.
Transformation, redemption, glorification. Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright (whom Keller references in his Hope book) all are lock-step in synch with one another in reminding us that the point of our existence is beyond our current existence, but not in a pie-in-the-sky ethereal wonderland. The already-but-not-yet begins NOW and if we would be influenced and indeed transformed by God’s resurrection power, we would see more of it in ourselves and others in the present.
How does thinking in this way influence our day-to-day actions? I know for myself it’s so easy to get caught up in our own afflictions—severe as well as petty annoyances—and lose that kingdom perspective. I don’t even think we’re really doing what Paul says he did (“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus…”) because our focus is far too selfish to tap into that. There is no resurrection without the cross and because we don’t fully accept that we have died with Christ (indeed, according to Galatians 2, we’ve been crucified with him), we aren’t participating in his resurrection power.
Oh, we may try to tap into that power, either through our prayers or our seeking the triumphant life. But the only path to that eternal weight of glory is through the affliction, troubles and, indeed, crucifixion of self and sin. Every jot and tittle of Scripture (which, by the way, I just learned today—from GotQuestions.com) that this phrase is based on letters and pen strokes in Hebrew writing…that’s super cool!) teaches this.
I’ve just finished reading Keller’s Hope book, and I’m impressed that this was on his heart these past few years (and, according to the book’s opening, ever since he first started reading N.T. Wright on the resurrection during Keller’s first cancer bout).
There’s nothing like dealing with yours or someone else’s cancer to put one’s mind on suffering and, if you’re a Christian, glory. Keller himself, in his Acknowledgements section of the Hope book, says, quoting Samuel Johnson, that COVID and cancer helped to “concentrate the mind wonderfully.”
Keller’s message to the world in this book helps us to correct our minds on what is not the path to continual progress and human improvement (the dead ends of the various human “ologies” that leave out original sin as a key component) and to remind Christians that our focus is bigger and greater than the hyper-individualized “beam-me-up-to-heaven” personal Jesus religion that we have in the United States these days.
Lord, open my ears that I may hear what You are teaching, through the words of these wise leaders.