For two years I've been working on a commentary on 2 Corinthians, trying to make sense of Paul's most personal letter, where he bears his soul so openly and, in the eyes of his converts in Corinth, shamefully. After all, the Corinthians held Paul in contempt, dismissing him as the "least of the apostles" for all kinds of reasons, but especially because he endured so much pain. For, if Paul was God's appointed servant, why did He make it so hard on the apostle to the Gentiles? And yet, rather than hide from his pain or try to put a positive spin on such suffering, Paul embraced it as the work of Christ, what he called "carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus."
I think I understand.
Over the last few years, I've been carrying around in my body a lot of pain.
In 2016, my mom died of cancer. In 2018 I became a persona non grata, a national target of vicious attacks by crusaders who questioned my commitment to Christ--even some of my former students joined in the smear campaign. In 2019 I left my "dream" job of 19 years and moved to Jonesboro. In 2020 our house in Bolivar was burglarized. In 2021 my eldest daughter broke off all communication with me and Sheri. That same year both Sheri and I faced some scary health problems. In 2022 my son entered rehab. In January of 2023 my dad died under horrible circumstances. Recently, our youngest daughter's husband abandoned her, leading her to move to another state to start a new chapter of life. All of this grief, all of the sorrow I feel deeply in my bones, sometimes weighing me down, a burden strapped to my body.
Of course, throughout all of this, I've seen the help of our God: due to his sobriety, it feels like we got our son back; I love my job, ministering in a wonderful church; our return to Jonesboro has been a balm of healing; we found a beautiful home to live in; God healed both Sheri and me; our youngest daughter is moving on with courage and dignity. Even though the scars remain, I believe God is still on my side. The betrayal, the sense of abandonment, the loneliness, the fear, the confusion, constantly asking God, "why?"--these are the very things Paul wrestled with, albeit under different circumstances than mine. And yet, I have found solidarity with him in ways I never would have imagined. His experience, his words, his example, his advice have helped me more than I can say. Because of him, I'm finding resurrection where death and suffering seemed so regnant.
Sharing these things is difficult, especially since many believers have experienced far more devastating tragedies. Still, we seek the wisdom of those who have gone before, even a man like Paul who confidently claimed we "always carry around in our body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10). Not sometimes. Not when it's convenient. But always. We always carry in our body the necrotic effect of Jesus' life-giving death.
This isn't pain management. It is resurrection power.