The apostle Paul remarks on our human frailty, and at the same time on the resiliency which is characteristic of those who perceive the light God has provided to shine in the darkness, in the face of Jesus Christ.
As Paul says, the treasures we have been given reside in fragile, pottery jars. Us.
To quote him:
As a self-test of sorts, we might ask ourselves how many of Paul’s troubles we have in our lives. Are we afflicted? Could be in many different ways – health, for example. In his own case it was people constantly trying to undercut him, discredit him, stop him. Generally speaking, I think very few of us would say we have no afflictions, although we might not be able to say with Paul that we’re afflicted in every way. The question for us then: To whatever extent I’m afflicted, am I getting through it without being crushed?
Are we perplexed? There is much in our world, and perhaps in our personal lives, that is perplexing, that defies our efforts to understand. In uncertainty, possibly in confusion, am I getting through it without despairing?
Are we persecuted? For most of those who are likely to read this, there’s very little in our lives that would qualify as persecution. At most there might be some inconvenience.
We are aware, of course, that there are places and situations which are quite different. So it is a mostly theoretical question for us: If I were to suffer real persecution, would I be able to get through it knowing that I’m not forsaken? Even if theoretical, it might be worth our while to give this some thought. It would be very easy, if we’re in prison or tortured or we watch family hauled off, to fall into thinking that we’ve been abandoned.
To whatever extent I’m afflicted, am I getting through it without being crushed?
Are we struck down? Again, for almost all of us, we have not been physically assaulted. There are other kinds of assault, though. In some way or another, I would guess most of us would feel that we have been struck down, bullied, degraded, devalued, at least once. The question then is: Has this destroyed me? Has it destroyed my faith in the light shined by God in the face of Jesus Christ?
The world is full of affliction, perplexity, viciousness, unprovoked attacks. You don’t have to be Christian to have them happen! I think what Paul is talking about is extra helpings of these things because of being Christian, on top of what comes our way simply from being human.
It isn’t right to suffer for believing God’s truth, for expressing it, for living it—no argument. But it happens, has been happening since Cain murdered Abel and will keep happening until the last enemy is destroyed. The question therefore is: Do I have the resilience to remain uncrushed, undespairing, confident, undestroyed? Am I prepared (paraphrasing Paul) to “always carry in my body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus is manifested even in my mortality and fragility?”
How paradoxical, how amazing, that the greatest treasure we can even conceive of, is carried around in a fragile clay jar, like me.