“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Sometimes, even when we are doing the will of God, we may pass through dreadful and unnerving experiences. This certainly happened to Paul on many occasions, one of which was when his ship was wrecked at sea. So, what are we to make of these kinds of sufferings in the Christian life? Are they a sign of God’s displeasure, or do they have some deeper purpose?
Writing to the Christians in Corinth, Paul says that some of the ‘close calls’ that he had experienced in life were not so much signs that he was out of step with God; rather, they served a deeper purpose by reminding him of the danger of self-reliance. He says that these experiences taught him that he must not rely on himself but on God who raises the dead.
Interestingly, in none of Paul’s letters do we find anything that might lead us to think that Paul was ever tempted to revert to a sense of self-sufficiency where he trusted in his own strength and works. Anyone who reads his letters to the Galatians and Romans is left with the impression that Paul would have been the last man in danger of trusting in himself. Yet here, as he writes to the Corinthians, he says that such a tendency lurks in us all. And he points out that sometimes God places us in situations of tremendous stress to remind us of how easily we revert to self-reliance.
The problem we face is two-fold. First, self-reliance is the default position of every one of us since the fall. This means that there is a natural tendency in us always to trust in ourselves. And second, self-reliance and self-sufficiency are qualities that people have always admired.
Nevertheless, God finds an attitude of self-reliance offensive. Indeed, He says through the prophet Jeremiah that self-sufficient people are under a curse: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” In God’s eyes at least, self-reliance or self-sufficiency is idolatry because it has the effect of putting ourselves in the place of God.
The Scripture is quite clear that, “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth”. In other words we should not look for ultimate help or support anywhere else other than God. Why? Because trusting in God is essential for salvation and determines our future and destiny. Faith is the most important thing about us, which explains why God is so concerned to perfect it.