These two chapters of 1 Corinthians are full of rules and advice related to sex, relationships, and food. It is difficult to find any comfort amidst all of the to-dos (and to-don’ts). But assurance does come through in a few places, especially when Paul says, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is” (1 Cor. 7:26).
There are two possibilities for what Paul means by “the present distress.” First, a few translations of the Bible render this phrase as something like “impending crisis,” which could refer to the possibility of the Last Days coming soon. Or, as most versions translate this verse, it could simply refer to some unknown difficulty, maybe famine, affecting the Corinthians at the time. Considering the End Times haven’t come (as far as we can tell) in the last two millennia, we’ll go with the latter possibility, which would mean Paul is talking about some on-the-ground stress.
Consider the possible stressors at hand in this section of 1 Corinthians alone: sexuality, relationships, food, objects of worship, religion, marriage, engagement, singleness, divorce, children, work, freedom, enslavement, death, widowhood, celibacy, abstinence, circumcision, money. Just writing it all down is stressing me out!
Then Paul says, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.” Such wisdom is counter-cultural, at least for our control-freak era. Thanks Paul, but I’ve got my weekly meal plan, vacation plans, five-year career plan, child-rearing plans, retirement plan. I’m the master of my own destiny. My life is what I make of it. I don’t have to put up with the things I don’t like. I’m self-actualized. I live in a free country, and I’ll choose my own destiny, thank you very much.
As Neo says in the Matrix, “I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.” But we should know better.
Often when we make plans, they blow up in our faces. The Good News is God is actually at work in the uncontrollable chaos. He is for us in the distress. But we are blind to see this activity, so we try to control the situation rather than notice that God can use the mundane trivial drudgery of our everyday existence for his purposes in the due course of time.
What is your present distress? Maybe it’s something big, or maybe it’s just the dull toil of an ordinary life lived with things that aren’t exactly as you’d like them to be. It’s leaving you numb and tired: school work, debt, adultery, addiction, loneliness, laundry, auto maintenance, aging parents, dying spouses, emptying nests, keeping up with the Joneses, weight management, career advancement. These are the places where God meets us. I honestly hate it. I want God in the ease, not in the pain, but the scope of the Bible reminds me of this principle. He exalts the humiliated and fills the hungry with good things. He is merciful to the presently distressed.