What to make of Paul’s striking contrasts? “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (4:16); “slight momentary affliction…an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (4:17); “we groan… we are always confident” (5:2, 6).
I doubt that it’s about having some sort of psychic balance sheet that happily ends in the black. That would set me off on a search for experiences to counterbalance the wasting and groaning. I might find them, but at the end of the day I’d still be at the center.
I suspect that what grounds Paul’s contrasts involves Rowan Williams’ decentering. Here’s a bit from The Wound of Knowledge: “To be absorbed in the sheer otherness of any created order or beauty is to open the door to God, because it involves that basic displacement of the dominating ego without which there can be no spiritual growth” (Cited in Burkhard Conrad’s essay “Rowan Williams on ‘Decentering’”). (“God is my copilot.” “You two really need to change places.”)
“…we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (4:18). What Israel sees—anticipating next week’s readings—is the advancing Egyptian army in all its glory; what Israel cannot see is the glory of G-d, poised for Israel’s deliverance. (For a whimsical replay, Elisha and the Aramean army here.)
There are tools here for unsettling times: decentering, remembering that there are more pieces on the board than I can see… And letting Jesus awaken the imagination. How easy to repeatedly use a traditional phrase “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” never realizing its celebration of the God of the living!