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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Growing up, many of us probably had the experience of singing the teapot song. You know the one I’m talking about: “I’m a little teapot, short and stout, here is my handle, here is my spout.” We used to do that one in Kindergarten, though my greatest memory of singing this song was with my daughter in all her two-year old cuteness doing the moves, tilting her head and arm over like a little teapot. Man, time flies!
Beyond this being a cute song we sing with kids, there is hidden a profound metaphor for human life. We are all little teapots, in the grand scheme of things, and while we might get steamed up and do our thing, we can also be more fragile than grandma’s fine china. I think life during the pandemic has taught this to me in ways I never quite understood before. Our lives are fragile, and when a deadly virus hits, many of us have had to walk down the dark road of facing our frail mortality as we watched loved ones and friends suffer.
Our plans are fragile as well. It is fitting that 2020 has been the year of the rat: all our plans have been left gnawed at the ends. Camus warned us what moments like these would reveal about ourselves and our agendas in his book The Plague, spoken by the character Tarrou: “All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, as far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.” The Apostle Paul himself presaged this sentiment by nearly 2,000 years when he wrote in Romans 8:19-23 that creation itself has been subjected to bondage, and awaits with eager longing a coming freedom from its frailty.
Yet, even though we are fragile teapots, the believer has an option beyond Camus’ suggestion that the only option we have is to resist collaboration with evil. Here, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 shine with revelatory glory.
Yes, we are fragile teapots, or in the language of Paul in verse 7, we are clay jars, but beneath the fragility of our bodies, our plans, and our desires resides eternal treasure. Housed deep within each of us is a hope that endures despite our present afflictions. This hope withstands the pressure of persecution and being forsaken and even the threat of destruction because our hope was given birth the moment that God revealed His redemptive purposes for humanity by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.
The idea here, I think, is simple. Jesus, in his full humanity, suffered every sort of evil and suffering imaginable, even to suffering’s greatest terminus of death itself. Yet, even here, God’s purposes were not thwarted; Christ was raised up. So, as we belong to Christ, we too are conformed to what we saw in His life. We are crushed; we, too, suffer. Yet, we know that’s not the end of the story. The life and death of Jesus, as Paul tells us in verse 10, are carried in our bodies such that just as his crushed body was filled with God’s life on the third day, so, too, will we participate in that same life. Verse 11 sums it up nicely: the glory of God’s life that filled Jesus is the source of our hope that we will also be indwelt by life despite all that we endure.
As a result, we might be little cracked clay pots, or fragile teapots that seem to be wasting away as the ravages of things like the pandemic take their toll, but what looks like death, Paul tells us in verse 12, is, in fact, an indicator of the glory to come as we are united the Christ. “We know,” Paul tells us in verse 14, “that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.”
Here, a whole new vista of options for human life are opened, contrary to Camus’ assertion that the only real possibility for human life is to resist collaboration with evil. For the believer, rooted and grounded in the hope of new creation because Christ has been raised, we can not only resist evil, we can embody God’s life-giving, redeeming, and hope-filled presence despite the darkness of the world.
This is exactly where Paul ends up in verse 15. Though we are cracked pots, as this hope of new creation hidden within us shines as we are conformed to and united with Christ, the very grace of God extends out into the world and lights up the dark. In short, the very glory of God begins to shine anew, and tears are replaced with joy, weeping with laughter, and sadness with thanksgiving. Unlike a humanity destined to do nothing more than kill wave after wave of new rat infestations, we know and believe that all things are headed to a final destination, a final redemption.
Housed deep beneath the flimsy walls of our cracked pots rests the greatest treasure of them all: we are resurrection people.