A Building from God

Hugh Farquhar

The Epistle Reading in the Lectionary for next Sunday is 2 Corinthians 4;7-5:1.

This verse stands out for me: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

This conviction articulated by Paul shaped the attitudes and practices of the early church. Its members, though called upon to face incredible persecution and sometimes death, sang their way across the wide expanses of the Roman Empire. Early in the Second Century, Aristides, a Greek scholar, wrote with puzzlement: “If anyone among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God and they escort his body with songs and thanksgivings as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”

He was puzzled because he didn’t have the key.

I do not want to reduce the gospel to pie in the sky when you die. I believe that the Gospel primarily applies to the present and calls us to a quality of living in the here and now. Nor do I want to come across as trivializing the pain of human sorrow. I have accompanied too many grief-stricken families and stood beside too many graves ever to do that. I have had to speak when others had the luxury of remaining silent. And in my own life I have felt a lump in my throat and the sting in my eyes.

A character in Jodi Picoult’s novel, Lone Wolf, says, “When someone leaves your life, there aren’t words you can use to fill the space. There’s just one empty, swelling minor note.” And it is so! But as Christians a different note sounds as well as we are grasped by the aspect of the Christian faith assuring us that as in life, so in death, and in life beyond death, God is with us, and with those whom we have loved and lost awhile, lovingly making provision in ways more beautiful and wondrous than we have the capacity to imagine.

I often think this to myself when conducting a funeral: we gather, and all the signs around us convey a negative message. The breath has left the body. There is a hole in the ground where it will be deposited. People are distraught and often weeping. The whole situation speaks of finality. And I have the gall to step forward and read these words of Paul to the Corinthians.

But they are not my words. This is God’s Word. It declares in the midst of death that things are not as they seem, and we believe God’s Word above what our mortal eyes behold or what the skeptics say.

I do not believe that God has created us for waste. I do believe that eternal life refers to a quality-of-life Jesus gives us now, which is sustained beyond physical death in a dimension prepared for us.

A man who was our family doctor and a life-long friend of my parents, the late Dr. Jim Reid, was a poet by avocation. He published a book of his poems called Musings that ends with one of his best — a four-line poem. This is all I know, and all I seem to need to know.

There shall be trumpets and another dawn,
And life anew, we know not where nor how,
As through the realms of God our souls move on.
And we shall be befriended there as now.

Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB and teaches Scripture Studies at Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, NS.


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