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, 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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV)
Over the past several weeks our high school ministry has been studying how the Bible guides us through difficult circumstances, the hard things in life. As I was preparing to wrap up our series this week I was struck by what Paul says to the church at Corinth regarding comfort because it runs so counter to our natural expectation and response. As I continued to roll this idea around in my head I realized that it exposes four lies we tend to believe when we go through painful experiences, especially as they extend over time. Let's look at these and you can judge for yourself if this is consistent with your experience.
1. "You have to have gone through this to be able to comfort me."
How often do we feel like no one can understand what we are going through? We feel alone in our pain and unless someone has been through the same experience they really don't have anything to offer. But notice what Paul says in verse 4, that God comforts us in "all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction." That "any" is significant. It points to the fact that it is not the problem that we need to share to have something to offer. It is the need for comfort. It is the fact that because you have experienced the comfort that comes from God in his grace and mercy, I can receive it even if you haven't been through what I am going through.
2. "I have my own stuff. I’m suffering so I can’t comfort someone else."
Similar to the first lie, this one isolates us from others. The difference is that we withhold the comfort God would share through us because we are hurting and can't imagine how we could benefit anyone else. But notice again what Paul says to the Corinthians, that they comfort others "with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Did you catch that he used the present tense here ("we ourselves are comforted") implying they are still suffering? They still have need of God's comfort and yet they serve and God uses them to comfort the Corinthians.
3. "God comforts by removing the pain and fixing the problem."
This is the lie that undermines any and all attempts to bring comfort to the one suffering. We think that comfort is being freed from what is hurting us. However, that concept is not found anywhere in Scripture. See here where Paul says, "if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer." God comforts us as we patiently endure suffering. That is not a popular message. It is one best wrestled with before we enter the deep waters of life. This does not make God cruel. Remember, Paul began with the character of God - the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. The truth is that the most merciful thing God can do for me is to overcome the sin in my life that would destroy me if left unchecked. Removing the painful things, in my experience, would work against that end for a stubborn, sinful man like myself.
4. "God can’t be good or He doesn’t care."
This is the end game for our enemy and this is where we most naturally land when we are hurting. How can a loving God allow me or anyone else to go through this? Where Paul began, the person and nature of God, is where this ends. Is God good? This is where we have to point back to the cross and say with confidence, "YES! God is good because He sent His Son to suffer and die to give me life." How could we say anything different after Jesus died for us? God's goodness is not and never has been dependent on my circumstances. His goodness was confirmed in Christ. His goodness is confirmed in salvation by grace alone - our sin punished in Jesus and our lives bought by His blood. His goodness will be confirmed when Christ returns and all affliction, suffering, grief, and pain are gone - when all sin is eradicated and heaven and earth are joined for eternity.
These are the lies we believe when we hurt and when we believe them we isolate, we misunderstand God's work, and we doubt God's goodness. This is what comes natural and is normal, but we weren't called to be normal. Let us live counter to this and be those who bring comfort to others because we know the comfort God has given us.