We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NRSV)
I once picked this passage, or maybe it picked me, for a memorial service. I did this even though I’m not sure I had ever really “gotten” these words of Paul. What did he mean, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies”?
The service was for Dolores, a woman with whom I had worked more than thirty years ago. She was a bright, energetic person except when she wasn’t. Her life had been punctuated by four shattering psychotic episodes. Dolores lived with bipolar illness.
Dolores knew whereof Paul spoke. She knew affliction, perplexity, persecution, and being laid low. Which also meant she had every reason to give up on faith, even life. She never did.
Reading this passage in the service, through the lens of Dolores’ life, I got it. It is the ringing note of defiance in Paul’s words. “Afflicted, but not crushed … perplexed, but not driven to despair… persecuted, but not forsaken… struck down, but not destroyed.” Down, but not out!
Each phrase a kind of holy “dammit!” A shout of resurrection defiance in the face of harsh reality.
In one way or another, at one time or another, we too are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down. But Paul and Dolores tell us these realities aren’t the last word. Even more, our very tribulations can bring the life of Christ in us into sharper resolution.
I finally got Paul’s words that day when Dolores interpreted them for me as we gave thanks to God for her life. There is in the Christian life, as there was in Dolores’s life, a note of resurrection defiance.
For those saints who teach us through their own trials, we thank you. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His most recent book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. You can read and sign up for his blog at www.anthonybrobinson.com.