Yesterday, I heard a godly man say, “We usually don’t trust God until we have to. So He makes sure we have to.”
He then went on to relate one of the most difficult seasons of his life. He concluded, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars to go through it again, but I wouldn’t take a million dollars to have it erased from my memory either.”
We learn far more through adversity and pain than through times of smooth sailing. That is especially true about learning to trust the Lord. For some reason, when things are going well, we tend toward self-reliance. We trust ourselves to maintain the status quo. But God loves us too much to let us stay there. He wants us to know more of Him.
This seems to be the apostle Paul’s understanding of his own trials. 2 Corinthians has a melancholy feel to it. Paul had endured horrible persecution in Asia, he was troubled by the false teachers who were preaching a different gospel to the Corinthians, and he was experiencing the pain of strained relations with the Corinthians themselves. Paul was hurting. And he demonstrated through his writing that he was clinging to God. He begins the letter by praising “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (1:3). Though he knew that all of his difficulties occurred under the control of God, he understood that God Himself was the rock that would bring him through.
In 1:8-9a, Paul writes, For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
We don’t know the exact nature or the suffering he refers to. It is clear from other places in Acts and the rest of Paul’s letters that he endured a wide range of difficulties, from being stoned (Acts 14:19) to being shipwrecked (Acts 27) to suffering from the mysterious thorn in the flesh (2Cor 12:7). Given the fact that Paul suffered much and did so joyfully (Acts 16:19-25), the affliction that he mentions in 2 Cor 1:8 must have been severe indeed to have caused him to despair of life itself.
You may be able to relate. It is certainly not an uncommon thing to suffer. Most of us can think of times in our lives that were so dark we experienced feelings of despair, trouble so deep that it felt as if it would crush us to death. Some may be experiencing that right now.
Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired understanding of his affliction is comforting: But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. This one sentence gives us two important truths. First, God is the One who raises the dead. It may not be immediately clear what this has to do with the subject at hand, but I believe it points back to Paul’s comment in the first half of v9: we felt that we had received the sentence of death. Paul and his companions suffered so greatly that it seemed as if they had been marked for death. That God raises the dead serves to remind us that no matter how severe a trial may seem, it is under the sovereign control of our Father. Though a trial may “kill” us, He can bring us back from its darkness. Our affliction serves God’s purpose for us. And we know that purpose is good (Rom 8:28-30).
Second, God’s design in our severe suffering is to make us rely upon Him, not ourselves. And what a gracious thing for God to do. When we are placed in a situation where we have no choice but to trust our sovereign God, we find that His grace is sufficient and His power is perfect when we are weak (2 Cor 12:9-10). For Paul, this realization led him to the place where he was content to suffer so that the power of Christ might rest upon him.
Going through the experience of being delivered from those times of darkness gives us confidence that God is able to do the same again: He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again (1:10).
Whatever you are enduring now, no matter what the severity, it is God’s design that you would hope and trust in Him. He has brought difficulty into your life for the gracious purpose of teaching you more about Him, namely, that He can be trusted. May the knowledge of Him that you are gaining now serve to bolster your faith in Him during future trials. It may not seem like it now, but there will come a time when you will be able to look back and see His faithfulness and praise Him for allowing you to suffer and for using it to bring you to a place of greater faith in Him.
We usually don’t trust God until we have to. So He makes sure we have to.
Posted by Greg Birdwell