6 God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.
Paul is philosophical about the suffering of this life. He remarks on any number of occasions about the pain he’s endured for the sake of his faith, particularly in this letter (see 2 Corinthians 11:22-33).
The suffering and struggle, Paul says, is for a purpose. It’s a way of reminding us that we are not the light of the world, but rather that Christ is. As much as we might believe that a life with no pain would be preferable, that’s not the shape of human existence – and it’s not the shape of the spiritual life.
We’re not the only tradition to recognize this. Buddhism, for example, puts it right out there from the get-go, proclaiming as one of the Four Noble Truths that “life is suffering.”
That’s a hard truth to bear. But it’s not inconsistent with what we know: no one gets out of this life without some hardship, without some pain, without some loss.
The question for Christians is whether we will let our difficulties define us. Paul fully admits that we are like clay jars – fragile, breakable vessels. But we are not empty vessels. We are not solely defined by our difficulties or by our struggles.
Rather, we are defined by the light of God at work within us to bring us through those struggles. We are defined by the hope we find in our Savior. We are fragile vessels who carry the treasure of God’s glory as we see it in the face of Jesus Christ.
So while in any given moment we may feel like we’ve been knocked down, we are never knocked out. We don’t need to deny the reality of difficulty, but we also don’t need to let it define us.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
When you read the words above, did you feel any resistance in you? If you find yourself going through something difficult right now, is it hard to see meaning in that struggle? Sometimes, one of the things that can help is to reflect on other tough times you’ve experienced and how you’ve seen God working through them. Ultimately, we are the only ones who can make sense of our own experience, and as Christians we do that using the tools of faith. Take time to reflect on these things today.
Prayer: God, whenever we are suffering, remind us that we are not defined by our fragility, our pain or by the things we’ve lost. Give us the hope that comes from knowing we are not defined by our difficulties, but rather by the power we find in your Son, Jesus Christ.