Transformed... into jars of clay
The Greek word for transformation is ‘metamorphosis’ – which we typically associate with a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. But the Bible uses the word in a much richer way: to ‘go on being transformed’ into something amazing and eternal. 2 Corinthians 3v18 says “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
But what does it mean to be transformed into his image? For those of us who struggle, it can mean to wish that the pain is taken away and that all will be OK. For those who hold certain doctrinal positions, it means that people will start to agree with their particular interpretation. For the prosperity preachers, it means we will become ‘Ken and Barbie’ Christians – with nice smiles, healthy wallets and probably driving a nice car. But are we promised this kind of transformation?
Later in 2 Corinthians [4v7 onwards], it talks of this treasure being given to us in ‘jars of clay’ – which is an odd metaphor, but certainly seems to suggest that it is not all Hollywood and happiness in the way you might want. Instead, Paul is at pains to point out [more so in 2 Corinthians than in any other book], that this transformation is very much a heart-issue and actually can look like, “hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down…” but still standing!
Two noteworthy deaths occurred this this week – you may have heard of their deaths in the media, for they were famous in a way. They were not friends of mine, but what has been written about them and by them struck me in a big way.
The first is Matthew Warren, son of Rick and Kay Warren, pastors at Saddleback Church. Matthew died by his own hand, but his suicide and his mental illness, which he had struggled with ‘since birth’, was not seen as weakness. In a touching letter to the church, his parents said this:
You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.
2 Corinthians 4 is clear [v12-18] that the goal of transformation is that others might be transformed, might come to know Jesus. In working towards this goal, we need to be very careful that we do not present a goal of Christlikeness that seems unreachable, almost too perfect. I am pretty clear that Matthew Warren was ‘transformed’ and Christlike in many ways, for few parents could say what his parents did about their children, and it seems he led many to the love of Christ. Would you dare to say he was not Christ-like – even though he struggled? Was he awaiting a healing from his depression? Yes, to be sure this is what he wished for and prayed for. Was he someone who had been transformed? Yes, and possibly more so because of his affliction...
The second person who died this week, with rather less publicity, was the Christian speaker and author Brendan Manning. He described himself as a ‘recovering alcoholic’, as one who was never far from the moment of his first salvation, for he knew that his salvation was needed because of his sin and brokenness. He would not be one to say that to be transformed is to be perfect. Instead, he would probably say it was still in many ways to remain broken and in doing so to reflect to others a Christ who is interested in brokenness, in prodigals and in those of us who keep on making the same old mistakes.
He said, “Christianity is just one bunch of beggars telling another bunch of beggars where to find bread.” As we consider transformation, may our transformations never lift us beyond this truth!