I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:12)
When the apostle Paul wrote his final letter — from prison, on the brink of execution, knowing “the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6) — he was not under any delusion that following Christ in this world brought promises of earthly comfort and temporal ease. In fact, he says, it brings the opposite. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). For now.
But in the end, we will not fail, because our God does not fail. And Paul knew it, and declared it to his disciple Timothy: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12).
In time, following Christ will lead to persecution. It may even lead to death. It was leading to death for Paul — and yet he knew. He was convinced, he says. He knew the God in whom he trusted, that he does not fail, that he suffers seeming setbacks to set up even greater victories in the end.
Paul was convinced that his own departure, even as the great apostle to the Gentiles, would not set back the cause of Christ among the nations but serve to advance the gospel. The word of God could not be bound by prison bars (2 Timothy 2:9), and it could not be stopped by snuffing out Paul.
Dark, Hard to See
Even with execution hanging over his head, oh what a crown awaited him. And not only for him.
As that final letter draws to a close, he writes, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). The crowns are not for apostles only, but for all who know this unfailing God through Jesus Christ and cling to him in their setbacks, whether many or few, however dark, however hard. The reward is for all who know whom they have believed, and know that he indeed does not fail, even as unnerving as his timing can be to our expectations and preferences.
Just remember all the moments when it seemed to cynical eyes that God had failed: Abraham with no son, Jacob fleeing for his life, Joseph in slavery in Egypt, Moses in the exile, Israel making bricks without straw, David hiding in the wilderness, Jesus crucified and dead in the grave.
Hard, Options Few
If we learn anything from the Scriptures, and from history, and even from our own lives, it is that God has not chosen to make our lives one straight, boring line to glory. He is the master of the ups and downs. He’s not so insecure as to need to always look like he’s on top at every moment. He knows he’s on top. He knows he will win. He is sovereign. He is in full control. He is God. No one can suffer seeming defeats so securely as he. No one but he plans such seeming setbacks and setups for putting on display the power and beauty of his grace.
No, our God did not fail when Sarah was barren, when Jacob and Moses and David were running for their lives, when Joseph was slandered and imprisoned, when Pharaoh doubled the load and made the people gather their own straw — nor when Jesus Christ, God’s own divine Son, the God-man, in fully human flesh and blood, was nailed to a cross and put to death by the most severe and humiliating form of torture. And he lay there, in the tomb, stone-graveyard dead Friday night, and all day Saturday, and into Sunday morning. But no, God had not failed in those moments. He was on the cusp of shining out all the clearer with his power and his glory and his love.
Oh but I Know
If you are in Christ, if you love him, and are called according to his purposes, he too is working all things together for your final good. Whatever your setback. Whatever its severity. However dark. However hard. However ruined your life feels right now, you know this: your God did not fail.
Your story is not yet done. And as impossible as it may feel right now that you would ever be able to see your present darkness as anything other than tragedy, the moment will indeed come when you will look back on this and see God’s hand at work and know he was here with you in the depths.