“But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-9 NASB
The past year for Black people in the United States has been difficult. The collective trauma of centuries of living under the thumb of white supremacy feels like a weight on our shoulders. Personally, I took a few personal days off of work because, in short, I’m Black. My supervisor was understanding, as the country itself cried out in anguish.
This reality of the emotional and physical burden of being Black was felt and emphasized by James Baldwin when he said that “to be Black in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Well, I would add to that—to be Black in America is to be in a constant state of affliction, perplexity, and persecution. From the overt anti-Blackness we confront on a daily basis in our work, politics, schools, and hospitals, to the covert anti-Blackness in our churches and the “colorblind” messages we are often taught, Black people are daily forced to contend with the universal reality of their social condition of inferiority.
Under these kinds of conditions how can Black people come to know our God-given worth? How do we come to intimately understand that while the burden of Blackness is heavy, the blessing of Blackness is profound?
Our Inherent Worth
When Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:7-9 about “this treasure in earthen vessels” he’s telling the church in Corinth that their value and their strength is found within, not because of their humanity but because of the presence of the living God in them. So because God lives and dwells within any person who is afflicted on every side is not crushed; any person who finds themselves perplexed does not despair; any person who finds themselves persecuted is not abandoned; and any person who is struck down is never destroyed.
This is an experience that is common for Africans across the Diaspora, but I’ve taken heart that Black people have not been crushed, abandoned or destroyed because we have within our earthen vessels a treasure. We have within our earthen vessels a hope. We have within our earthen vessels Black joy — a God-given joy that wells up regardless of circumstance. Within our earthen vessels we have the very presence of God.
Jazz musician Esperanza Spalding said it beautifully in her song, “Black Gold”:
” Hold your head as high as you can
High enough to see who you are, little man
Life sometimes is cold and cruel
Baby no one else will tell you so remember that
You are Black Gold, Black Gold
You are Black Gold
Now maybe no one else has told you so
But you’re golden, baby
Black Gold with a diamond soul
Think of all the strength you have in you
From the blood you carry within you
Ancient men, powerful men
Built us a civilization
They’ll be folks hell-bent on putting you down
Don’t get burned
Not necessarily everyone will know your worth.”
The Prayer of Earthen Vessels
We have Black gold. Our vessels are earthen, but the God who dwells inside of us individually and collectively is a treasure that gives us value, joy, strength, and hope from day to day. I encourage you to pray the following prayer with me:
Creator of Earthen Vessels,
The Christian Scripture tells us to cast our burdens on you, for your yolk is easy and your burden light. We trade the burden of Blackness in this society that survives on scarcity, oppression, and injustice, for the blessing of Blackness found in the treasure that you have placed within us. May we recognize that as your creation, we have value and worth because you created us! May we celebrate that. May we remember that what we have within us from You and that the extraordinary greatness within, the Black gold within, the power and strength within will be from You, our God. And from you alone.