Preferring ”to be at home with the Lord” is not about wanting to die

februari 13, 2014 § Lämna en kommentar

I believe I have found a parallel between the pericope of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 and the pericope of Hebrews 11:1-12:3. If so, if the parallel is there, there could be another possible interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.

In 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 we meet a peculiar statement: The knowing that we are absent from the Lord, while living in this body, is a result of walking by faith. It is strange if you think about it, that faith would give you a consciousness of absence of the Lord. One would expect the opposite, that faith would give a consciousness of the Lord’s presence.

But in Hebrew 11 we actually find exactly this relation between faith and estrangement, especially in 11:13: ”All these died in faith, … having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

– Now, most believers misunderstand this as an estrangement on the earth per se, that is, life on the earth is in itself estrangement from God. This is _not_ the correct reading of this verse or the whole of Hebrews 11. This verse is alluding to David’s prayer for the project of building the Lord’s temple in 1 Chronicles 29:15: ”For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.” ”Before You” is literally ”before your face,” and is translated ”in your presence” in the NET Bible. ”Face” has to do with presence. It’s not surprising that David is speaking of the Lord’s presence since the prayer is about building the Lord’s temple where the Presence of the Lord will reside. What David is confessing is that the people of God are figuratively sojourners and nomads since they have not yet found a home in God’s Presence. In other words, they are still strangers to God’s Presence. This should mean that Hebrews 11:13 does not see the earth, or life on earth as foreign, but while alluding to 1 Chronicles 29:15, this passage sees the heroes of faith in the OT as foreigners before God’s presence. Distance from God’s Presence is what is foreign, not the earth, or life on earth. –

So, getting back to the curious relation between faith and estrangement, we find in Hebrews 11 that the heroes of faith experience themselves as strangers before God’s presence. Why? Because since faith ”is the assurance of things not seen,” (11:1), it also senses the Presence of God not seen, and yearns for it. So faith causes need, the consciousness of want.

If so, then 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 might not be so cryptic after all.

But this then also brings upon the whole pericope 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 another interpretation altogether, which I wish to explore here.

Just as sojourning in Hebrews 11 and 1 Chronicles is not about earth being an alien place, but about alienation before God’s Presence; so also 2 Corinthians 5, if this parallel is correct, is not about being absent from the Lord while we are living here on the earth (and present with the Lord when we die), but about being absent from the Lord by being ”home in the body” which I interpret as merely living for oneself. Instead of waiting for death, the sojourner, here and now, yearns to be present with the Lord, to be ”clothed with our dwelling from heaven,” ”in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

In the previous chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about the life of Jesus manifested in our body, and that ”He who raised [the body of] the Lord Jesus will raise us [that is, the bodies of our’s] also with Jesus … .” Then 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 has symbols of the temple (of his Presence) in verse 1, and then carries on to liken our bodies, especially our future bodies, as God’s temple. Taken together, it is natural to see verses 5:6-10 being about our mortal body being the sojourner’s tent, and the Lord’s life-giving body being the Lord’s temple, filled with the Lord’s Presence.

So verses 6-8 presents this idea of the two bodies/housings:

Living in our mortal body <——> Living in the Lord’s life-giving body

Though this is simply abbreviated by:

The body <——> The Lord.

What I am suggesting is this: The interpretation we have of verse 5:8, that Paul is longing to leave this earth in order to ”be at home with the Lord” is not the only interpretation possible. Actually, I see it as more plausible that the verse should be interpreted as wanting to less find ”a home” in our mortal bodies, and more and more find ”a home” in the ”dwelling from heaven” (v.2) which is the body that channels the life of Jesus (vv 4:10-11), … already now in this life. (But it is promised to become a fact when we leave this life of ours, (vv. 5:1, 3-4)).

So the idea of being ”at home with the Lord” not _only_ in the life after this, but actually during _this_ life, is confirmed by verse 10 where it says that we will be judged by our ”deeds in the body … whether good or bad.” (v.10).

Being ”absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” here and now, on the earth, while we live, is also echoed later in verse 5:15: ”and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again …” Mark the parallel: ”live for themselves” = ”home in the body”; ”live … for Him” = ”home with the Lord.”

This goes to show how strong an influence dualism has on our minds and imagination, so we can only understand a certain pericope in one way and one way only, since it has been interpreted that way a thousand times over.

_ _ _

To summarize this article:

Before the Messiah came, those of faith felt the absence of the Lord’s Presence. Now when the Messiah has come, we still feel the absence of the Lord when living like we usually do for ourselves. But through faith, we prefer living for the Messiah instead, which fills us with his Presence. This is because when we let his life manifest itself in us, our body becomes his temple, his body.

So we gradually become more and more home with the Lord, while our mortal body trails along; until one day we lay off our mortal body and we are totally ”swallowed up in life.” So preferring ”to be at home with the Lord” is not about wanting to die, so as to be with the Lord. It’s about yearning to harvest what all the witnesses in the OT have been longing for, which is now brought to us in the NT through the Messiah. It’s actually about letting our body become His home right now, our body being transformed to the Lord’s body, thus not only being in his Presence, but also being a home for his Presence, … while we live, here on earth before we die, (… but, of course, even after we die too).

But isn’t the earth what makes our life sinful? No, because being on earth is not what alienates us from God, it is our ungenerated selves that alienate us from God. ”The city” the faithful were looking for (in Hebrews 11:10) will not be in heaven, but on earth, (Rev. 21:2,10). The earth is not the problem. It’s rather our ungenerated self that is the problem, … and finding a home in His Presence, the answer.

_ _ _

Actually, after a second reading of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, there is actually really nothing that should compel us to interpret the verses 1-5 to be relating to our death in particular. Yes, it talks of our deterioration, which everyone becomes aware of with growing age, but it needn’t necessarily be understood as our death. ”Earthly” and ”heavenly” can very well be understood symbolically. ”Earthly” could mean having to do with our ungenerated lives, while ”heavenly” could have to do with the Spirit filled life Jesus has invited us into. Reading it that way, vv. 1-5 can be readily read as our gradual bodily transformation from tents of sojourners to the temple of God’s Presence.

The ”non-death” interpretation in vv. 1-5 can then be seen as a basis for interpretation for vv. 6-10: ”while … home in the body” = ”indeed in this [earthly tent] we groan,” ”we are absent from the Lord” = ”longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,” (verse 5 vs verse 2); but we are ”of good courage,” preferring ”rather to be absent from the body” = ”the earthly tent which is our house is torn down,” we are instead ”at home with the Lord” = ”we have a building from God.” (verse 8 vs verse 1).

”… [I]f the earthly tent which is our house is torn down …” in 1 Corinthians 5:1 is most probably an allusion to the story of Hezekiah’s illness and restoration in Isaiah 38, where also the temple is mentioned. ”Absent from the body” in verse 8, as equated with our ”earthly tent” being torn down, can then be seen, as in Hezekiah’s illness story, as our cross. This is what can be understood in verse 9: ”whether at home [the presence of his glory in our lives] or absent [the cross in our lives], [we have the ambition of being] pleasing to Him,” (with my interpretation in the first two brackets).

There is a similar transformation where God resides first in the tent of meeting and in the tabernacle, and then eventually in the temple. God as stranger living in a tent is told in Jeremiah 14:8 thus:
”O Hope of Israel,
Its Savior in time of distress,
Why are You like a stranger in the land
Or like a traveler who has pitched his tent for the night?”
Interestingly, ”Hope” as a name of God is the same word for ”hope” in David’s supplication in 1 Chronicles 29.

* * * * *

Edit: correct 2 Chronicles to 1 Chronicles.

Edit: the addition of an ”Addition” including new tags.

Edit: Rewording at the end of the 8th paragraph.


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