Thursdays are my day to pray for those with physical afflictions. During those times, I tend to quote from the opening of 2 Corinthians, praying to "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" (verses 1:3-4). My earliest memory of this passage was hearing my pastor preach on it when his wife was freshly diagnosed with cancer. She survived, praise be to God, and so this verse has been deeply etched in my memory as a verse to consider in physical affliction.
However, this week I have been studying the whole of 2 Corinthians and realizing how often certain words are translated as "comfort" for English readers and in what context they are used. In the English Standard Version Bible, "comfort" or a variation is found 19 times. It is used to describe an attribute of God, to address physical suffering, to address emotional distress and discouragement, and to promote relational harmony. In other words, a wide range of human experiences overseen by a God who can identify with them.
In any kind of distress, we tend to seek comfort from other human beings. We want to know they understand our suffering and enter in to whatever degree they can in order to empathize with us. We want to be heard and understood. And that is not inappropriate -- at least until that desire becomes a ruling demand. But where does the ability of one human being to comfort another come from? From the Father of mercies:
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. (2 Cor 1:3-4)
Through the gospel of grace, we have become objects of mercy and therefore we are assured of comfort: "For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (2 Cor 1:5).
One of the biggest lies of suffering is that God doesn't care or won't help--that the affliction is evidence that we have fallen from favor somehow. But the God of all comfort is there to meet us in our affliction in this fallen world. Sin created this world of decay and suffering, but the Father of mercies and His Son, our Savior, rescued us through the divine plan of redemption. That rescue goes on every day as the Holy Spirit regenerates those who are dead in their sins. Just writing those words makes me understand why Paul so often broke out in praise in the middle of his letters! HALLELUJAH -- MERCY AND COMFORT ARE OURS!
Today, I am praying for another friend with cancer. Her emails and phone calls bubble over with joy and confidence in the Lord. She knows God is a healer, but she also knows that any healing experienced in this life is only temporary. Her confidence is in the complete healing to come in the new heavens and the new earth, untainted by sin. Therefore, she is comforting those who are downcast with the news of her diagnosis. Crazy, isn't it? But she has experienced the comfort of God on many occasions in the past and is eager to build us up, even as she is physically suffering.
My prayer is that when and if the affliction becomes a deeper and darker struggle, we will return that comfort to her from what we've learned from the Father of mercies and also what we've received from her already. For God is also the one who comforts the downcast (2 Cor 7:6) ... a theme to be explored next time.
(Photo by johnwerks)