This piece originally appeared on my blog in November 2010. I’m grateful for a chance to give a wider audience. May the Lord use it to His glory and, perhaps, to your comfort if you are in a place of uncertainty today. -AR
Once when I was unsure what to do about a matter, a pastor I love and respect reassured me that, “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Cor 14:33). I took comfort in the reminder that the Lord loves His children, He does not play head games with them. But, I admit that I walked out of that pastor’s office confused about confusion.
Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8:
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; (2 Corinthians 4:8, New King James Version)
Did you ever wonder why, if God is not the author of confusion, Paul freely admitted that at times he was “perplexed”? Confusing, er, perplexing, isn’t it? Hang on, the waters are about to get a little more muddy. In the Greek “perplexed” is a compound word, aporeo?, which means “to have no way out; to be at a loss mentally.” Amazing, right? The Apostle Paul actually wrote publicly about feeling as though at times he had no way out of situations!
So, what can you and I learn from all of this?
1. Context, Context, Context–the three most important rules of Bible interpretation. That pastor was both right and wrong to comfort me with those words. He was right to remind me that God does not set things before us to tease or taunt us. Yet, the context of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians had to do with orderly public worship, tongues, interpretations, etc. In one sense, the pastor took the verse out of context and misapplied it. A minor point, in this case, but a good reminder that we need to be careful with how we handle Scripture. (By the way, if I had been like the Bereans and researched the verse then, instead of years later, I would have picked up on this sooner.)
2. Confusion and perplexity are not the same thing. In English, these words are largely synonymous, along with “bewildered” or “confounded”, etc., but not in the Greek. “Confusion” is translated for a word that is talking about disorder, hence Paul used it as he did in terms of worship. A synonym would be “chaos”. “Perplexed”, as we saw, speaks to inward uncertainty.
3. God does allow us to be perplexed. It is not a sin to be perplexed. Paul was at times. Over and over in the psalms David expressed his perplexities too. T.M. Anderson said in his book, “Prayer Availeth Much” that:
There are times when our minds are sorely perplexed by the problems confronting us in this uncertain world. There are times when we cannot depend on our reasoning to find the answer to life’s trials and tribulations.
4. God allows perplexity to sanctify us. Perplexity, like troubles, persecutions, sufferings, and a million other life experiences, are used by the Lord to grow us in faith. An old Episcopal hymn says
Lord Jesus, think on me,
Nor let me go astray;
Through darkness and perplexity
Point thou the heavenly way.
5. Do not despair! I’ve saved this point until now: What did Paul say after he said he was at times perplexed? “but not in despair” or some translations say “but not despondent”. The world wrings its hands in anxiety and hopelessness. There is a blessed difference for you, beloved! You and I have the blessed promise that God works “all things together for good” for those who are His (Rom 8:28). Cling to Jesus in your seasons of uncertainty. He is the Way, and He is the Way out of perplexity too. You are guided by a Good Shepherd who will lead you!
So, what about my opening dilemma? How did it resolve? Funny thing is, I don’t even remember what it was anymore. Isn’t that a lesson also? I guess the best thing I can tell you is that whatever it was, God took care of it. In the Lord, today’s mountain is yesterday’s molehill.