But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
2 Corinthians 4:7-9
Two months ago, I was lying in bed falling asleep when my phone rang. It was my dad. When I picked up, he asked in a very alert and unsteady tone, “Caroline, are you awake? Something really bad has happened.” Before he could even tell me of the violence and horror that plagued my family that night, I fell apart—mentally, physically, and emotionally—simply hearing that bad news was coming.
As details of the event unfolded, it was becoming clear that my all-around “good” world of ease, comfort, and happiness had been punctured by the deepest pain and sorrow I’d yet known. What had been my stability, reality, and identity was stripped away, leaving me feeling like a hollowed out frame—raw, deflated, and without the ability to understand what was going on within me. And like that, my heavy sorrow slid into even darker fear.
In the days following, there was one clear and overarching fear that paralyzed me: This will destroy me. Various and constant “what if” scenarios filled my mind: “What if I never feel normal again?” “What if I get too unstable to do my job?” “What if I spiral out of control into depression that I never get out of?” “What if this darkness, this dullness, is permanent?” “What if this is the new me?”
Sadly, I was completely and utterly convinced that these scenarios were not simply my imagination, but a foregone reality. And furthermore, I was convinced that the sorrow, pain, and darkness that was pulling me under was more powerful, more real than Jesus. I didn’t see Jesus releasing me from His grip by choice but felt like Satan’s pull was stronger and would win the tug-of-war, and he’d crush me for good.
My community of close believing friends and the elders and pastors of my local church tightly encircled me in constant prayer amidst my tears, unpredictability, darkness, and mess. While I was seemingly so empty, so uncertain, so fearful, they were not. With the certainty and steadfastness I lacked, they poured and prayed the fullness and never-ending sweetness of the Gospel of grace over me. A dear friend pointed me to this passage from Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering during an especially dark moment:
“Jesus lost all His glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.”
This, dear brothers and sisters, is the treasure we possess in Christ. Our Substitute took on the worst-ever, unimaginable, destroying kind of suffering on the cross so that it could never touch us. This treasure, the righteousness and glory of our Savior Jesus, is everything. It is the irrevocable, immutable, and eternal protection and strength that we fragile and weak jars of clay boast and rest fully in. This treasure is a promise that you will never be destroyed. And not only is it our perfect protection, it is also what turns evil, suffering, and pain into beauty. This treasure enables us to long for Jesus to return, a day of glory the Lord promises will be worth the dark night of pain.
The Lord graciously and mercifully used this season of darkness and sorrow to draw me near to Him, not to release me into Satan’s hand to be chewed up and spit out. The treasure I possess makes that cosmically impossible. Crying out to the Lord in deep distress and fear was not a “last hope” prayer after all; it was a sure promise—more sure than the evil I was convinced was ripping me from my Father’s hand. What felt like the Lord losing His grip on me was actually Him helping me release my tight clinch on deep-seated idols of comfort and ease that had to be removed for my own good and protection. And I began to live in the freedom of Gospel reality, free from the fear of the “what ifs” of tomorrow as God exposed their powerlessness.
I’m constantly reminded as I meet with college girls everyday that yes, this world is dark. This year I’ve listened to accounts of abusive parents, anxiety and depression, mental illness, self-harm, rape, disbelief, and physical health problems. O, how these pains cut deeply into my heart, but we have this treasure. This treasure doesn’t make awful things go away, but it ensures that Jesus will not let these awful things crush us, destroy us, or bring death. Jesus enters into pain with us; He knows exactly what it feels like; He goes through it with us and for us. The Kingdom is coming. He is healing this world, and He is healing you and me.