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Category: Faith, Religion & Spirituality / Topics: Bible Coping COVID-19 Crisis Current Events, News Faith Hopes & Dreams Inspiration Stress Values Wellness Wisdom

Perplexed . . . but not Despairing

by George Garrison

Posted: April 17, 2020

In the midst of our puzzling reality, there is hope…

George Garrison is senior pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois. He began writing "Thursday Thoughts" during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so much of the church's activities had to go virtual.

Second Corinthians is known as one of Paul’s more personal epistles, and chapter 4* is probably the most personal of all. In the middle of that chapter, he states openly (we could almost call it venting) how difficult the life of ministry is for him and his companions. Verses eight and nine contain these revealing and insightful statements: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.” Can anyone relate?

What makes these verses revealing is the candor that Paul gives regarding the struggles they faced. What makes them insightful is that he was able to hold those struggles up to the light of Christ and His glory. It is in this passage that we see a striking example of the “both/and” (as Susan likes to call it) of the Christian life. It is okay and healthy to accept the difficulties and harsh realities of what we are in now. We don’t have to pretend they aren’t difficult; we don’t have to keep calm and carry on as if there were nothing threatening our calm. The fact that Paul could admit they were perplexed (and that’s probably the tamest adjective used in the whole passage) shows the turbulence going on inside of them.

In these challenging times, there are many things that we should put in the category of perplexing and just leave it at that. We should be perplexed about the virus and the length and impact of the quarantine. We should be perplexed by the difficulties of our job performance. We should be perplexed at how we are acting (and those around us are acting) in these unusual days. Teachers should be perplexed at the difficulties of teaching; students should be perplexed by the challenges of keeping up with their work. And we should be perplexed at the discrepancies we hear from our leadership with regard to the best plan moving forward. Perplexity is in some ways our new normal. All of this means we probably need to adjust our expectations, especially expectations of how others should act around us and even expectations of how we should act or feel. Perplexity means there is no right or wrong way to view things, just a lot of ambiguity.

But in the midst of our puzzling reality, there is hope. That is the and of the both/and approach. Paul models what it is to know and experience ambiguity—and yet know certainty. This is why he (and we) can say we are not despairing. Specifically in the 2 Corinthians passage Paul gives the reason for our lack of despair (or obtaining hope, to use more positive language). “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (v. 6). When we hold our perplexity up in the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in Christ, the light puts our perplexity in its proper perspective.

Paul also reminds us that this knowledge—this treasure that is inside of us—is housed in jars of clay. The clay jar is not only composed of our physical weaknesses and mortality (as these days remind us), it is composed of our perplexity as well. But the contrast between the jar and the treasure reveals that “this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (v. 7).

Paul’s writing and experiences remind us that it is okay to be human and experience all of the feelings and emotions associated with our uncertain times. But let’s not forget to hold up what we find most puzzling to the light—the very light in our hearts that gives us the light of God’s glory. When we do so we do not have to be despairing, and we can have hope in the midst of perplexity. That’s the beauty of the both/and. 

Praying for all of you in the midst of our perplexity,

Pastor George

© 2020 George A. Garrison

*Read the passage on BibleGateway, where you can change translations, listen to an audio version, and find additional resources.

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George Garrison is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois.

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Posted: April 17, 2020

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