I recently went to a yearly checkup, and the doc (who looked to be about 16, in my estimation) was explaining to me the results of my blood work, blood pressure, weight, and the rest of it, led her explanation with these words: “When you reach a certain age…”
I knew what she was saying. Blood work aside, I’ve got an ache in my left shoulder, and I don’t know exactly how it got there. But it’s there, and even when I’m typing these words, it’s kind of throbbing down my arm. Stuff like this happens to me from time to time; it’s not a big deal, but it does happen, and it reminds me that I am indeed aging. We all are. The law of entropy which tells us that natural processes only run in one direction – that is in a degrading direction – is applicable to our physical bodies. We are deteriorating creatures.
And yet for the Christian, there is a glorious paradox that comes in aging – one that causes a great measure of joy when you could feel an increasingly measure of sorrow that you cannot do the things that you were once able to do. Here is how Paul would frame this paradox:
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
There’s no pulling punches here, but rather an embracing of two simultaneous realities for the Christian.
The first reality is that of aging. That our outer person, our physical bodies, are on the downhill. They are degrading, and all the aches, pains, lapses of memory, and whatever else come along with that degrading. Oh sure – here in North America, and particularly in affluent suburbia, we do all kinds of things to try and postpone or deny this is true. We might nip, we might tuck, we might style, and we might hide, but the truth is there staring us in the face.
It is as Paul would say just a few verses earlier – we are jars of clay. Frail, fragile, and falling apart day by day.
This truth (and it is a truth) might lead us to depression. After all, the good doctor I mentioned earlier in this post did tell me that an adult will gain roughly two pounds of body weight per year even if their exercise and their diet remains constant. So you have to adjust either your diet or your exercise to account for two extra pounds if you just want to maintain your weight. We might, then, want to throw in the towel and acknowledge that we are fighting a losing battle and live out the rest of our days in a depressed state.
And perhaps we should do that, especially if the physical is the only thing that matters to us.
But that brings us to the second reality Paul described in these verses. That is, that even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
In other words, the inner life of the Christian breaks the universal law of entropy. While everything physical is in a constant state of decay, our inner selves are reversing the trend. Because of God’s mercies that are new every morning, and because we are His children, we are growing in our inner selves younger – growing to look more and more like the true children of God even while our outer selves are growing older. Such is the grand and glorious paradox of Christian aging.
What does that mean for us? It means that as Christians, we do not have to chase the ever-elusive promise of youth. We do not have to fix our eyes on the vanity of the physical. It means that we can still steward our bodies, but we can not have our entire self-worth and value rest on them. And it means we can rejoice even while the shoulders start to ache and the inevitable weight gain sets in.
We can do so, that is, if we do not focus on what is seen in the mirror, but what is unseen. If we fix our eyes on Jesus who not only began our faith but is perfecting it in us. If we believe that we are growing younger even as we are growing older.