When You Feel Like Death (Part 2)

Deliverance Now or Later

Now, it just so happens, that in Paul’s case there was a miraculous deliverance.  He got better, or he got set free, or he was rescued.  That’s verse 10: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us.”  Part of Paul wants to convey to the Corinthians is that nothing is too hard for God.  God does set the prisoner free.  God does heal the sick.  God does miraculous things to deliver us from persecutors and diseases and anxiety and depression and closed doors to the gospel.

That’s why verse 11 tells us to pray.  I just love Paul’s logic.  “You pray for us, because God will bless us through your prayers.  And then when people see the blessings, when they see that we are rescued and aided and helped, they will give thanks to God for such a deliverance.”  Do you pray or ask people to pray with the thought that the chief end of prayer is thanksgiving to God?  Yes, you want to be helped.  Yes, you want to be healed or you deliverance from whatever or whomever is troubling you.  But the ultimate reason why you want this great rescue, this assistance, this great salvation, is so that people will be impressed with God.

You realize that’s why God ordained prayer.  He doesn’t need us to pray.  It’s not as if we are telling him something he doesn’t know.  It’s not as though we can change his mind.  In the ultimate sense, all our days have already been written in God’s book.  Your days have already been decreed.  So why pray?  Two reasons: (1) Because God has ordained the ends and the means, and prayer is one of those means by which he intends to do his work.  (2) Because prayer results in more thanksgiving.  God gets more glory and is seen as more powerful and more precious when his people ask him for things and he delivers.  He could easily deliver us without us asking (he does that sometimes).  But when many people first ask him, they are more likely, when he answers, to recognize that God did this great deed and God is worthy to praised.

This leads to a question, however.  Does this passage teach that though we have affliction, we will always be delivered from that affliction when we pray?  After all, Paul says in verse 10 “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.”  So is the encouragement for the Corinthians and for us: “Don’t sweat it.  God’s got your back.  He will take care of things.  You’ll get better.  You’ll be rescued.”  Is that the message?

Not exactly.  We know from the rest of the Bible that faith does not mean we get rescued from every trial.  We know this from Paul himself.  His thorn in the flesh was not removed, even though he prayed three times for it to be removed.  Paul died as a martyr.  He had a sentence of death, and that time, he died.  So, yes, this passage teaches that God is able to do amazing things in your life to save you from your affliction.  But this passage does not teach that God’s deliverance always comes in this life.  Paul’s words are intentionally ambiguous in verse 10.  He delivered us.  He will deliver us.  He will deliver us again.  He doesn’t say what these will be like.  He simply say, “We will be delivered.”  It’s left open-ended.  The deliverance may be physical healing.  It may be an angelic prison break.  Or it may be resurrection from the dead.

Resurrection Hope

The white hot center of this passage is the one sentence we haven’t talked about yet, the end of verse 9.  After talking about his crushing burdens and the death sentence he felt, Paul says, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”  The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.  God brought a dead man back to life.  This gives us two pillars of comfort in suffering: (1) A God who raises the dead can deliver you from the severest affliction.  He can rescue you right now, as he did for Paul.  He can heal you.  He can give you a good marriage, a good relationship with your kids.  He can break the addiction.  A God who brings dead people to life can do anything he wants.  (2) The other comfort is to know that the God who brought back Jesus from the dead will raise you and me and all those who love Jesus.

This means God can answer your prayers and deliver you in this life, or he can answer your prayers and give you eternal life and new body in the age to come.  Either way, comfort!  Our only comfort in life and in death, as a matter of fact. So long as we rely on God.  John Calvin comments that self-confidence must be exceedingly displeasing in God’s eyes if he goes to such great lengths—making us feel a sentence of death–just to rid us of it.

It’s an amazing statement Paul makes.  When most of us start to suffer we doubt God more.  We question his goodness.  We wonder what in the world he’s doing.  But Paul says, “No, no.  We’ve got it backwards.  Affliction is supposed to make us doubt ourselves.  We are supposed to be questioning our strength.  We are meant to wonder, what in the world can I do about this?”  And the answer is nothing.  When you are utterly burdened beyond strength, what can you do?  You could put a 500 pound crate in front of me and tell me to pick it up and bring it outside, and I won’t be able to do it.  I don’t care how I maneuver the thing, I am not strong enough to carry that weight.  Most of us don’t think, or care to think, that one of the things God is up to when he sends crushing affliction, is breaking our mean streak of independence.

We think we can do great things.  We are so terribly strong.  We are so super smart.  We have degrees.  We have a good attitude.  We know how to get things done.  We help others. We aren’t the ones who need help.  We don’t bother people.  We don’t bug God with our problems.  We can take care of things.  Just another week and I’ll be on top of it.  This year, I’ll get it figured out.  If I had a little more money, I wouldn’t be in this fix.  I just need a little more time.  We are hardwired to rely on ourselves and the wires get supercharged by living in America, and by having some success, and by being intelligent, and being liked.

We learn to rely on ourselves.  Self-confidence and independence are among the best virtues in our eyes, when divine-reliance and dependence are what God wants to see in us.  The verb in the beginning of verse 9 is in the perfect tense instead of the past tense, which may indicate an ongoing sense of desperation in Paul.  True, he was delivered, but the experience of feeling that death sentence was still with him.  Just like you hear people who get in some major accident and almost die talk about how their whole perspective on life changed.  That’s what was going on in Paul.  He knew he was a mortal man.  Even though he had been rescued from peril, he knew that more would come and that eventually, unless the Lord returned, he would die.  He felt the death sentence.  He saw death not as abstract reality that happens to people, but as his sentence.  He considered his death to be fixed and sure.  He knew what it was to be desperate, to be crushed with burdens, to be discouraged, to be anxious, to look death square in the eye.

And what did he learn from it all?  That he was not in control.  That he could not save himself.  That he could not make himself better.  That he could not carry on in his own strength.  That from here on out, he would rely on God and not on himself.  If you can’t feel any personal application at this point then you probably don’t know God or you don’t really know affliction.

Some of you refuse to be broken, refuse to admit that there are ten thousand more things outside of your control than under your control, refuse to confess “I’m weak.  I’m clueless sometimes.  I’m helpless.  Some days I don’t know how to get through another day.”  And some of you refuse to consider your own mortality.  Once I was having lunch with one of my college professors.  And he was telling me about a new class he does on death and dying.  He really sees the class as a way to get students more serious about their faith.  He said, “If I can get students to face their own mortality, then a bunch of the other questions and answers start to line up and make sense.”

One morning I will not wake up.  Or one evening I will not go back to sleep.  I’ll die.  You’ll die.  You will be at the moment as helpless as you were when you were born.  Will you and I learn before that point that it is folly to rely on ourselves?  Will we be able to say like the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes”?  We will also suffer.  We will all die.  We will all watch others die.  But, I pray, we will not grieve like those who have no hope.  We confess and we sing and gather to remember that Jesus rose from the dead.  A new body.  New life.  No more death.  As it was for Jesus, so it will be for us.  Encourage each other with these words.

We can have hope in the midst of affliction because our God raises the dead.