A pandemic lament – but can despair be turned into hope?

“My body, my choice,” has been one of the mantras during the pandemic for those opposing vaccines, along with “my rights, my freedom and my privacy” expressed at many a protest march against vaccine passports and lockdowns. And a third mantra, “Over my dead body,” has been the powerfully emotional response by parents on hearing their children can be vaccinated without parental knowledge or consent. 

Each mantra is like a lament, a cry of despair in response to those who accept nothing but vaccination to end the pandemic and won’t accept any other view or treatment. It is so sickening to some that they cannot help wonder if there’s something sinister and maybe even evil going on.  

It was the same in Paul’s day too, because in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 Paul asked his fellow Christians to “pray that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil people.” My King James Bible centre column mentions the word “absurd” for unreasonable, which has strong synonyms like “ludicrous, preposterous, idiotic, illogical.” But Paul was not only up against people who made no sense, they were also “evil,” which in verse 2 was based on the Greek word meaning “actively harmful.” So these people were also out to silence and oppose Paul by whatever sinister and nasty means they could come up with. 

And that made Paul lament too. The absurdities he faced from unreasonable and evil people had made him “despair even of life,” 2 Corinthians 1:8. He was close to being suicidal, or as he put it, “we felt the sentence of death within ourselves,” verse 9. But what was the point in continuing on when the absurdity of people had driven him and his coworkers “beyond our ability to endure,” verse 8

And it was despair that did that to Paul. It nearly killed him. So it’s really worrying to see despair doing the same thing during this pandemic, when highly qualified experts in the medical profession, for example, find themselves being shut down, censored and publicly shamed for simply trying to offer other treatments they’ve seen work on viruses. And now these doctors are lamenting too, because they see people dying who didn’t need to die.   

So how did Paul deal with his despair? Well, first of all, he recognized the source of the madness he was up against, because, following on in 2 Thessalonians 3:3, he writes, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

So Paul wasn’t shy about sinister forces at work. They were real. He also recognized that God allowed such forces to operate, so that, following on in 2 Corinthians 1:9, “we might not rely on ourselves but on God” who “has delivered us from such a deadly peril (of despairing even of life), and he will deliver us.”

On the one hand, then, Paul had been surprised by the depth of evil he encountered, but on the other hand he knew why it needed to exist – to discover there was a power far greater he could depend on to keep him sane that was just as real too. 

So for those today, for instance, who lament government, medical and pharmaceutical officials all pronouncing an experimental drug as “safe” for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, without any data or experience of its long term consequences and effects on babies, Paul is offering an answer: that evil is real, but so is God when we’re feeling sick at heart at the absurdities in our world and we turn to him for help.

For God “raises the dead,” Paul wrote in verse 9. That was how Paul described his experience of God lifting him out of his despair, And it was so real that Paul then wrote in verse 10, “On him we set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” 

In vaccine terms, God would provide Paul with continuing immunity against the evil one drowning him in despair. And Paul’s belief in that being true and factual was backed up by solidly based data and the long term effects in his own life too, because in all his many other travels after 2 Corinthians 1 Paul never talks about being overwhelmed by despair again.   

So, yes, Paul would say, despair can be turned into hope, when it dawns on us, as it dawned on him, that we too live in a world that at times is “beyond our ability to endure,” but we have a God who enables us to keep our heads while all about us are losing theirs (from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If). 

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