August 17, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 260: God Who Comforts

God Who Comforts

"For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him." (2 Corinthians 7:5-7 NIV)

I used to think of God's comfort as something soft, like a blanket. As a parent, I know I've offered my children this kind of comfort many times, telling them, "Poor baby...I'm sorry." There is a place for this: I know this soothing often does help them.

But God's comfort as a parent—as Abba, as our heavenly Father—goes far beyond what we as earthly parents can give our children. Thank goodness, because I know my children need far more than I can give them. And because I know this, I loved learning recently that the word "comfort" derives from two Latin words meaning "with" and "strong." 

God's "with" makes us strong.

The comfort I offer my children is more like commiseration, and again, there is a place and purpose for that. But the very idea behind commiseration—"co" plus "misery"...joint misery...people who are miserable together—falls far short of what God's comfort does. I do believe there is some good truth to the expression, "Misery loves company." Sometimes, our misery is entirely appropriate and is lightened by the presence of another in it. This is the idea behind my comfort of my children: "you poor baby...I'm so sorry." I usually offer this when I can't do anything to lessen my children's misery, and so I am just with them in it.

But God is not so limited. He surely cares about our misery (see Exodus 3:7), but His presence (His "with") does not just sympathize; it strengthens. In the verses above from Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, God did not only commiserate with the "downcast;" He strengthened them. And look how He did it: by sending His servant Titus.

Sometimes, I believe God uses us as His instruments of comfort to offer soft commiseration: a gentle pat on the back or a genuine, "I'm so sorry." But other times, He asks us to be His strengthening "with": a tight hug or a solid shoulder to cry on. Or, to return to my parenting context, tough love. Sometimes, my words of comfort to my children are harder and more pointed. Sometimes our words of comfort to a friend or loved one must be the same: firm encouragement to someone in mourning to seek Godly counseling or a grief-sharing class, for example, instead of just saying, "I'm so sorry." (WHICH I know from experience is indeed very comforting but may not be all that is needed.)

The comfort of God's "with + strength" runs the length of history.

The whole world was comforted by the coming of Emmanuel, "God With Us."

The downcast among the early believers were comforted by the coming of Titus.

And somewhere today, there is someone who will be comforted—strengthened by the "with" of love—by the coming of you or me, as the hands and feet (and arms and voice) of the God Who Comforts.

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I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to tell me what you really think. Years ago, I explained to my then-two-year-old that my appointment with a counselor was "sort of like going to a doctor who will help me be a better mommy." Without blinking, she replied, "You'd better go every day." All of which is just to say I've spent some time in the school of brutal honesty!