“For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” 2 Corinthians 5:4
In my role as a volunteer driver for the local shire I was transporting a lady to a hospital appointment. She had been employed in the medical profession for a significant portion of her life and had witnessed many people suffer terribly leading up to their bodily death. She commented that she hoped that she would have the right to euthanasia should she ever be in that situation. From the viewpoint of one who believes that there is nothing beyond the grave – that one’s existence ceases altogether at death – this makes logical sense. This is why some people, some quite young, choose suicide. They believe it will end the pain that they believe has no end otherwise. One can only imagine their great disappointment to discover their error and that they have robbed themselves of ever having the opportunity to receive new life in Jesus Christ. Of course that presupposes that someone would share the Gospel with them. We cannot know how many suicides might have been prevented if Christians shared the Gospel.
In the verse above Paul gives us a Christian view of similar situations. Yes, we do groan as our bodies age and feel all kinds of pain. Christians are also often burdened with the same slow and painful deaths that many unbelievers experience. It is necessary that our earthly tent is destroyed so that we can put on the eternal dwelling place (v 1). The how, when and where of our bodily death is God’s sovereign choice – just as was our birth.
The person without hope in Christ just wants to be rid of their pain and suffering; but the person with hope in Christ, while having no desire to cling to this body (v 8), is more focussed on the new resurrected body we shall have when in Christ’s presence. This is why Paul writes, “Not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed.” A little further on Paul writes, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (v 8).
If we only focus on what we want to leave behind, we will not have much in the way of joy. Those latter years of our lives will be a time of sadness, grief and perhaps self-pity. However, if our focus is on Jesus and what lies ahead, we will have joy in the glorious expectation of that day we see Him face to face. Yes, there will still be the groan to be free from our dying body; but our affections and desire will be upon being fully clothed in Christ (5:2).
Just before these words Paul wrote, “We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (4:16). The perishing of our body Paul writes is a “light affliction but for a moment” and God has a purpose in it (4:17).