A significant element in my life over the years has been the seeking of comfort. Not the comfort of a big TV and La-Z-Boy recliner, but the comfort of something to cling to when life gets scary. The sort of comfort a child is seeking when they want a cuddle after getting a fright or when they cling to a teddy bear in a strange environment.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3, Paul says our Father is the God of all comfort. Which all seems quite lovely as long as you forget about Isaiah 6:3-5 where the prophet is not at all comfortable in God’s presence, God is certainly NOT a big teddy bear! Yet in 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 Paul clearly and repeatedly refers to God comforting people.
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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3–7 ESV)
If you read through that passage a few times you may notice some details about God’s comfort:
- we are comforted in all our affliction
- we are comforted in affliction
- we are comforted so we may comfort others
- the comfort we can share with others is that with which we have been comforted by God
- sharing in much comfort means also sharing Christ’s afflictions
- great affliction does not inhibit, limit or reduce God’s ability to comfort the afflicted
- whether we are afflicted or comforted, it is for sharing with others
- comfort is experienced when we patiently endure suffering
- the hope of comfort cannot be shaken.
I have listed these things as applying directly to us who are reading the Bible in 2010. I do think this is a valid way to interpret the passage, but obviously these words were actually written by Paul to the Christians in Corinth. Reading it in such a context brings out perhaps the most important message:
Paul had suffered to the limit of endurance in the name of Christ, in serving the Church. In that suffering God comforted him. Paul shares that comfort with the Church. How does he share the comfort? In the letters he wrote.
The epistles of Paul contain the essence of what comforted him in his extreme suffering for Christ. This gives me an astonishing perspective in which to read the New Testament epistles – as distilled comfort from God.