2 Corinthians 4: 8-9. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
When we started our look at 2 Corinthians we said it was one of the most intense looks at personal suffering in all of scripture. Where we’re going together these past few days and in the days ahead are not easy.
I’m not sure what you think the Christian life is supposed to be. Maybe you’ve heard that Christians are supposed to constantly be experiencing triumph and success in their lives. Maybe you’ve heard that a depressed Christian is a faithless Christian. Maybe you have a hard time admitting that you ever have a bad day. Maybe you think you’re supposed to be living your “Best Life Now.” Maybe you think a Christian should never have a bad day.
And then you read 2 Corinthians.
Paul’s not just describing a bad day. He’s describing a life of dying. It’s the life of a jar of clay. And he’s not hiding it. He is completely honest and vulnerable.
He is afflicted – the pressures of the Christian life are squeezing him.
He is perplexed – the situations of life have confused him.
He is persecuted – the enemies of his ministry are hounding him.
He is struck down – depression has taken over.
I’m sure we can all relate. I know I can. I live a lot of my life in a depression fog. Numbness is my friend. I often feel squeezed and even helpless. Even tonight while standing outside grilling hamburgers, suddenly a wave hit me where it seemed like every stress in my life right now all flooded into my gut all at once. I thought I was just minding my own business…but maybe this is the normal life of a jar of clay.
What I truly love about these two little verses is that they give us all permission to experience our own frailty. To display it. To set our jar on the mantle. Our depression and confusion are not a lack of faith. In fact, admitting and confronting our distress is what guides us deeper into our own neediness, which in turn guides us into a deeper faith in Christ. This is not a lack of faith; it is the journey of faith.
Paul’s vulnerability cries out for our own vulnerability. Yes, we are jars of clay. But can we ever just admit it? Can we be truly vulnerable with each other and with God? If we’re not going to be vulnerable, we will never be known. And if we are not known, we will never be loved for who we are.
This is why Christ allowed himself to be vulnerable for us. Not just to save us but to know us, and to be known by us. He was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. He allowed himself to walk through shame in order to defeat it. He never denied his humanity, his weakness, or his dependency. He embraced it. Why? So that the surpassing glory of God might be seen in his jar of clay.
But here’s the beauty of the “but nots” – when we embrace this vulnerability we find that in this jar of clay is the power of God in Christ. Christ was crushed for us. He suffered through despair for us. He was forsaken for us. He was destroyed for us. All so that we might be able to say with the Apostle:
But NOT crushed – In Christ, we never lose our way out.
But NOT driven to despair – In Christ, we never lose our hope.
But NOT forsaken – In Christ, we never cry out “My God why have you forsaken me?”
But NOT destroyed – In Christ, we can never be destroyed. Not by evil or by the goodness of our God.
“To live is Christ” means we live in the vulnerability of Christ. The frailty, weakness, and desperation of Christ. And, at the same time, we live in the power of the resurrected Christ.
Do you tend to want to hide or run from your suffering? Are you ever vulnerable around others or with God? Are you walking through something that is confusing or discouraging right now? How does your union with Christ allow you to face it boldly and honestly?