"This is hard, and I'm confused."
Sometimes I steal blog ideas from my husband, but after ten years of staying up late to help him edit his sermons, we’ll consider it a fair swap.
This is one of those stolen posts.
Early this morning, he told me that he wanted us to memorize a passage from II Corinthians--verses Paul wrote about the challenges and purposes of keeping a right perspective during difficulty.
I’d read those verses about twenty billion times, but as he recited them to me again this morning, one particular word caught my eye. “Perplexed.” Paul said he was perplexed but not giving in to despair.
Several years ago, I was studying II Corinthians when I realized Paul had admitted depression so deep that he’d wanted to just check out and die (II Corinthians 1:8). I was astonished that the leader of the entire Gentile church had not only felt such deep doubt but was also admitting it to one of the most volatile churches under his care.
Today, the word “perplexed” helped me see even deeper into his openness. I realized that Paul didn't just speak about his disillusionment past tense. From the middle of trouble, he was still comfortable admitting confusion about his sufferings.
The Greek word for “perplexed” means “to have no way out” or “to be at a loss (mentally.” It means to stand in doubt. Its Hebrew equivalent means to be embarrassed because you are in doubt and you don’t know which way to turn. This isn’t the sort of thing charismatic leaders of fake religious movements say. Charlatans are always slick, always confident, always sure.
Paul, on the other hand, chose brutal honesty. He told his audience that he was confused. He let them see his doubt and uncertainty.
And yet, he also showed them how to let emotions take a proper role in the life of a person who had encountered the real Jesus. Paul said, “I feel this hard thing---and yet, because of what I know deep down—I will not despair.”
My husband said it is good for us to go through times of brokenness because our weakness provides an opportunity for God to demonstrate what he’s capable of doing—even in two fragile, clay pots like us. He also wanted to remind me that God can use (even) this difficult opportunity in our lives to create life in others (verses 11-12). I needed those two concepts.
I also needed to see Paul’s intense emotional honesty sitting alongside limits he gives to the reign of his feelings:
“What in the world? I’m getting hit from every side! -- But you know, I’m not crushed."
“I’m so confused about all of these painful things that are happening. I feel lost and embarrassed! -- But you know, I’m not giving in to despair."
“I’m disappointed and sore from being hit over and over again by selfish, wicked people! -- But, you know, I’m not destroyed."
Me too, Paul. Me too.
It was good for me to hear Paul's vulnerability today. And I needed to be reminded that times like this can also be used by God to pour eternal significance from my little quivering pot of clay.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
II Corinthians 4:7-4:12