“In the fullness of time, God sent forth His son.” Today, as we traveled to Corinth, these words from Scripture kept running through my mind. The unfolding drama of God’s work in the world had been preparing the world for the coming of Christ. As we drove the 90 minutes between Athens and Corinth, with the Aegean Sea on one side and the Ionian Sea on the other, we were repeatedly reminded of God’s work in the world. The problems that seem so recent and modern to us have plagued this part of the world for a very long time.
In the first century, the Jews and the Christian sect still associated with them, were driven out of Rome and chased across the empire, finally settling in Corinth, where the Jews built a strong synagogue and the Christians joined an emerging church fully immersed in the anguish and problems that plague every human community (Acts 18, I Corinthians). And despite the well-documented scandals and problems of the Corinthian church, Paul found a home, worked within a receptive community, and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned some of the greatest teachings and guidance in the history of civilization and the church. The love chapter in I Corinthians 13 is unsurpassed in urging and expressing a self-giving love that turns the natural human inclination for retaliation on its head.
Of course, coming to Corinth gave us yet another opportunity to recall the innovation and inventiveness of the ancient world. As we neared old Corinth, we came upon the ancient land “canal” that was used to move commerce throughout the Roman Empire. This invention alone helped explain how Corinth became a thriving economic power in the days of the early church. A water canal dug on this site in the latter part of the 19th century is still used today. But in the time of Paul, the land canal made Corinth a rich and vital center of economic activity.
We thought together about misplaced desire, the nature of God and coming to the full understanding of our faith in Christ. In the archeological museum, we found a tin-faced mirror that reminded us of “seeing in a glass darkly,” but eventually face to face. As we drove back to Athens, we began to discuss the modern tensions that still plague this region following the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the battle first for Greek Independence and then Turkish Independence, and the March to the Sea of 1915, when more than a million Armenians died. The human longing for retaliation and the innate insistence that things be made right lives on. Despite what life teaches us, human nature repeatedly rises up to thwart every forward movement of human history. I am struck by how hard it is for us to balance our enormous advances in science with our pitiful progress in understanding and improving human nature. The late American novelist Walker Percy once mused, “Why is it that as we know more and more about the world we know less and less about ourselves?” He also went on to observe that there are really only two types of people in the world: those for whom life is a quest and those for whom it is not.
Tomorrow we leave for Istanbul. Tonight, as we relax at the rooftop garden cafe, we can hear an orchestra playing beautifully just down the street at the Acropolis Museum. They are celebrating the four-year anniversary of its opening. Originally, they had hoped to have it finished for the 2004 Olympics, but multiple challenges delayed its completion. Why did they build it? Because for more than 50 years they have been asking the western world to return the ancient relics that were “rescued” from Greece in order to safeguard their preservation, always told this would happen when they had a suitable place to receive and protect them. Seeing Greece and catching a glimpse of its history makes some of this concern plausible but, of course, at the heart of it all is the endless cycle of the powerful exerting their will on the powerless and the inevitable longing of the human spirit to make ancient wrongs right. In the fullness of time, God sent forth his son, not to vanquish the world but to give every one of us the strength and capacity to be changed in order that we in turn could change the world. There remains so much that still needs to be done.
Blessings and good night,
Gayle D. Beebe