We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experi-enced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to en-dure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! This past week, fresh after Easter, I have been thinking through the question, “How does the resurrection of Jesus matter as we face the challenges of the current crisis?” To find the answer, turn to 2 Corinthians 1.
The Apostle Paul begins the letter remarkably transparent with his personal or-deal. In verses 3-7, Paul speaks of “trouble” and “suffering” that he has endured, without specific details. The suffering is likely associated with his preaching of the gospel. Paul’s point is that, in the midst of his trial, God comforted him so that he might comfort others. Paul admits that he was “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (v. 8). In fact, he felt as if he “had received the sentence of death” (v. 9). This is a striking revelation of deep personal anguish.
Many of us can relate to that sentiment, especially in our present days when thou-sands of people are suffering with the coronavirus, grieving over lost loved ones, or experiencing financial hardships. We may very well know what it feels like to be “under great pressure,” “utterly, unbearably crushed,” and to “despair of life itself.”
Yet Paul says he experienced something truly redemptive in his suffering, “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” His affliction forced him to face his own limitations and weaknesses. On his own, he could not carry on in such hard times. He was compelled not to rely on himself, “but on God who raises the dead.” How does Paul know God in this way? Because of the resurrection of Jesus. The Easter event anchors Paul’s faith and secures his hope. (See 1 Corinthi-ans 15 for how the resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian faith.)
The verb translated as “rely on” (v. 9) could also be rendered “depend on” or “trust in.” Eugene Peterson wonderfully captures the idea in The Message: “We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally – not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!” Because of his affliction, Paul was forced to trust God totally.
When things are going well in life, when there is no pandemic, when the economy is strong, when our work is flourishing, it is easy for us to rely on ourselves. But, when bad things happen to us and our loved ones, when we are threatened by a powerful disease, when the economy falters, or when we wonder about our own financial security, then we, like Paul, realize just how much we need God. Self-reliance seems naïve and unwise.
Because of the resurrection, we have good reason to rely on God. We know that God is both trustworthy and powerful. Yes, we hope that God will deliver us from the perils we face, even as God once delivered Paul (2 Cor. 1:10-11). But we believe that, no matter what happens to us in this age, our lives belong forever to the Lord. In the end, He will not only rescue us, but also redeem and restore us, along with all creation. Thus, we rely on God by faith, trusting fully in the God who raises the dead.