I didn’t make it to church this morning. The toxic effects of chemo were still knocking me around and I didn’t feel up to leaving the house. I’d been bed-ridden most of the past few days and was feeling rather miserable, so I thought I’d stay at home and read a bit of the Bible. I’m glad I did because it helped me get my eyes off my misery and onto the source of comfort and compassion. These verses stuck out for me…
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Sometimes God can seem so remote, disinterested, uncaring, even cruel. Suffering, injustice, oppression, sickness, pain, disaster, corruption – they all seem to testify against God. But the trouble is we’re only looking at part of the evidence. If we look closer we’ll see that God cares deeply about all this misery and he promises to support us in our suffering. This doesn’t mean he’ll take the pain away or remove the suffering, but he promises to comfort us in our struggles.
Last week we listened to a friend explaining the message of Psalm 23. We were reminded that while these words are often read at funerals, they have great comfort and significance for the living. Verse 4 speaks of God being with us in the darkest times…
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Notice that it doesn’t promise that we’ll avoid walking through very difficult places. Nor does it say that God will come in a helicopter and lift us above the dark valley. This is not a promise that suffering will be taken away, but that God will be with us every step of the way. He’ll be our guide and protector. He offers us comfort even in our darkest hour.
But in what sense is God the Father of compassion or the God of all comfort? Is it just rhetoric? Is this just religious pep talk to help us cope with our misery? Is it no better than a cliché in the centre of a sympathy card? Friends, I’m confident that there’s substance behind these words that means they’re powerful and true. The Apostle Paul bases his convictions about God on the evidence that Jesus died for our sins and that God has raised Jesus from the dead. God’s promise is to do the same for all who call on him. A few verses later in 2 Corinthians he writes…
Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
(2 Corinthians 1:9)
The resurrection of Jesus gives grounds for relying on God. If God has done this for Jesus, then we can trust him to do the same for us. And it’s not just pie in the sky when you die. The promise is that God will comfort us in our troubles now. He’s with us when we’re sick. He understands when we’re conflicted and confused. He cares when we fearful. He will not leave our side even when we’re dying. And the comfort he brings is that he’s fully guaranteed our future in Jesus Christ.
The challenge to me in these verses is to pass on the comfort that I’ve received from God. This comfort isn’t for my sake alone – it’s for all who groan and struggle and grieve. It’s for all who’s souls are restless and troubled. I don’t need to despair. I have no reason to spiral in self-pity. No, God has comforted me that I might bring his comfort to others. He calls me to be a blessing to those around me, by pointing people to the compassion and comfort that comes from him alone.
(first published in macarisms.com on 26/8/12)