In my trek through the Bible this year, I've just started 2 Corinthians. This week I read in chapter 1: (God) 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. (v. 4) A few verses later, Paul writes of his own suffering: ...we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (v. 9)
In this week's Serious Wednesday post, "Wondering Why God Makes Life Impossible Sometimes", Jon Acuff describes the humiliation he experienced as an eigth-grader when he was laughed at by a room full of people as he stood in his underwear, weighing in for a wrestling match. A reader commented that Jon should consider himself very lucky to be living in a wealthy first-world country, adding that thinking about the relatively insignificant "bad" stuff in life meant Jon had failed to focus on the big picture. The guy did not appreciate the suffering Jon was describing, and instead dismissed it as inconsequential. When I read this fellow's comment, I thought, "Buddy, you'd better fasten your seatbelt!" I'm guessing he's in store for a little affliction sometime soon...so he can learn a little about comfort.
Sure, the humiliation an adolescent feels when laughed at by a roomful of his peers is a totally different affliction from the grief a mother feels when she loses a child or the anxiety plaguing the man living a double life. But his suffering is real, none-the-less, and in his adolescent economy, it is HUGE.
Regardless of the size of our trials, the passage in 2 Corinthians offers a wealth of encouragement. First, as children of God, none of our trials are wasted. Not the little ones. Not the big ones. None of them. They are God-ordained for our sanctification and for the edification of the church. Trials teach us to rely on God. This is true for the scrawny eighth-grade wrestler, and for the weary home-maker, and for the persecuted third-world evangelist. And any measure of learning to rely on God is serious business...not something that to be lightly dismissed.
Suffering also enables us to comfort others who face similar trials. My guess is that the fellow making the above comment hadn't experienced teen angst or ridicule. He had no personal context for empathy. I love this quote by C. S. Lewis: Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, 'I loathe prunes.' 'So do I,' came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table. Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. Our own suffering enables us to appreciate the suffering of those around us (even if it's only having to face a bowl of stewed prunes!), and to offer meaningful sympathy and encouragement.
Another thing I love about this passage: the promise that God Himself comforts us in our afflictions. That's some Big Medicine. Whatever trial or hardship I am facing, God is with me in the midst of the mess. When I am tempted to despair, He assures me of His presence and His sovereign rule over all the affairs of my life. Ours is not a health-and-prosperity God who dwells only in bright places. On the contrary, we find Him very near us in even the darkest pits. And amazingly, it's in these dark places that we will see the brightest flashes of His divine radiance.
Sometimes, life truly does seem impossible - too painful or too difficult to endure. In the above-mentioned post, Jon Acuff doesn't hesitate to admit, "The night will get dark." But I love how he concludes: "...in God's economy, the impossible is a gift, not a curse. And it always amplifies God's glory."
In a dark place? A painful place? An impossible place? Hang on, beloved. Remember, ours is a God who raises the dead. Keep your eyes open for the light. Weeping may endure for a night - perhaps even a very long night - but JOY comes in the morning.
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