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It will all be worth it

March 30, 2024

What would you gain if you were able to accomplish something seemingly impossible? What would you benefit from it? Should you be enshrined in the annals of history as one of its greatest, why would that matter to you?

“What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?”
Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:32

Paul’s question isn’t for those who have the luxury to ask it; those who, as it were, managed to fight with beasts at Ephesus. It’s not a question for those who ‘made it’ and now have nothing left other than ask if it was worth it. It is for us all. Paul is wondering why attempt to do it in the first place, he asks why take on a challenging task? What’s there to gain in being ambitious?

This is a pertinent question. As limited human beings, our accomplishments can only reflect our limits. We’re prone to error, we cannot see far into the future and we are limited in time, resource, energy and knowledge—to mention a few. Even if we put our heads and resources together, our output can only reflect these limits, and therefore, can only serve for a short time and eventually be discarded. No matter how beautiful, creative, groundbreaking or useful; the fruits of our collective labor are bound to get spoiled. We’ll never make something perfect, and so, we shouldn’t expect anything we do to be of lasting value.

And here’s another (sad) fact to top it all up; the fact that we’re soon to die and not even enjoy the fruits of the few things that we worked hard on, things that could benefit the next few generations. It seems that the sooner we accept the reality and take things lightly, the better and happier we will be. This makes for true realism. But this doesn’t make for an encouraging thought, does it? If anything, it makes for a gloomy and depressing attitude towards everything.

Why even think about death at all? Shouldn’t we try not to think about it and push it as far as possible from our minds? The wise man tells us why:

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
Ecclesiastes 7:2

Watching the short film “A 97-Year-Old Philosopher faces his own death” on YouTube sure makes for a sobering moment. Granted, the body dies, but in the end, he kept wondering, “What is the point of it all?” Death, somehow and inexplicably, has the strange power within itself to make you question everything and make it all seem vain—regardless of when it comes. It leaves you wondering “What is the point of it all?”

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
What does a person gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

Very nihilistic isn’t it? People will certainly want to shake themselves from this grim reality by offering hopeful alternatives — and of course to get there, you’ll have to abandon (or rather go beyond) reason into the realm of faith. Whether the hope offered is founded or not is another question worth exploring because no one wants bury their heads in the sand and base their lives on wishful thinking.

What are these alternatives? By far the most popular answer suggests that hope belongs only to the soul that is going to heaven! For everything else material, there’s only despair. Everything here will be destroyed, and nothing we deem important will survive. It was all corrupted anyway. At the core, so the idea goes, we are spiritual beings; and the ‘flesh can never inherit the kingdom of heaven’. We shall leave everything behind for the bliss of paradise; for an incorruptible and unfading new world that only our souls will have access to. Therefore, in the here and now, only ‘sacred’ work matters; all that work which is not soul related work— what we call “secular”— is unfortunately pointless; a ‘striving after wind’.

You are…oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You’re… restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You’re… planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.
N.T. Wright, ‘Surprised by Hope’. Adapted.

Christians all around the world will celebrate tomorrow an event as a result of which the world was never the same: Christ, on that hallowed Sunday morning, rose from the dead! He comes out with a body that is strangely new and with surprising new properties, but also, and recognisably so, like the old one.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of this article, we won’t examine whether this miracle really happened or not. I can only say that from the various sources I have consulted, there are (overwhelming) historical evidences that this really happened. This is something we can really believe in.

With this reality in mind, Paul’s picks up his thoughts on the beasts at Ephesus in this way:

“…If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’”
1 Corinthians 15:32

We are to eat and drink and be merry indeed, if death is what in the end wins; for there’s nothing else to live for: no point (no meaning, no value) in doing anything right now. Thank God in Christ Jesus it is not so; the Lord conquered death, our last enemy, by rising from the dead!

By this great miracle, He re-affirms the goodness of the material creation. Our bodies are therefore not to be considered as carcasses for the soul; only good to be thrown away and submitted to decay when the soul (which is considered as the thing that really matters) is finally set free by death. Our bodies are not like dirty and shabby clothes that we shall be glad to get rid off either. The hope is, for all who believe in Him, resurrection. The hope is, in other words, not incorporeal.

No work that brings beauty, justice and equity will be in vain!

And if the bodies that we consider weak and soon dying will be resurrected, then everything else— not least what we do in this body— matters. Our professions are not simply just means to feed a body that will soon rot, but our labor which seemingly was for a momentary purpose will be relevant even in the age to come.

Therefore, to the one who believes, work isn’t a curse; it isn’t a necessary evil; it’s a calling with a purpose that will last forever. No work that brings beauty, justice and equity will be in vain (for those who believe!) So, labor, my friend! Work on your craftsmanship because since Jesus rose from the dead, all is significant in the light of eternity.

“I don’t know how my planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that there will be in God’s recreated world… I do not know how the painting an artist paints today in prayer and wisdom will find a place in God’s new world. I don’t know how our work for justice, for the poor, for remission of global debts, will reappear in that new world…”
N.T. Wright, ‘Surprised by Hope’

How will this be? I re-echo the words above from the good bishop: I don’t know. We’re left with images to represent what will be. It will be as the grain of mustard seed; feeble, vulnerable and apparently insignificant. It eventually dies and out brings a large tree in whose branches birds in the air make nests. It will also be like a caterpillar that metamorphoses itself into a beautiful butterfly.

Likewise, as our work feels insignificant and bound to be futile, and just as its impact seems to only last for a moment; in the Lord, it will raised into eternal significance! At the moment, work might be too entrenched in layers of corruption and apathy for any light of goodness to burst through; but in the Lord, all will be brought up, with the same power that brought Jesus out of the realm of darkness and death!

In everything— and not just the work aspect — we’re bound to find reason to be frustrated. However, that will not be the end of the story. For Paul, in what’s commonly considered as the greatest chapter in the Bible, there are explosive ramifications of Christ’s resurrection on the entire cosmos:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and the glory of the children God.
Romans 8:20-21

Is there anything as hope-infusing as this?

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:58


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The cross! The cross!

Dilemma wretched: how shall holiness Of brilliant life unshaded, tolerate Rebellion’s fetid slime, and not abate In its own glory, compromised at best?

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He is described as always ready for destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places and always exposed to fall


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