Faith is ultimately an understanding of reality that is enlightened by the grace of God.
Paul’s understanding of reality is shaped by his personal experiences with Jesus and by his willingness to be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Paul is a realist par excellance. He sees the limitations of the material realities of the world, because his vision is lit by the light of God’s grace.
He knew himself as a man who had been walking in darkness, judging others out of that darkness.
Then, on the road to Damascus, he was blinded by the light of Christ. When his physical eyes were able to see again, when the scales of ignorance were removed from them, he was able, by the grace of God, to see beyond the limits of the material world.
He could see the Reality of Divine Love, and that changed his views about everything.
ʺFor God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ.ʺ (2 Cor. 4: 6)
Here he may be referring to his own experience on the road to Damascus, when the darkness of his prideful ignorance was struck down by the ʺblindingʺ light of Divine Love that he saw in the face of Jesus Christ.
At that moment, everything that his exceptional mind had understood about the world, about reality, was suddenly revealed as nothing in the blinding light of the knowledge of God that he entered on that day.
He may also be making an allusion to Genesis 1: 3, ʺThen God said, ʺLet there be light, and there was light.ʺ From that moment on, his experience of ʺrealityʺ would be shaped by that singularly graceful event.
ʺBut we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.ʺ (2 Cor 4:7-10)
Here is where Paul’s sense of reality reveals itself to be truly enlightened. He has left human pride behind.
He has seen its foolishness, its inability to see beyond the narrow confines of the ego. He no longer judges through the prism of finite reality.
He understands reality through the wisdom of God now, not the wisdom of man. It is in humility now that he recognizes that he is still human, still limited, still susceptible to error. In the Divine light of faith he recognizes his utter dependence on the grace of God in all things. He tells us here that our humanity is still ʺafflicted in every way.ʺ
We are still susceptible to the vagaries of physical illness and injury, to old age.
We are still capable of sin, of misunderstandings and misinterpretations, but ʺwe are not constrained.ʺ We remain perplexed about many difficult to understand things, ʺbut we do not despair.ʺ
We experience in our bodies and in our minds, the pains of persecution, but we know that ʺwe are not abandoned,ʺ even in the darkest of times. In our occasional foolishness we can still be ʺstruck downʺ from our prideful ‘high horses,’ ʺbut we are not destroyed.ʺ
Why is this so? Because we have been given the light of faith. In faith, we have come to know that this world and its claims on ‘reality’ are finite and ephemeral.
Because of the grace of God, we have come to recognize that God’s reality transcends the limits of our own.
We know, by the grace of God, through the light of faith, that though our ‘reality’ can still afflict us, perplex us, persecute us, or strike us down, it cannot constrain us, or drive us to despair. We know that we will not be abandoned or destroyed.
We know this because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In these things, God’s reality transcended the finite limits of our reality.
God entered our reality and showed himself to us in the face of Jesus Christ. By the light of faith we know, too, that he continues to transcend those limits today in his Holy Spirit. He is with us.
Jesus knows our limits intimately, yet he calls us, even as fragile earthen vessels, to love as he loved, to forgive as he forgave. He gives us the grace of the light of faith to see beyond the limited perspectives of the merely political, social and economic realities of our world.
Because of this we are beginning to understand the foolishness of judging others solely on the basis of the humanly limited realities of politics, or social or economic status.
Because of the inestimable grace of faith, we are beginning to be able to be compassionate and forgiving to all, inspite of all their limitations. For we have begun to see that they are more like us than unalike.
We are beginning to see the Divine Reason behind these new ways of being in the reality of this world. We are beginning to see the logical implications of how living more and more out of the light of this faith can help bring this world out of the darkness of pride and ignorance into the light of Divine Love.
Lord we ask you to continue to light the darkness of our ignorance with the light of faith. Teach us to trust in you more and more each day.
Help us to live, like Paul, in the light of that faith in all that we do with and for our fellow struggling brothers and sisters.
Help us to humbly accept that we are still afflicted and perplexed, but not constrained or driven to despair; that though we may experience persecution and be struck down, we will not be abandoned or destroyed, because you are with us, because your grace will sustain us in all things. Amen.