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February 08, 2016

The Relationship Between Affliction and Comfort

Psalm 23 Devotional by Pastor Colin Smith

One of my best friends and I are each part of what we jokingly call the other’s “inner circle.” He and I both prefer to have a handful of close friends rather than a big group of casual friends. We both take friendship very seriously, and we’ve put each other to the test over the years.

Almost three years ago, I called him racked with pain and shame over a heartbreak that was largely the result of my own sin. He met me with zero judgment, only compassion and support. He walked beside me with love and truth in the days and months that followed.

A few weeks ago, he was the one to call me in pain and shame. The circumstances were different, but the same sin had left my friend in the same state that I had been in. As we talked, I kept saying, “I know,” over and over. My heart was breaking for my friend, and I hated that he had fallen into that sin because I know the suffering it brings.

We talked for a long time, and then I put down my phone and prayed for him. I prayed for him more fervently than I’ve prayed for anyone or anything in a while. The depth of his pain and his desperate need of Christ’s intervention felt very real to me…I think because it had been my reality not so long ago. But as I came to the end of my prayer, I felt strangely at peace, like a kind of closure. And that’s when 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 came to mind.

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.

Then I got it. As awful as it was to listen to my friend confess his sin and hear the ache in his words, it was such a precious thing to be able to comfort him and to speak truth into the very root of the problem. Had I not walked the same road three years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. God brought comfort to my friend through my pain. He took an ugly part of my life and used it for good in someone else’s. Beauty from ashes. In that moment, I could only praise God for being exactly who 2 Corinthians says he is—the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.

The Father of Mercies

Mercy can be defined as compassionate forbearance shown toward an offender, enemy, or other person in one’s power. This is exactly our situation with God. Without Christ’s redemption, we are absolutely offenders to and enemies of God. And with Christ’s redemption we are still very much in God’s power and always will be. Yet in Christ, God offers us his loving kindness instead of condemnation. His mercies never come to an end, and he makes them new for us every day because of his great faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

The older I get—maybe because the consequences of sin tend to get bigger with age—I am beginning to see for myself that God truly is “rich in mercy,” as Ephesians 2:4 says. Salvation is obviously God’s greatest mercy to us, and he would be more than justified in stopping the mercy train there.

But he doesn’t. He actively pours out new mercy over us, even in the midst of our sin. For my friend, the mistake he made, the sin he committed could have led to a whole host of permanent life-altering consequences. But it didn’t. He is in great emotional pain, but otherwise, he is fine. In his mercy, God spared him, like he spared me three years ago. And on top of that, he is bringing comfort to my friend through his very presence, his Word, and other people.

I love that 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “who comforts us in all our affliction.” It doesn’t say that God comforts us in affliction that’s not our fault, or in affliction that we can’t help. It says in all our affliction. Sometimes affliction is of our own doing. Sometimes it is a consequence of our own sin. We’re very capable of bringing affliction upon ourselves. But even so, he comforts us. What mercy!

God of All Comfort

I have felt the supernatural comfort of God’s presence and his Word in my life, and I’ve witnessed it in the lives of others. In fact, the first time I really remember hearing or reading 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 was seven years ago when a couple I knew lost their baby boy. That passage became a leg to stand on in their grief. They were certain that God would use the experience of losing their child to bring comfort to others, and he did. Four years later, they were able to walk with another couple through the loss of their baby girl. It was a heart-shredding, but beautiful thing to see. It was that passage in real life.

The passage goes on to say that “as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (v. 5). Sharing is another thing I’m learning to value more and more as I get older. There is profound relief in sharing in one another’s sufferings, and there is such perfect joy in sharing in one another’s comfort. It’s an earthly reflection of the eternal covenant portrayed in that verse. We share in Christ’s death; we share in his everlasting life. We share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings; we share abundantly in his comfort. I’m so thankful for that second “abundantly.” Again with the mercy!

Beauty from Ashes

Three years ago, I didn’t think that my pain, brought on in part by my own sin, could ever be used to bring comfort to someone else. How shortsighted of me. I hadn’t even begun to understand the depth of God’s mercy. I didn’t fully trust that Romans 8:28 applied to me.

But a few weeks ago, God brought the beauty of comfort from my ashes of affliction. I got to take a piece of my friend’s burden because it’s one that I’ve borne before. I got to take three year’s worth of comfort that was poured into my soul and pour it into his. And I get to watch as God brings beauty from his ashes. Already I see my friend, who’s been a Christian for a long time, coming to realize the gravity of his state as a sinner for the first time. And because of that, I see him understanding the gospel and his deep need of Jesus in a way that maybe he didn’t before.

All I can do is thank God for who he is, that he is full of mercy and comfort, that I am no longer an object of wrath, and neither is my friend. Christ’s defeat of sin was so utterly complete that even my utter failures can be used for God’s glory and the good of others.

Like the Psalmist said, such knowledge is too wonderful for me (Psalm 139:6).

Think about a time when God, in his mercy, used your affliction for someone else’s comfort.

Caitlin Plascencia

Caitlin Williams serves as the director of children’s ministries at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Northfield, Ill. She is a lover of good books, good conversation, and long naps.
Caitlin Williams serves as the director of children’s ministries at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Northfield, Ill. She is a lover of good books, good conversation, and long naps.