As pandemics go, it’s a delicate moment. An occasional ray of progress is piercing our darkness suggesting that soon, not far off, the world may reopen. Maybe for only a few hours a day, but whatever. Who knew we would ever want to be free of our homes? But the prospect of kickstarting our rhythms will carry other, differently weighted, burdens. Sure, there’s immense relief after the hurricane is over. But it’s only then that we see the real damage; it’s only there that we truly comprehend the long road to recovery.
What can protect a fragile faith when facing the post-disaster debris? What will help us cultivate trust when our economy is trashed? Only this: parking on the promises of God.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been tweeting out a number of ‘pandemic promises’. Here’s a recent one: “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you” (Ps. 9:9–10).
I’m tweeting these out as a declaration of dependence. I need God’s promises to sustain me through this storm, not to mention its upcoming aftermath.
The apostle Paul was the same way. In 2 Corinthians 1:8–10, Paul unpacks for us the way God’s promises sustained him in the midst of one of the most difficult trials of his life. The apostle uses strong words to describe the affliction in Asia. He tells us that he was so utterly burdened beyond strength that he despaired of life itself. But Paul discovered there was a profound purpose on the other side of his pain:
That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 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 (2 Cor. 1:9b–10).
These words explain why Paul was able to trust God during and after his suffering. In these two verses, God gives us two clear promises.
First, God promises to raise the dead. Paul had just lamented: “We felt that we had been sentenced to death” (v.9). But death is hardly intimidating to God, because God raises the dead! The present tense of “raises” here is important. God’s resurrecting power isn’t confined to the first Easter after Christ’s crucifixion nor to the final resurrection at the end of days. God raises the dead now! He may not always bring life in exactly the time or way we want, but we can continue to trust him, because God continues to raise the dead.
When you think post-pandemic, think about that promise. In fact, think about how dead situations are God’s specialty. Those seasons–perhaps like the one awaiting us–when you are living among the carnage of seeming death. There’s slow progress, little clarity, and little signs of life. Remember, God revives. 2 Corinthians tells us that God does his greatest and highest work in the face of death. Times, like our precious Savior, where there was a lifeless body in a grave with a stone rolled in front of it. But God raised the dead. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God breathed life into us. When everything seems hopeless and futile, God can make everything new. When we lift our heads after the hurricane and see areas where it is even worse than we imagined—times where it may feel like a sentence of death–we can trust that our suffering is not the final chapter. Our present trials are not the end of the drama. God raises the dead.
Second, God promises to deliver the weak. It’s important to remember when you’re suffering that the strong don’t need deliverance. Only weak people get rescued by the Savior. In this passage, Paul celebrates his neediness and God’s faithfulness to deliver: God delivered us (in the past); he will deliver us (from our present circumstances), and will deliver us again (in the future). When it comes to God’s faithfulness in the face of weakness, Paul keeps score.
You need to keep score too.
If someone were to ask me to name a thing that has totally surprised me about walking with Jesus, I think this would be my one of the first things that jump to mind: I never thought my strengths would become so dangerous and my weaknesses so glorious. I’ve learned that God ordains problems, weaknesses, and failures to humble us, so that he can be shown as our glorious Deliverer. Happy is the Christian who discovers that true discipleship is not found in our ability, but in our inability. When you think about it, your relationship with Christ also started at the point of your inability. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2: 8-9)
Never forget, in the weakness of our inability, God’s power shines brightest. Do you remember Paul’s thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians? It was an affliction he prayed God would take away on three different occasions. But that thorn ultimately pinned him to Christ.
My friends, the coronavirus, and it’s sweeping post-pandemic impact, is like a giant thorn in the side of the Church; it’s a thorn exposing our weaknesses and forcing us to depend, in an entirely new way, upon our gracious God to rescue us. Only he can do it! And God’s response to Paul’s thorn can also supply our post-pandemic promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
What About You?
About ten years after I left college, I heard an audio sermon from a guy in my old campus small group. In this sermon, the guy used an illustration about this pathetic guy who had once been part of his group but was now leading a large church in Philly. The more this guy talked, the more it dawned on me: “Hey, that’s me! He’s talking about me.” Sometimes God does something similar for us. I think that one of the intents of Paul’s afflictions. You see his weakness and pain, but then the Holy Spirit makes it painfully clear the text is also talking to you. Talking about you.
As we face the future, we stand before the great precipice of “why”. We must decide whether we’ll plunge headlong into a pit of doubt or cross a bridge of trust to the other side. The bridge is our only hope—the bridge planked by the promises of God. Sure, things may look bad, and in some pockets of the future, even hopeless. But God raises the dead. It’s why we can have hope for our post-pandemic life.