Postscript: 10 More Days

by Alistair Matheson

During Covid Lockdown v1, I wrote a 40-Day devotional, Treasures of Darkness. A year and a half later, having been struck by the virus myself and consigned to a 10-day quarantine, I felt moved to add this postscript.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves …”

II Corinthians 4:7

Some 20 months have passed since Covid took the world by storm, and this week I find myself Covid-positive for the first time, mid-way through my prescribed isolation period. In lockdowns past I stayed home as a dutiful citizen, this time as a leprous casualty!

Countries the world over have now negotiated at least two major lockdowns. But with the vaccine process now well established, and with mortality rates and hospitalisation thankfully restrained, I had been doing my best to set our church’s navigational sextant back towards ‘In-Person’, in a Covid-altered world.

Now this!

On a bright, crisp mid-November day I’m confined to barracks, as are my wife, our daughter, son-in-law, their two kids, and some close Christian friends too, by the actual virus itself.

To comfort us through our detention, our little Covid colony has been reading a wonderfully moving book from the New Testament, Second Corinthians. In this letter, a vulnerable apostle Paul, having left all the detailed instruction and corrective rebuke of First Corinthians behind him, bares his own needy soul. In Paul, like perhaps no other, we observe the cost of discipleship in a hostile world, and the heartbeat of a spiritual father for a church in need of encouragement and strength.

II Corinthians reads to me like the work of a dead man walking, a battled and beleaguered soldier of Jesus stumbling from one shower of hammer blows to the next. Beaten. Imprisoned. Cancelled. Misunderstood and maligned. Accused and rejected. Ship-wrecked, exposed and hungry. Effectively under the ‘Fatwa’ of his day from his own countrymen. Whipped rather than protected by the arm of the state. And through it all, night and day, burdened with the care of a church he was unable to get to except by mail.

I write as a mere Covid stat, one whose ‘hardships’ are virtually non-existent by comparison, and I find my vision once more elevated to another level by Paul. When this man, in light of the above catalogue of crises, says the following, we all really ought to sit up and take notice …

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison …” (II Corinthians 4:16-17)

Momentary, light affliction“!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Paradise were now? No more pain, suffering, want, dysfunction, division, strife, failure, accusation … Just uninterrupted peace, prosperity, love, health, comfort, happiness, perfection … Ahhh, eternal bliss! …

But this is not the portion of apostolic people on Redemption Road. It wasn’t the earthly testimony of Jesus either …

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you, through His poverty might become rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9)

It’s not from the luxury of the palace that the fragrance of redemption rises most sweetly, but through the cracks in broken, earthen vessels. Our inheritance is not life instead of death, but life through death. It came to us that way; and it passes on through us in like manner. As Paul demonstrated, “Death works in us, but life in you.” (II Corinthians 4:12)

Oh God, if only you could use us without the pain!

But that, of course, is not the nature of Christ or of Christianity.

Paul was no superhuman, just a mere mortal like us all. There were moments when he too longed for escape …

“… I implored the Lord three times that [my messenger from Satan] might leave me,” he confessed. (II Corinthians 12:8)

But that just wasn’t going to happen. Paul went on …

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:9-10)

I wish I could say that my own greatest hardships were undeserved, that I were purely a victim of the vicissitudes of life and never a contributor to my own afflictions, much less those of others. If only could I say that!

But I cannot. That is not my imperfect world. I have no leg to stand on. In truth, no human being does. All have sinned and fallen short. There is none righteous, not one.

My earthen vessel is cracked on the outside today by Covid. But on the inside, I am broken by the kindness of the One who, in Jesus Christ, has overcome not just sin, death and hell – but me too – to get to me.

My foibles, contradictions and unjustifiable failings leave me defenceless in the Court of Perfection … yet qualified for something I neither deserve nor have any right to: the mercy of God.

For Paul, physically, spiritually and socially battered though he was, the primary battle zone was, as he alluded to in II Corinthians chapter 10, in the realm of the mind.

It seems, from much of Paul’s writings, that he was also, on a personal level, forced to respond to a constant barrage of character assassination, accusation and finger-pointing. But how did Paul fend off the incessant salvo from his religious countrymen, from the civic power-brokers of his day and, ultimately, from Satan himself?

Not least by reminding himself that he was actually dead, with nothing left to lose anyway. Dead men have nothing to defend. They feel no pain. Personal preservation belongs to a previous life. They’re past themselves.

Yet for Paul, that was where fruitfulness began, not where it ended. What he now was, belonged fully and only to Christ. His life was one replaced, not improved. Where Paul once lived, now Christ was.

The flip-side to Paul’s boast in Jesus was his burial of self.

‘Paul, you are a sinner!’ Answer: ‘Correct, actually I’m the chief of sinners. No defence on that one.’

‘Paul, we’re going to destroy your reputation!’ Answer: ‘Too late, I died to the applause of men on the road to Damascus, when I surrendered to the One who made Himself of no reputation. I’m fine with ‘scum of the earth’.’

‘Paul, we’re going to kill you!’ Answer: ‘Too late again. Already dead. I was crucified with Christ. It’s His life you’re really going after, not mine. (And He won’t be dying again.)’

It was in the weakness of his own mortality, hammered home by every literal and metaphorical body blow that accompanied his Christian service, that Paul was continually connected with the resurrection power of Jesus, and overflowed in the love of God.

Christ’s resurrection life poured out through the daily death of Paul, and it still overflows today through every disciple who gets it that the power of God is perfected through their personal weakness rather than their impressiveness.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if every Christian emerged from suffering with the words of Paul? …

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (II Corinthians 5:14-15)

The life and love of God flow from broken places, discovered most keenly through human weakness, vulnerability and need.

We soon heal over and become strong again in the broken places.

But as we grow strong again, and confidence returns, may we never forget that our true power was discovered in a place of felt need; and may we never be hardened to, or elevated above, the broken world we are sent to touch.

May the treasures of darkness still sparkle in the light of day.

One thought on “Postscript: 10 More Days

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: