2 Corinthians 1:8-11
You’ve heard people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” right? Well, someone needs to tell that to Paul, because he certainly thought otherwise. After telling the Corinthians that God comforts his people in order to comfort others, Paul cites as a personal illustration his own perilous affliction in Asia. What was this affliction in Asia? Remarkably, Paul gives us very little information, so I hesitate to speculate. Suffice it to say, Paul views this affliction to be so burdensome and overwhelming that he had no more strength, he was in despair, and he thought he was going to die. He believed that he was at death’s doorstep.
Whatever the affliction, it was beyond Paul’s ability to handle. There were no resources outside Paul, nor any within him, that he could tap into, muster up, or of which to avail himself, in order to extricate himself from so perilous an affliction. Paul’s not the only one in biblical history who was so affected by such peril that he was unable to get himself out. The stories of Job, Joseph, and Daniel immediately come to mind. And what about Heman the Ezrahite? In the psalm he wrote, he mentions that his “life draws near to Sheol” (Ps. 88:3). Of course, examples could be multiplied. So much for the truthfulness of that message we hear all too often from the world: “Look within yourself. Find your inner strength. You have the power in you to handle what life throws your way. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you need to do.”
Even though we are left without answers about the nature of the affliction, we are not so confused as to why God would do this. Paul is clear about God’s purpose and motive in rendering him powerless to handle the affliction. Unlike the world’s message, the Bible’s message is never to encourage God’s people to look within, but to look upward to their God, who is mighty to save. Isn’t that what Paul is saying here? The death sentence he felt he had received “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 10). God is doing to Paul what he does with all his children: he brings them to a point of utter dependence on him who saves. That’s the reality whether we recognize it or not. And our trials remind us of our insufficiency. When we’re weak, then we’re strong. And we’re strong, because we’re resting in the strong arm of God (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It was this strong arm of the Lord that raised Christ from the dead. It was this strong arm that raised Paul from the dead. It’s this strong arm of the Lord that reaches down into the depths of Sheol, to the grave itself, and raises us from death to newness of life. If we are delivered from the domain of darkness by the omnipotent arm of the Lord, we can, with Paul, set our hope on God to deliver us in our trials, however hard and life-threatening they may be (v. 10). Be encouraged, beloved, that God, who raised you from spiritual death unto spiritual life, can be trusted with your day-to-day difficulties and your earth-shattering sorrows. Our God raises the dead!