Summary: God's presence is all around us, renewing us inside and out. If we know this to be true, then our faith obligates that we speak about this wonderful reality, so that others might come to glorify God for God's abundant grace.
“Nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes.” So goes the famous saying. And though this is a rather modern phrase, Paul seemed to have something like this in mind as he continues his second letter to the Corinthians in the reading we heard just moments ago. But Paul’s unquestionable intent here is to speak of another reality in which he has come to believe. “I had faith, and so I spoke,” Paul says. But what was it that Paul was speaking about? What new reality did he hope to share with the Corinthian community? To begin to answer that question, though, we need to look back at this scripture Paul is quoting at the beginning. As it turns out, this little sentence, “I had faith, and so I spoke,” comes from Psalm 116, and Paul intends that his reference would call that to mind, and all it means. Here’s how Psalm 116 reads:
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. 3The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. 4Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!”
5The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. 6The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. 7Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. 8For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, 9that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 10I believed; therefore I said, “I am greatly afflicted.” 11And in my dismay I said, “All men are liars.”
12How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? 13I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. 14I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. 15Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. 16O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains.
17I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. 18I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, 19in the courts of the house of the Lord—in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.”
We don’t have to stretch our imaginations too far to see how Paul saw himself and his situation fitting surprisingly well with what the Psalmist was describing. Paul’s work and ministry was far from easy. And late now in his ministry, Paul is reminded of the struggles he has faced -- the traps of death were around him, the bitter smell of the underworld seemed to be coming for him, dragging him down. But there, down in the depths, the Lord, Israel’s God, came to his rescue; the God Paul now knew as the father of Jesus, the one by whose power the Messiah himself had gone down into death and been brought up to new life. So it was with Paul: “For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.”
As Paul now writes this letter, he is reflecting on his whole experience, he finds himself in the same position as the Psalmist, and so he says with the Psalmist, “I have stayed faithful, so now I speak.” It’s as if Paul were standing in our midst saying, “There’s more to this than death and taxes. The story doesn’t end with defeat and death because of the power of God that is able to raise us up and give us new life! Let me tell you about this new reality!
Have you ever asked the question, “Where is God?” This is a question that gets raised often, I believe, especially in the midst of tragedy. “Where is God in all this?” we wonder. A year or so ago when my brother-in-law was doing a rotation in a pediatric ICU, he and my sister called Ken and I one night after a particularly hard day when at least one young child had died. “Where is God?” they wanted to know. That question is nearly impossible to answer in a satisfying way when we are facing tragedy. But still, we often try...God is in the strength that carries us through. God is with our lost loved ones and they are more comfortable now. These are the things we often hear and say to one another.