“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, 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. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by our prayers.” –2 Corinthians 1:8-11
It’s no secret that raising kids is difficult work. My wife and I have felt this especially during the last few weeks. Now that our boys are home from the hospital, we have been on a wild ride. When our three-year old and two-year old are healthy and happy, we can balance duties out pretty well. But recently our two-year old developed a fever, and between trying to keep her comfortable, feed our twins, and get some sleep, things got a little out of hand.
Four hours of sleep a night? I can function. But two hours of sleep a night? I’m a drooling, gibbering wreck. When I look ahead to September and going back to teaching for six hours a day, I shudder. How am I going to be a good dad, a good husband, and a good teacher? I wonder.
Enter this passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in which he states it plainly: there were times in his ministry when events transpired that were beyond his ability to control or endure. Now, don’t get me wrong; raising four kids under four is nothing like being jailed or tortured for your faith. However, there are times when I have been so sleep-deprived, worried, and upset about my inability to control events that I have been utterly powerless to do anything except throw up my hands and say, “God, you have to deal with this. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.”
When I’m well-rested, well-fed and have a lot of time on my hands, I hold in my head the idea that I am in complete control. However, the idea that I can function properly or accomplish anything, great or small, on my own, is a fiction. Even when I believe I am operating under my own power, my body, mind, soul, the earth itself, and the laws that govern the universe are being sustained by a loving and interested God. Our God is intensely concerned with His creation. Every moment He chooses to uphold our collective existence. If He chose otherwise, we would cease to be. Since time began, God has been making a moment-by-moment decision to keep this whole grand universe in motion.
This is the strange and beautiful truth that lies in the midst of suffering: when you suffer, the idea that you can “go it alone” in this world is revealed as a lie. This is not to say that suffering itself is an absolute good. Rather, in the absence of a good (whether that’s health, or rest, or freedom), the lack of it reorients us toward it. When you are exhausted, you naturally turn toward rest. When you are persecuted, you naturally desire freedom. As J.R.R. Tolkien so aptly put it in The Silmarillion, evil is not good, but it is “good to have been” because it presents us with the opportunity to turn back toward goodness and the source of good, namely God.
Thus, “I can’t do this on my own” can turn in an instant from a cry of despair into a recognition of our situation. Once that has been established, we are free to choose God: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope…”