10/08/2020 at 2:12 pm

Perplexed But Not Despairing

By October 8, 2020 No Comments

I’m perplexed. A lot. 

I often have a hard time discerning what God is doing globally, nationally, in my state, in my church — even in my own life. And perplexity can easily lead to despair, as Paul implies in 2 Corinthians 4:8, “…perplexed but not despairing.”

As I peer out my key hole at a world reeling from a killer pandemic, vicious politics, unnerving lawlessness, gross injustice, economic uncertainty, social isolation, and relentless (cough!) second-hand smoke from Wyoming and California… my fear and fatigue commingle, causing me to want to bury my head in the sand like an ostrich — (even though a quick Google inquiry tells me that ostriches don’t actually do that!).

Perplexity is not unspiritual, nor a sign of deficient faith. In fact, it’s quite natural. Most of the great heroes of the Bible experienced it. Ecclesiastes normalizes our great lack of understanding, and Paul affirms God’s design that we now see through a glass “dimly.”

Everyone’s understanding is limited and finite. Non-believers seek their answers from science, legislation, a promising candidate, or social reform. We seek answers from the all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise, infinite yet personal God of the universe. Sometimes he grants us great insight and enlightenment. Often, though, he simply says, “Trust me.”

Like many of us as believers today, the prophet Habakkuk was perplexed and distressed about the evil of his own people and nation. And God’s answer, though enlightening, was not what he expected (or wanted) to hear. Gaining understanding did not bring the peace the prophet had hoped for:

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. (Hab. 1:5-6)

God explains that he is bringing another nation to invade Israel in order to discipline her for her sins. Most perplexing, however, is the fact that this invading nation is far more wicked than the Israelites! That’s a hard pill to swallow! It makes no sense, and Habakkuk protests God’s plan.

God then gives him a telescoping vision of the distant future — a future when all will be made just and right:

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Habakkuk 2:14

God would later punish the Chaldeans, as God hints in 1:11. But more importantly, in chapter 3, as the prophet is praying, God gives him what he truly needs more than anything else, to quell his perplexity and distress — a renewed vision of God himself:

God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels. He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways.

Similarly, in 2 Chronicles 20:12, a Jewish king (Jehoshapat) is in a perplexing and life-threatening predicament. And his prayer reflects this same, Godward gaze:

O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

In all our perplexity, we crave answers, understanding, and solutions. Our eyes are often fixed horizontally on the temporal and circumstantial. But God redirects our gaze vertically to himself. When our minds are fixed on him, we can experience perfect peace in the midst of great upheaval and unrest (Isaiah 26:3).

God’s character is our bedrock, anchor, and stay. As Edward Mote’s famous hymn says:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

On behalf of the Summitview Pastors,