In verses 8-9 of II Corinthians 4, Paul lists a series of contrasts. He said that he and his ministry partners were: “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Some of these contrasts are more obvious in their meaning than others. For example, when verse 8 says they were “perplexed but not despairing”, just what does it mean that Paul and his companions were “perplexed”? This refers to something that each of us faces at least occasionally, and Paul’s response can help us when we come to such times:
The Bible word for “perplexed” here is the Greek word “aporumenoi”, meaning to “be at a loss.” This particular word is used only here & and in John 13:22, where Jesus’ disciples began looking at one another, “AT A LOSS to know of which one He was speaking.” Benson in his commentary writes: “The word απορουμενοι, so rendered, signifies persons involved in evils from which they know not how to extricate themselves: but not — Εξαπορουμενοι, reduced to such despair as to give up all hope of deliverance from God.”
So “perplexed” is not a bad translation of the word. And we can see what Paul is speaking of here: there are things that happen to us in our lives and ministries that are difficult to face, and hard to understand. Like these things in Paul’s life, they are “perplexing” to us! But despite those perplexities, we are not to despair; we do not give up hope. We know that God is still at work. We believe that He has reasons and purposes for these things which we may not now understand. So despite our perplexities, we continue to hope in Him. We are “perplexed, but not despairing.”
In the classic “Anne of Green Gables” series, a despondent young Anne once told Marilla that she was “in the depths of despair.” But Marilla reprimanded her: “To despair is to turn your back on God.” Here in II Corinthians 4, Paul said that even in his most perplexing times, he and his co-laborers did NOT despair, despite all the things they faced, and could not understand. So we who serve his same God should not either! “Perplexed”? Perhaps. “Despair”? Never, because we know and trust the God we serve.