2 Corinthians 1:3-4 -- 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.
On Monday, we got a call that my wife's mother was injured very badly in an accident. For a time, we faced fearful uncertainty about her recovery. Now, it appears that she will recover, although it will be a long, slow, difficult process. It may be many weeks before she can walk or do anything for herself again. We're going to drive 12 hours tomorrow so we can spend a few days with her and my father-in-law. How do we offer them comfort? How do I comfort my wife? How do I find comfort myself?
As you know from my profile, I'm a Christian. What is more, I'm pursuing a career as a theologian. That is, I want to spend my life studying how God's revelation of Truth impacts the way people ought to think and live. So, shouldn't I have a handle on how to respond in a Christian way to whatever life brings? Well, I don't. As much as I love theology, sometimes it doesn't help. What do I mean...? Well, when something awful happens, like my mother-in-law's accident, it's not going to help for someone to remind me, or my wife, that God is sovereign; or that God works all things for the good of those who love him; or that one day Jesus will return and wipe every tear from the eyes of His people. We already knew those things were true. And, we never forgot them. In fact, I would even say that it would be an insult for someone to say those things to us. For, the implication is that we are wrong for experiencing the feelings of sadness that result from such a tragedy.
Some people--both non-Christians and even Christians--mistake Christians for Stoics. They think that Christians are supposed to be steadfast, resolute, and relatively unaffected by brokenness, sadness, and tragedy. Those people must not have faced brokenness, sadness, or tragedy. No amount of theological acuity ought to prevent us from experiencing human emotions; I can prove it. Who is the only human to ever have a perfect theology? Obviously--Jesus. Yet, we see him over and over expressing the full range of human emotions, even the "negative" ones. He weeps when a friend dies; he is angry when he sees injustice; and he experiences anguish at the prospect of physical and emotional pain. So, those who think that people who have strong emotions are less spiritual than those who can "control" themselves are simply wrong. Instead, since God made each person as a body-spirit unity, then whatever we do that expresses real humanity is the height of being "spiritual".
The benefit of the Truth of the Gospel in the face of tragedy might be best expressed in Jesus' parable of the man who built his house on a rock. When the storms came, his house was not swept away. But, I'm willing to bet, that man still spent some anxious, uncomfortable moments while the storm raged. So, if you were planning to rent a plane to pull a banner that says, "Jesus loves you" and fly it over New Orleans and you think that will comfort people--I would advise against it. Not that I have the secret for applying the Scripture cited above. But, I do think it's interesting...the moments when I've felt some nudge of encouragement and comfort since receiving that news on Monday was when friends said very simple things like, "I'm so sorry to hear that news." or "We're praying for you." What those simple sentiments have in common is that they are reassurances of our relationship with those people. They are ways that people let us know they love us and they are there for us even if they don't have a cure for our pain. I suppose that's why, for several hours after hearing the news, my wife and I didn't really say anything to each other, we just sat together and held one another.
Maybe, then, there is a key to the admonition from Paul. After all, how has God comforted us? Certainly it is Good News to God's people that He declares us righteous in Christ. But, even better is what that declaration ensures for us: the assurance of God's loving and committed relationship with us forever. So, if we've been comforted with the promise and reality of a loving and committed relationship, then I suppose we ought to comfort others (and receive the comfort from others) with the the promise and reality of a loving and committed relationship.
boon-dog-gle: (noun) work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.
free: (adjective) provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment.
"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."