Paul said, “We are perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Cor. 4:8). The word perplexed means more than just being puzzled. It comes from “aporeo” which means “to be at loss with one’s self, be in doubt; not to know how to decide or what to do, to be perplexed” (Thayer, 66). We might say it means to be at your wit’s end.
No man has all the answers. No one knows the best way to handle every situation. Even Paul didn’t. He could work miracles and write by inspiration, but he didn’t always have a clear idea about how best to deal with a situation or how it would end. Earlier in 2 Corinthians he spoke of a trying ordeal in Ephesus (2 Cor. 1:8-10). He was in such danger “that we despaired even of life” that is, he thought he would die. But he didn’t. He only knew as much of the future as the Lord revealed to him, and he dealt with judgment matters the best he could. God didn’t reveal to Paul the best way to handle judgment calls any more than He does to us. As a result, Paul sometimes felt at a loss as to what to do.
If the apostle to the Gentiles was at a loss at times, how much more will we feel this way? There are times when we don’t know what to do or which way to turn. We think through the options and weigh each scenario as much as our feeble minds are able, but there is a great cost either way and we come up empty. We may be at such a loss that we don’t know what to ask God when we pray. This is not unusual. Paul said the Spirit steps in at such times: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). Of course, there are things we know we should pray for. We know we should thank God for our blessings and confess our sins. But there are times when we don’t know specifically what we should ask even though we know we need to pray.
It is good for us to be in circumstances we cannot control or predict. It is helpful for us to be in situations we never dreamed we’d be in. It is beneficial for us to be in plights so seemingly hopeless that we can figure no way out of them. We rest on our past experience and become complacent and prideful in what we’ve learned. But when we find ourselves staring at a frightening dilemma for which we have no answer, our ignorance and inability humbles us. It is humbling to admit that you don’t know what to do, especially when you’ve told others how to fix their problems. We all need a lesson in humility once in a while. It drives us to seek the advice of others and to realize how much we need each other (Prov. 24:6). It causes us to search the Word of God for answers (Psa. 119:105). It leads us to pray to God for wisdom (James 1:5) instead of trusting in ourselves. It leads us to trust in the providence of God. When you’re perplexed, don’t despair. God is in control. – Kerry Duke, West End church of Christ, Livingston, TN