by Dave Harvey
Afflicted. Burdened beyond strength. Despairing of life, which could be pretty close to pre-suicidal. Felt a sentence of death. Words filled with trauma, emotional pain, mental anguish; words that describe a slice of Paul’s life during an experience in Macedonia (2 Cor. 1: 8-11). We don’t know what happened. But we’re shown the collateral damage to his soul. It wasn’t just a dark night, but a long, cold, hard, hopeless winter.
Maybe you see yourself in that picture. Afflicted, weary, despairing—it all seems so pointless. Getting up each day is an act of courage. But you fear it’s meaningless, the days seem vacant. Listen to how Paul experienced God’s purpose in his suffering: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1: 9b).
The Writer of the Drama
Don’t ignore the ugly pain. Think about it. It’s real and every sleepless night, every tear shed has meaning to God (Ps. 56:8). But it’s a means not an end. We fear it’s the end. But we rediscover the treasure found by Paul: “This is to make me rely upon God, the same God who raises the dead!” There’s a writer of your drama, One who determines meaning and fills affliction with purpose.
Am I suggesting that God intentionally brought Paul to a place of weakness and despair? It can be hard to fathom but, yes … that’s it exactly. Our hopeless winters are no different. Who or what we rely upon is serious business to God. So serious, in fact, that He designs our worst moments to tutor us, to help us get the lesson.
But Why Me?
“Why?”…the question chews your soul. Intractable, inscrutable, unyielding. After all it’s one thing to be weak and know the cause. Sam has an illness and it afflicts him; Carol loses a loved one and she grieves. The cause may be life-altering and earth-shattering, but at least they know it. But there’s a kind of desperation that has reliance as a goal. How did we get here? Why is this happening to me? The cause remains unclear but the purpose is not: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9b).
Swapping Cause for Purpose
Did you feel that spark? We hear God’s Word and an ember buried deep within is kindled. It’s called hope. It starts with an exchange, a kind of swap—our perspective for God’s. It comes when we abandon the quest for cause. We decide to suspend judgment upon God and dismiss the inscrutable “why” from the witness stand. We swap cause for purpose, what we know for what we trust. The seed is planted, faith grows, a new reality takes hold. This cross is not meaningless, there’s a purpose to our pain.
We don’t know much but we do know this. Through this present mess, God is teaching reliance. And if you feel like you’re dying each day, be of good cheer. Remember the promise in Psalm 30:5b, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” In the fullness of time, dark nights end, cold winters subside and hope heals. We live to laugh again because the One we rely upon is the one who raises the dead.
(Originally published on the Covenant Fellowship Church blog on February 1, 2013 at http://www.covfel.org/blog/the-inscrutable-why/).