Well fearless readers, it’s been an eventful and difficult week for your friends at Burning Bush Communities. For the sake of privacy I won’t go into specifics, but several members of our community faced (or are facing) some real trials, including: bad accidents, bad medical news, and unforeseen life transitions. Truly, we have much to be grateful for in the midst of all this, as many of these events could have gone far worse. Yet this has been a week with plenty of grief, and it has served as a reminder of just how fragile and vulnerable our lives are.
As I have been praying and thinking about all these things over the last week my mind has rested upon 2 Corinthians 4, and the Apostle Paul’s words about the nature of suffering and affliction in the service of God’s mission…
2 Corinthians 4:1, 6-11
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart… 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 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; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.
There’s no avoiding affliction.
Life isn’t easy for clay jars. We break, we chip and someday we will cease to function. This was taken for granted in world of the Apostle Paul. To live was to face suffering. However, as modern people we often live with the goal of escaping suffering. We pursue this escape through medicine, drugs, eating, entertainment, sex and much more. And for many, faith itself is a means to escape suffering. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand our faith.
Our faith in Christ and our allegiance to Christ is not a means of avoiding affliction. Nor is it a pain-pill to forget affliction. Rather, our faith makes a way through affliction. It provides us with a Spirit-filled power and love that will not be conquered by affliction. It gives us a loyalty that spurs us on when affliction drains our strength and our ability. It is a community, a family, that holds together strongest when the affliction is most painful. And it is a Presence that endures with us and covers us when affliction tells us we are forgotten and alone. BUT, (and this is a big but!) this faith doesn’t make the journey less painful in the moment. We still feel weak, confused, hurt and afraid, but we are not defeated by these things.
Affliction does not define us.
If we belong to Jesus we are defined by Jesus. We are not defined by the struggles that we have in this life. We bear the scars of our affliction, but they don’t form the core of our identity or determine our destiny. Rather, we endure them for the sake of Jesus, we face them for the sake of Jesus, and we work to heal from them for the sake of Jesus, that we may continue on the path that He makes for us. The Apostle Paul was not defined by his poverty, or by the persecution he received, or by his suffering. He was defined by his commitment to Jesus his King. We walk a sort of middle ground here. We don’t run from affliction and try to escape, nor do we allow affliction to dictate the terms of our life. We accept it, we face it and we offer ourselves to God in the midst of it, trusting in Him to supply what is needed to give us life.
We move into affliction to make the life of Jesus visible.
The life of Christ is most obvious when we bear His blessing unto others in the midst of affliction. It is when we choose to move into another’s affliction (hello solidarity) or continue on our mission in the midst of affliction that Christ’s life becomes evident. The whole world knows that broken “clay jars” don’t hold water. So when the world sees a jar that by all appearances is cracked and broken and fit for the trash heap over-flowing with water and soaking all those nearby they take notice that something greater is at work. To “carry in our bodies the death of Jesus” is to crucify our self-will and self-protection and selfishness and to step willingly into affliction. And we do this so that the healing and empowering and re-creating presence of Jesus might be made available through us and our sharing in the affliction of this world. There is nothing easy or glamorous about this decision, but it’s the highest calling for clay jars like us, and the greatest gift we can offer others in this life.