Idioms are commonplace in the English language and in most others. They are easy to remember phrases and sayings, catchy in their presentation, and express a reality that is commonplace to humanity. “Six of one and half dozen of the other.” “Raining cats and dogs.” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (My friend Nik Ripken sent me a photo of a plaque he found in a store on barn wood which was a commentary on the last statement. The plaque read, “I don’t know if this is killing me or making me stronger.”)
“Between a rock and a hard place.” This is not a hopeful idiom. It conveys a sense of doom, of helplessness, of being trapped with no way out. It was how Aron Ralston felt when he found himself trapped with his hand beneath a boulder during a climbing accident. His “way out” was to amputate his forearm with a knife and no anesthesia, graphically described in his autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
It describes the position of the Israelites trapped between the sea and the onslaught of Pharaohs terminators coming to finish them off. The only way out was through trust in God. So they trusted and God made a way. The ROCK came through for them and the sea parted, drowning Pharaoh’s army in its return. God seems to show up in these impossible scenarios!
Paul knew about the hard places and the Rock. His resume is colored by experiences in the pit of despair, peril, disease, persecution, spiritual attack, false accusation, injustice, imprisonment and physical limitation. He should be the patron saint of every person who suffers, because he has pretty much been through it all!
He spoke of this in the inspired writing of his letter to the Corinthian church. In 2 Corinthians 4, he speaks of being “hard pressed on every side.” In other words, he was “between a rock and a hard place.” He gives us clear insight on how to process times in the hard places. His counsel has been, if you would, “road-tested.”
As I read his testimony, I find it bracketed by the words, “therefore we do not lose heart.” (4:1, 4:16). What’s the key to surviving the “hard places” of life? Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t quit. Cling tenaciously to your faith. God is clinging tenaciously to you, and has promised us that “As your days so shall your strength be…” and “underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
We have an unshakeable bedrock beneath us as we stand on the ROCK… as we build our lives on that foundation, and not the “sinking sand” of our own strength. An elderly, African-American preacher would remind his small congregation each week of a massive truth. He would say, “Brothers and sisters, I often tremble upon the rock, but the rock never trembles under me.”
You may be in that place today, that hard place, where you find yourself “trembling upon the rock.” But I know you will find, as we have, that the rock never trembles under us. “And you can take that to the bank!”