(Part 2 of a series on God’s comfort in affliction)
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.
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Today I’m taking two “chunks” of this passage together because they are so connected to each other in meaning. I’ll come back for verse 5 next time.
The Sources of Our Comfort
Paul speaks in verse 4 about who it is that comforts us in affliction. Ultimately all sources of comfort have their origin in God. God’s comfort manifests itself in several ways:
The fact He is the Almighty: Our Lord’s identity is a huge part of why we are comforted by Him. He is Creator, Father, Comforter, Healer, Warrior. Be still and know that I am God [Ps. 46:10 ESV]. It is because of who He is and because we know we can trust Him — not just with some affliction, but all of it — that we receive comfort.
He is present: God comforts us with His presence: Fear not, I am with you, He says in so many places in scripture. We are never alone. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. [Ps. 46:1 ESV; boldface mine]
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Other believers: He also uses others to comfort us, sometimes with words, sometimes
without. Remember the best thing that Job’s friends did was to remain silent and simply sit alongside him.
Prayer: We are comforted when we pray. Just as things can look a little brighter when you share misery with a friend, even more so when you pour your heart out to God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us [Ps.62:8 ESV].
The Infinite Comfort Loop
At the end of verse 4, Paul refers to the comfort we received from God. This is a two-way street, in the sense that we receive comfort from God to comfort others in struggles and we seek others’ comfort in our own struggles. But it’s an infinite loop in the sense that we will always be in some part of it.
The comfort we receive from God doesn’t mean our circumstances are instantly changed. I’ll give you an example from my life. I was forced to sell my house a few years ago and rent a room in a friend’s house. So I went from a 1,250 square foot home of my own to a 130 square foot room and all my stuff in storage indefinitely. It was what I felt (at the time) a tragic and heartbreaking loss to me.
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What I didn’t realize until later was that God was working in it, deliberately bringing me to this particular friend’s house because there was a strong believer living next door to her. That believer became a crucial part of the transition in a very difficult time for me. Nothing changed circumstantially. But I changed in my perspective. And God reminded me He works good in all things for His purpose.
Hope and Patience in Suffering
Paul moves on in verses 6 and 7 to explain the interrelationship between suffering and comfort. Hope and patience are two key words here.
We see the idea of patience in the midst of suffering in other places in scripture:
Not only that, but 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. [Rom. 5:3-5 ESV; boldface mine]
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And we see the idea of hope – not a pie in the sky type of hope, but an assurance that no matter what we go through in this life, no matter how high the pain level, how great the grief, how staggering the loss, we can hope in Christ’s strength and presence.
Just like a tree that has withstood high winds and torrential rain becomes more firmly rooted in the ground, so hope enables us to bend, be shaped, and not break during our trials, but rather be more firmly established.