Scrolling through media updates of spikes in Victorian COVID-19 cases, Aboriginal deaths in custody, and violent protests in the United States, I cannot help but despair at the tumultuous state of the world. I am sure many share my sentiment, as we step into the second half of 2020 with a real sense of weariness.
I hope this reminder will lift your spirits as it has mine.
These wild times are testing my knowledge and trust of God’s word. Reading through 2 Corinthians with a church friend, I was surprised at the dose of comfort offered to this church within first few verses. Paul’s introduction is an encouraging reminder of our God of comfort—his purposes and our rightful response. I hope this reminder will lift your spirits as it has mine.
1. God has the capacity to comfort us in all sorts of suffering.
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…’ (2 Cor 1:3-4a)
Pandemics. Job losses. Broken relationships. Deaths in custody. God knows our every affliction, down to the tiniest, most painful detail. Do we think our suffering is foreign to God? That he cannot possibly relate to our broken heart or hurt feelings? As our maker, I think he understands us – and our feelings – more than we do. Paul affirms that God is the God of all comfort and can provide this comfort in all our affliction. We should learn to take him at his word. One of the ways that I have been challenged to do this is by working toward a more honest prayer life, one in which I reflect how I am feeling. Whether I feel hurt, distrust or anger, I should bring this to God and fight the temptation to believe that God cannot offer me the comfort I am in desperate need of.
2. We are comforted to be a comfort to others.
‘…so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.’ (2 Cor 1:4b)
I found this sentence strange at first. When grieving, the last thought on my mind is to be concerned for the well-being of others. Instead, I prefer wallowing in my own unfortunate circumstances, maybe indulging in some self-pity and ‘why me?’ ruminations. Reading 2 Corinthians, I don’t think that’s the attitude that Jesus saved me to have. God’s genuine comfort, offered to us in the form of forgiveness and reconciliation with him through Christ, is powerful, and meets our deepest needs so perfectly, that it releases us from our natural tendency to dwell in resentment, self-pity and bitterness. We do not have to nurse our own wounds forever, for by the wounds of Christ we have been healed (1 Peter 2:21-25). What true liberation! I know that this year has been tough: the sufferings have been real, and losses far too tangible. But do we believe that God can comfort and has comforted us? And, do we believe that this is for the purpose of preparing us to comfort others?
God’s genuine comfort—forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ—meets our deepest needs so perfectly that it releases us from our natural tendency to dwell in resentment
3. Our sufferings cause us to rely on God, not on ourselves.
‘We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.’ (2 Cor 1:8b-9)
Paul’s afflictions during his missionary travels were physically brutal (2 Cor 6:3-10). Yet, in response to suffering, Paul adopts an attitude that offers far more comfort and hope than the ‘stay positive’ messaging fed to us today. He says that his suffering, his despairing of life, his afflictions, were lessons which taught him to rely on God and not himself. How does this understanding comfort us? Paul answers this: It is God who raises the dead. Regardless how scary this world becomes, we know the power of God who holds us. We know that we are on the safe side of judgement. And, we know that he will return one day to secure an eternal home for us, where there will be no weeping, tears, or sorrow. May God’s Word to you in 2 Corinthians offer a great dose of comfort.