“The Things Unseen Are Everlasting”
VATICAN city attracts the eye of the tourist. St. Peter’s Square and basilica, the Vatican gardens, the museums, priceless masterpieces of art and breath-taking treasures in jewels all stir the imagination as they dazzle the eye. Also, a wealth of tradition rivals this material glory. This is apparent in the Swiss Guards, the papal ceremonies and the religious devotion visiting Catholics bestow on the many statues and images. Yet there is a highly disturbing air present that the alert observer cannot miss. Catholic Italy is not a land of exemplary Christian zeal. A few blocks from the Vatican even the physical appearance changes abruptly into the streets of Rome with their lurking threats, filth, immorality and communism.
This latter evil alone has stricken Catholic hierarchs with fear. It has tainted more and more papal addresses with political flavor. It has prompted a frantic fight in which, by means of the Italian clerical party, the Christian Democrats, the church has barely held the line against an ever more menacing rising Red tide. Italy’s pathetic peasant class and communism’s mounting political promises currently nurture this fear. But the spiritual poverty rather than the physical should provide the real basis for alarm. Said the apostle Paul: “The kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.”—Rom. 14:17, NW.
Across Europe in England, traditional stronghold of Protestantism, conditions religiously are little if any better. The May 17, 1952, issue of the British publication Everybody’s Weekly carried an article asking: “Is the Church of England Dying?” Attesting to a bitter wave of anticlericalism and a destitute clergy, the author remarks: “To all appearances the Church of England is dying on its feet.” And beneath a large picture of a part of the stately Protestant cathedral, York Minster, we read: “Can it be possible that such a faith has become meaningless to people who are the inheritors of such glory?”
This spiritual impoverishment in the midst of material glory common to both Protestantism and Catholicism exists in direct contrast with the course of first-century Christians. Following the lead of their exemplar, Christ Jesus, the apostles and disciples continued after his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven to preach and anticipate the coming kingdom of the heavens and its rule of righteousness. Making them, as this did, neutral in respect to the politics and sects of the world, true Christians faced scorn, ridicule and physical violence. But of all this Paul said: “We do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day. For though the tribulation is momentary and light, it works out for us a glory which is of more and more surpassing weight and is everlasting, while we keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen. For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting.”—2 Cor. 4:16-18, NW.
Paul and his Christian companions saw the visible Roman Empire then in its glorious power. But they knew it would not last. They certainly knew it was no competition for Jehovah God’s theocracy in the hands of its anointed King, Christ Jesus. They could not see the theocratic government with the literal eye. It was then future and when it would come it would be spiritual, unseen to men. (Luke 17:20, 21; John 14:19) But they had faith in it because their ready minds had been opened by study and they were “handling the word of the truth aright”.—2 Tim. 2:15, NW.
But those whose kingdom is from beneath, of the things seen, know only to build up material possessions, then to protect these by carnal might. Thus in a recent book (In an Age of Revolution) Britain’s archbishop of York deplores the growth of communism and calls for an end of poverty to meet the threat. The writer of the Everybody’s Weekly article, C. E. M. Joad, was alert enough to see the weakness this betrays. He comments on the archbishop’s suggestion: “In order that it may effectively do these things, the Church must first put its own house in order. It must achieve renewal of faith and it must vigorously pursue the quest of Christian unity. Nothing has a more deterrent effect upon the wistful agnostic anxious to believe than the visible spectacle of the Churches’ disunity.” Furthermore, the unity they fail to muster against communism or other evils in time of peace they fail even more miserably to achieve in time of war, when national boundaries divide sectarians fighting to protect their wealth and property from each other. “These things are done,” says writer Joad, “in the name of the Prince of Peace, who abjured violence and bade his followers love one another.”
Further, regarding Christendom’s relentless effort to force its religion upon “the heathen”, Mr. Joad asks: “What authority is there in the Bible or the teachings of Christ for supposing that it will ever convert them?” There is none. Jesus left behind for his followers the commission to preach his kingdom “for the purpose of a witness to all the nations”. He said nothing of forced conversions or of building up sprawling religious structures with frocked and titled clergy, ornate buildings, great stores of accumulated wealth, ear-tingling “holy years” or eye-catching ceremonies steeped in creature worship. He simply said: “Give us today our bread for this day.” Of food and drink and clothing he said: “Your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you”.—Matt. 6:11, 32, 33; 24:14, NW.
Is this practical today? It is very practical and very rewarding, as true Christians are proving today. Their righteous works amassed by preaching the good news of Christ’s kingdom in public places and the abodes of the people not only bring the truth to more sheeplike ones, but yield peace of mind and joy to the preachers who follow the lead of God’s holy spirit. This is not practical if you wish to build an empire or a great religious hierarchy with yourself placed in one of the high echelons and the people forced to come to you for help and to support the fabulous structure. But these things are themselves impractical, since they will not survive Armageddon. They will prove flimsy protection and go down in destruction. But, as we know, “the things unseen are everlasting.”