Since the sixties, Eastern-flavored spiritualities have taught us, “BE HERE NOW”. The essence of this teaching is to be fully alive in the present, to be vibrantly aware of experiences as they happen, without brooding over the past or anticipating the future. Is this teaching compatible with the Christian faith? Should disciples of Jesus “BE HERE NOW”?
In the following passage, the apostle Paul talks about his NOW:
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Cor. 4:15—5:5)At first sight it appears that Paul is focused entirely on the future, and not on the NOW. It seems he is saying that his NOW is entirely miserable, and the glory and life and joy which he yearns for will only come later. However, this understanding misses the undercurrent of Paul’s message. For Paul also speaks of “inward renewal”, “seeing what is unseen”, and the “deposit of the Spirit”. These are the secrets to Paul’s current joy; these are Paul’s “HERE NOW’s”.
As followers of Jesus, we do not rejoice in our outward NOW. Outwardly we are outcasts, strangers, wanderers, misfits (1 Cor. 4:13, 1 Peter 2:11, Hebrews 11:13-16). BUT though now we are nowhere, we are headed towards Somewhere. We are headed for a goal, we are pressing towards a prize (Phil. 3:13-14). Our outward realization of this goal is in the future, not in the temporal “now”. But, our INWARD realization is NOW, because “God calls those things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). This is the essence of faith, as exemplified by Abraham “the father of our faith” (Romans 4:16):
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Romans 4:18-24, NIV)
This “full persuasion”, this inward certainty, is the Spirit’s guarantee in our hearts, which Paul referred to in the first quoted passage. We live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Our strength and satisfaction is based on the present inward reality, and not on present outward circumstances. Our faith is our NOW, in which we rejoice (1 John 5:4).
But doesn’t Paul contradict himself? In the first quotation above he says “we groan”, while elsewhere he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). Is there some mistake? There is no mistake, for both Paul and Peter say, “rejoice in sufferings” (Col. 1:24, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Our joy is the joy of the woman in childbirth (John 16:21). Inwardly, the new birth has been accomplished (1 Peter 1:23) – while outwardly, the birth process continues (Gal. 4:19). So we groan outwardly, but rejoice inwardly. While the worldly rejoice in worldliness, we yearn for heavenliness (John 16:20). While worldly people’s hearts are frivolous and shallow, our hearts are deep and beautiful (Eccl. 3:11, Esther 2:15-17).
The Christian’s HERE is God’s presence, for “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). The Christian’s NOW is both the Cross and the Resurrection (Phil. 3:10), as follows.
My outward NOW is the Cross -- for by the Cross “the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). The world (not the natural world, but the pleasures and preoccupations of this life) is crucified to me, for it holds no attraction, it is dead to me, it does not satisfy, I am enamored with something else. Also, I am crucified to the world, for from a worldly person’s viewpoint, my life is miserable and futile (1 Cor. 15:19). The worldly see me as dead, they can see no fulfillment or joy in my life. Because they see only the suffering, and they cannot see the inward rejoicing at what cannot be seen.So my crucifixion is outward, between me and the world: while my resurrection is inward, between me and God.
On the other hand, my inward NOW is the Resurrection, for “The same spirit which raised Christ from death lives in me” (Romans 8:11). My life is the process of inward breaking through to outward, as light shining in darkness (Phil. 2:15-16).
If then the Christian’s joy is entirely inward, then what about the enjoyment of nature, of food and drink, of all aspects of God’s creation? To the extent that this creation retains the glory and goodness of God’s intended creation, we do rejoice and savor. (1 Tim. 4:4-5). However, this goodness and beauty has been insidiously corrupted by man’s sinfulness. The Christian rejoices in the good and the beautiful, knowing that the corruption and pollution shall pass away (Romans 8:20-22).
To those who say, “BE HERE NOW” I ask, “What is your HERE? What is your NOW?” A HERE and NOW without the Cross and Resurrection is undifferentiated and incoherent. It is the HERE and NOW of the dog or cat (Ps. 49:20). It is “food for the stomach and the stomach is for food” (1 Cor. 6:13), rather than, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from God’s mouth” (Matthew 4:4).
Many who teach “BE HERE NOW” (such as Baba Ram Dass) also speak of compassion. Compassion is perfected in the Cross. The Cross expresses God’s absolute compassion towards sinners lost in blindness and darkness, perversity and rebellion: for as Jesus was sacrificed He said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Surrendering to Jesus means nothing more nor less than surrendering fully to God’s compassion, which is the ultimate compassion. And with this full surrender comes the full experience of the Resurrection, through the infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Father, Your presence is my Here, Your promise is my Now. Jesus,
Your Cross and Your Resurrection are always within me and around me.
Copyright © 2002 CrossPollen
Last Revised: November 8, 2002
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