Ukraine Relief Fund

The God of all Comfort

Huffington Post UK ranks grilled cheese sandwiches as the number one comfort food. An online magazine, Iceni, took a more empirical approach, basing its results on a poll of 2000 adults in the UK, and number one is pizza, number two is fish and chips, and number three is a bacon sandwich. But before commenting on the quality of this list, take a moment and reflect on this question with me: what do we mean by ‘comfort food?’.

The Cambridge dictionary defines comfort as ‘a pleasant feeling of being relaxed and free from pain’. It’s a happy thought, that – being free from pain; but it also highlights how shallow some of our attempts at comfort are. Most of us have a go-to comfort food, but nothing we eat can alleviate some of the deep pain we feel, especially the kind experienced in 2020.

That’s why Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians merit in-depth reflection. He

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. 1v3-4

It is Paul’s context that makes these words especially profound, but before considering his context, let’s note the key phrases in this text:

1.God is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort
It is intrinsic to God’s very nation to be merciful; as our good good Father through our adoption in Christ, we stand perpetually under showers of his mercy. But more than mercy, He is the God of all comfort. That means God provides whatever comfort it is that we need. The Greek word used here for comfort is paraklēseōs, which means ‘a calling to one's aid, encouragement, comfort’. It shares the same root as paraklétos, Jesus’ name for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who comes alongside us to help us in our time of need, to encourage and to counsel.

2.who comforts us in all our affliction
This might be obvious, but the assumption behind this sentence is that we have affliction. Paul, a giant of the faith and someone who walked closely with God, was not immune to affliction. Jesus promised that affliction – or persecution – would be the normal experience for those who follow him. As he leads us in the direction of the kingdom of God, we are swimming upstream against the current of this age. Is is IN THIS AFFLICTION, and in all of it, that we experience God’s comfort.

3. so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction
It is reasonable to assume that there are more reasons than this that God comforts us, but the one Paul highlights is both profound and challenging. God doesn’t simply comfort us so that we can enjoy ‘a pleasant feeling of being relaxed and free from pain’. No, he comforts us so that we can share our comfort with others. Regardless of how badly we are feeling, there is someone out there in the midst of an affliction that needs some comfort. And so God gives us comfort so we can comfort others.

4. with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Again, this is a subtle but important point: we can’t give what we’ve not received, and so the first step in being able to comfort others is to receive from God comfort in our own distress. We give what we have, and here Paul acknowledges that his ability to bring comfort to the Corinthians is because he has received comfort from God.

And what comfort! This second letter to the Corinthians is very persona; Paul unveils some of the deep suffering he experienced for the gospel:

Just a few verses later, in 1.8, he says, ‘For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself’. He unpacks this further in 2 Corinthians 4.8-9, where Paul describes his emotional turmoil:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

And when he says ‘afflicted in every way’ – he means it. This is how he came to be ‘burdened beyond our strength’

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 2 Corinthians 11 v 24-27

In the midst of all this, Paul is still able to write, What’s the point? Simply this: Paul endured intense maltreatment by humans for the sake of the gospel, but the comfort he received from God so surpassed his difficulty he is able to speak of God as the God of all comfort.

We have all faced a difficult 2020, and the difficulties have been more acute for some rather than others. Hopefully, unlike Paul, you’ve not been whipped, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. But I also hope that, like Paul, you have been able to access the comfort God provides in the midst of our difficulties.

In the midst of the isolation, uncertainty, lack, and disappointment that marked 2020, God’s encouragement comfort is a benefit too good to pass up. But what, you might ask, is the content of this comfort? He says in 1 v 5 that ‘through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too’. If there is any comfort in Christ, it is simply that beyond the passing difficulties of this live we have inherited eternal participation in the Trinitarian fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We have been reconciled to God, and this theme of putting of the temporary to embrace the eternal runs throughout this letter. In 5 v 1, Paul says that ‘For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’.

This is Paul’s way of saying, ‘I know this life is painful, but you know what – so what? In the context of eternity, the momentary light affliction we endure briefly in this body is nothing’ (4 v 17).

Finally in chapter 5 v 21, Paul explains how Jesus did this reconciling work that brings us into such great benefit: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I could go on piecing together the rich tapestry of truth threads spread throughout this letter. But the big observation is simply this: for Paul, he could endure difficulty in this life because he had his eye set on eternal reward.

But, like Steve Jobs is famous for saying, there’s just one more thing. We do not have to wait until eternity to experience the comfort God makes available now. Not only is our comfort derived from the fact of our eternal inheritance, but that we can experience the peace of God’s presence with us now.

Remember, the Holy Spirit is the comforter who comes along side us to bring comfort now – in this life. Thus, like the Psalmist who knew God’s presence in the valley of the shadow of death, so Paul, who so often lived in death’s shadow, experienced the fulness of life in the Holy Spirit.

It’s been a hard year, and we all need comfort. But better than pizza or fish and chips or chocolate chip cheesecake, the best comfort of all is that which God gives. We experience that comfort by setting our hope on him who never fails (2 Cor. 1 v 10). At the end of the day - at the end of this challenging year - it is God himself who is our comfort. 




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