Summary: COVID-19, civil unrest (some peaceful protests, yes, but often violence and looting); ferocious political rhetoric and ad hominem attacks daily; traditional, biblical family life slowly disappearing from the scene. These and more are changing the mid-20th-century America I grew up in into a nation in chaos. How should believers in the Lord react? Is there any hope short of the ultimate hope of heaven?
2 Corinthians 4:8, KJV
It was ten years ago. My wife of 38 years had just died. My mind was reeling with conflicting thoughts. Mental and emotional confusion ruled within. Then a Christian friend called to express his condolences and comfort. He quoted a short sentence from the Bible, and things began to come back into perspective. His words from Scripture? — “We are perplexed, but not in despair.” And with that wisdom in mind, my recovery and rebuild began.
That friend was a strong Christian, a man of faith and godly wisdom. I realized two important things: (1) it was not wrong, or even unusual, for me to find myself “perplexed,” puzzled, unable to sort my loss out in my mind. But (2) I did not need to live “in despair.” As time passed, rays of hope began to shine, springing from God’s Word and His Holy Spirit. Perplexity might have remained for a while — I didn’t “have all the answers,” or even most of them! But hope began to return and grow as I stayed focused on the Lord and His encouraging Word, the Bible. Let’s apply God’s “perplexed, but not in despair” to the American scene (and much of the world scene) today.
The apostle Paul correctly prophesied terrible times in the last days. As I write this (June, 2020), America is seething with protests fueled by racial issues. And in some of those there is looting and violence, at times extreme violence. Not feeling valued or supported, law enforcement officers are leaving their jobs in large numbers. Hundreds of police officers have been injured in recent riots. Anarchy is prevailing in some of our larger cities. The First Amendment right “peaceably to assemble” has in many protests been ignored and has turned into property destruction and human injuries.
These are terrible times in many other ways. The latest statistics estimate that some 2,900 to 3,000 innocent babies are executed in their mothers’ wombs each day in America. Stop and ponder that. In what should be the safest place on earth (a mother’s womb), the lives of the most innocent among us are being brutally extinguished by the thousands daily.
What about family life, the very heart of a civilized society? The traditional (and thoroughly biblical) husband-and-wife, two-parent home is looked upon by many as a dinosaur, a relic of an unenlightened age. This despite the fact that in the Bible’s very first chapters God established the family and referred to the couple as “male and female … a man and his wife,” from whom children would be born and raised (Genesis 1:27f; 2:24). Yet in some areas of American society today, even a majority of children are being raised in fatherless homes, with devastating consequences in crime rates, poverty levels, and more.
In a prophetic commentary on end-time issues, Jesus Himself said that “lawlessness will be increased.” We are seeing that today. Schools in some cities have become war zones, with students attacking one another and the teachers. Protests going on even in recent weeks have often turned into unruly mobs, screeching at the police, throwing objects at them (and injuring some of them), with some of the crowd turning to violent looting. Astoundingly, some of the lawless ones who are calling to “defund the police” have gone beyond that to “disband the police.” That’s entirely predictable and consistent with Jesus’ foretelling of an increase of lawlessness. Hey, what better scenario for the lawless than to face zero law-enforcement opposition?
Lest I paint too bleak a picture, let’s turn now from the “perplexed” to the “not in despair” insight and encouragement of our main text (2 Corinthians 4:8, KJV).
Jesus didn’t sugar coat it. He said clearly, “In this world you will have trouble.” Thankfully, that’s not all He said. Having warned of troubled times, He said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world … Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you … Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Trouble in this fallen world? Yes, inevitably. And yet peace in the midst of that trouble? Absolutely! Jesus even said, “My peace I give you.” It’s not some weak, man-centered peace that we fabricate in our own hearts. It’s His heaven-sent peace — a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It’s a God-given peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
Do things today seem out of control? Trust the Lord, they are not out of control. Jesus said that “all authority” in heaven and earth is His. The apostle declared, “Jesus Christ is Lord of all.” Consistent with His infinite wisdom as the Lord-of-all Son of God, He can override and overrule any situation. Whatever perplexing troubles you are facing, do not despair. Remember: “perplexed, but not in despair.” The Lord of all is there for you, so reach out to God the Father in prayer, through Jesus His Son. He is faithful. Remember Christ’s words. Trouble in this world, yes, but heaven-sent peace in Him who has overcome the world and now rules it with “all authority.”
Troubled? Perplexed? Can’t sort out all the chaos in our times? Remember and declare: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” He’s your Helper! He’s the God who says to His people, “Call to me and I will answer you” (Jeremiah 33:3).
Are these perplexing times? Certainly. But through it all the Lord assures you of His peace, His Lordship, His love, and that He is your Helper. In the midst of perilous times we hear His timeless promise: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”
You might be thinking: well, that’s fine for the Lord, because He’s God. None of our earthly troubles can intimidate Him. And you would of course be right. Nothing going on in our world threatens or limits God. But, you say: what about me? Take a quick glance again at the 3 short verses just above. They speak of the victory the Lord enables you to have even in the worst of times. Notice a common thread in all three.
“Perplexed, but not in despair.” Remember, it’s not wrong or displeasing to the Lord when we find ourselves perplexed about troubles we’re going through. He looks deeper than that and encourages us not to lose hope and sink into despair. Why? Because Jesus has overcome the world … He has all authority, ALL! … He gives us His peace … and He promises to be our Helper.
And even more: He makes us the conquerors, not the crushed ones … He gives us victory, not defeat … and He always causes us to triumph in Christ. And that, my brothers and sisters, is why in the midst of a trouble-filled world, we can find ourselves perplexed, but NOT IN DESPAIR. Our omnipotent God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Those are promises you can depend on!
If you have a tendency to be fearful, check out our "Fear Not! A Sermon with 12 Good Reasons Not to Be Afraid"
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Perplexed, But Not in Despair: Hope in Times of Despair
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©2020, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons & Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.