For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead … He on whom we have set our hope. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
This text is for those who believe that Christians should never feel depressed. This is for those who think despair and thoughts of death are signs of faithlessness. This is for those who believe in triumphalism. This is for those who think that you should pull yourself up by your bootstraps of faith and act happy! Paul gives us a quite different picture.
He is sharing his agony, helplessness, and despair. “We despaired even of life,” says Paul. The suffering he endured in Asia was so intense he wanted to die. He could not take it any longer; it was “beyond” his “strength” to handle it anymore. He was ready to give up. There was nothing left in him to save himself.
Does that sound familiar? O Christian, you who have experienced the depths of darkness when you thought the sun would never rise again; you who gasp for air because the pain has sucked all the oxygen out of you; you who are so overwhelmed by your unpaid bills, an incurable disease, addiction, loneliness, abandonment, depression, psychosis, betrayal, and all the evils of life: Paul is sharing his experience with you! He also has experienced agony, despair, rejection, hunger, homelessness, and more (1 Cor.4:11-14)!
You wondered how God could forsake you in the midst of this storm. Paul is explaining that there is a good reason for God’s hiddenness.
God has not forgotten you.
He has not lost His capacity to save. He is sitting on His throne, in charge as always. But He longs for you to know Him in a deeper way. He has to bring you to the end of your capacities so that you recognize the impotence of all your idols. You have to see that neither your strength, nor your intellect, nor your physical beauty, nor your charm, nor your money, nor your friends can save you. You have to come to the end of yourself so that you will cry out to God from the depths of despair and stretch out your hands toward Him. He wants you to know that He is the only source of help in the midst of darkness, because He is the only true Light that no darkness can overtake. My friend, hope in Him, surrender to Him, and know that He cares for you. Know that He is the ruler over the realm of humankind, and that He will providentially work toward one goal: to conform you to the image of His Son (Rom.8:29).