I was working on the follow-up post to this discussion of 2 Corinthians and the God of all comfort when a guest preacher at my church spoke on the same topic this past Sunday. Jon Smith began his message with the story of the four short hours that his son, Chase, lived after his birth. It is a sad story of grief and loss, but Jon offered some advice that I think is invaluable: Weep with those who weep. Don't immediately quote Romans 8:28. Pray first, then just join in the mourning.
"When you suffer, you often suffer doubly because of the dumb things people say," John observed with a smile.
There's something about tragedy or loss that seems to bring out thoughtless comments from us all. We may not make them every time, but I'm sure we've all been guilty. I know I have. And I've never forgotten the pastoral counsel that one of my friends received after her husband committed suicide: Prepare for incredibly insensitive questions--you will be required to grow in graciousness like you never thought you would. Her pastor was right. Death is unnerving; suicide doubly so.
Comforting others isn't always about opening our mouths. In fact, our sympathetic presence may be all that is needed in the short term. As we all know, that's the only thing Job's friends got right. But also, we need to pray for the endurance of our friends who are suffering:
"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)
God is the one who comforts the downcast (2 Cor. 7:6-7), but He often uses us to do so. Paul was clear about that when he told the Corinthians how Titus was used in his life: "But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more." Our presence is often an assurance of God's covenant love.
When words are insufficient, our mere coming to be with those who suffer and our prayers for endurance may be all that is required to be instruments of God's comfort.(photo by vxdigital)