President Obama Turns to the Apostle Paul

I found it most interesting that President Obama in his address to the Newtown, Connecticut assembly of mourners began his remarks by quoting the Apostle Paul. I argue in my book, Paul and Jesus, not only that Paul is the most influential person in human history but that his ideas, often filtered in various historical and cultural ways, “have shaped all we think about everything.” The quotation he chose, which I quote here in full, is from a fragment of one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2Cor. 4:16-5:1)

You can here his entire speech here:

In my book I write quite a bit about this very quotation. What is fascinating about this particular passage is that it offers a recasting of Plato much more than Jesus, and a rather commonplace understanding of “cosmic dualism,” but with a new Pauline/Christian dress. What Paul affirms here became the early Christian understanding of “afterlife” or “resurrection of the dead.” Here there is unending confusion among many folks with regard to the differences between the notion of an “immortal soul” and what came to be called “the resurrection of the body” and “life everlasting.”  You can read a detailed analysis of this here in my post, “Why People are Confused About the Earliest Christian View of Resurrection of the Dead.”

It is surely instructive to remember that the very first article of the historic Protestant Catechism reads as follows:

What is your only comfort in life and death?
The answer is:
That I am not my own, but belong–body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Words more true to Paul were surely never spoken and as our culture turns to mourn these terrible and tragic deaths at Newtown, almost instinctively, it is to Paul’s words and ideas that we are led collectively to turn.