Suppose you ask a friend to describe their life. They reply, “I am hard pressed! I feel like I am being crushed and it perplexes me. I can honestly say I have been struck down. I feel like I carry around death, wherever I go.
I suspect that the response of many of us would be to encourage the person. We might remind them that God loves them. Perhaps we would pray for them, on the spot. I also suspect that some part of us might wonder at their negativity. Surely they realize that the Christian life is full of blessings and victory. Is their faith so small that they are blind to that?
After the best encouragement and prayer we have to offer, imagine the person said, “Well I’m just thankful I’m not completely crushed! I am not in total despair. Many people persecute me, but God has not abandoned me. And I’m still here. Life hasn’t destroyed me. In fact, people can see what Jesus is like when they seem me going through this stuff.”
It is likely that by now you know I am setting trap for you with the scenario above. In second Corinthians chapter four, the apostle Paul lays out a description of the Christian life that closely corresponds with what our imaginary friend has said. I have inserted the text below:
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (New International Version)
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Life really is hard. And it is not hard because we lack faith or fail to pray. It is hard because there is sin in this world. Our own sin. Other people’s sin. Present, past, future sin. And we are too weak to overthrow the reign of sin, even in ourselves. How much less can we conquer sin for the whole world.
What we can do is trust in God with all our hearts. He will guide us. He will heal us. We are only getting in the way when we pretend that everything is fine, just fine. We are particularly obstinate when we will not confess that we have failed. In Jesus’ parable (Luke 18: 9 – 14), the tax collector cries out “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. He is the one who is justified before God. Not the Pharisee who is confident that he is living the victorious Jewish life.
This life is hard. It is full of blessings and also full of pain. We are here for a reason, but we long to go home.
Life is hard, then we die.