I am always amazed and amused when I read the way Paul describes the traumatic events that happened in his life in 2 Corinthians chapter four. Later in the letter, he recounts his beatings, dangers, shipwrecks, his being many times on the razor-edge of death, the betrayal, sleepless nights, hunger, and cold exposure that accompanied his service to Jesus. Any one of these experiences might send the best of us into a downward spiral of post-traumatic stress. But Paul calls them: “light, momentary afflictions”. Either Paul was psychotic, loving personal pain and suffering, or he had discovered a secret. I think it is the latter; in 2 Corinthians 4, he gives us a key to life and ministry: when death works in us, life works through us for the good of others.
Twice in this chapter he uses the phrase “we do not lose heart”. These words are also translated “we do not lose courage” and “we never give up”. In the midst of his wounds, Paul has found the strength to courageously speak the truth and to live uprightly before God and man.
There are all kinds of experiences listed here. Paul is citing his own personal, particular weaknesses. He has been afflicted (to be in a tight, uncomfortable places), perplexed (to see no way out, to be in doubt), persecuted (running from danger or difficult things), struck down (literally knocked down). All of these are his own, apparently negative experiences out of which he now ministers.
We could list our own personal/particular weaknesses, traumatizing and hurtful experiences, and inabilities. Our wounds are part of our wholeness. Integrity is being who we truly are, wounds and all. These vulnerabilities are also what make us attractive to other people who are going through the same types of struggles. It is interesting that we humans love to celebrate people who are courageous in difficult times. Yet, we often try so hard to keep ourselves shielded and protected so that we have no possibility of danger and therefore no need for courage.
We mustn’t be ashamed of our weaknesses. They are part of who we are, and being a whole person means being true to every part of who we are. Paul’s revelation here is that through our weakness, God’s grace reaches more and more people, and thanksgiving overflows to the glory of God.
Paul says we don’t lose heart because we have been rescued from blindness. We are called to help other fellow blind people by proclaiming truth to them. We don’t lose heart because we do not proclaim ourselves, but a greater one, Jesus Christ. We don’t lose heart because we do not do this in our own power, but in a greater power, His power. In fact, we hold this power – this treasure -in our weak earthly bodies.
Imagine Paul, a man who was so driven to be perfect (according to the law) but now he is perfectly content in embracing his weakness. And he is changing the world because of this.
I think about myself too much. You do too. When our focus is on us, we often feel pressure and we lose heart. But it is God working through us, as we proclaim God’s work for us that takes the pressure off and releases us unto the joy of being on mission with him.
“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”