As a parent, we often pick up a child to comfort them from injury or pain. We eagerly desire to take the pain away, and sometimes an ice pack or an appropriately placed Star Wars Band-Aid can do exactly that! Last week, however, I had the privilege of comforting one of my children through a pain I couldn't take away as they remembered and felt again the loss of their baby cousin. I could mourn with them, walk beside them and hold them tightly, but I couldn't remove the pain. I could only strengthen them for the journey.
So often I think we seek to bring comfort by removing suffering, yet in today's passage Paul doesn't speak of comfort as the removal of trouble and suffering, he speaks of comfort in the midst of it. We often view comfort as pulling up the doona, grabbing a block of chocolate and disengaging from our troubles. In this passage, the Greek word translated comfort, is more about strengthening and encouraging, exhorting and upholding. The passage reminds us that God strengthens and encourages us in our struggles, not just for our own sake, but so that we might be able to strengthen and encourage others (v4).
As disciples of Christ, times of trouble and suffering can often be times of great growth. Paul encourages us that these times help us to grow in endurance and hope (v6-7). These times also strengthen us to rely on God as our deliverer, rather than ourselves and our own means (v9-10). While we may not like it, trouble and suffering can mould us, shape us and strengthen us for God's purposes in the world. So why is our prayer so often for the removal of our suffering, rather than the strength, endurance and hope to journey through it? Today, if you are in the midst of trials and suffering, perhaps ask God to give you the strength, courage and hope to stand and trust in Him, even in the middle of the trouble. Or, if you know someone who is in a difficult situation, you could seek to do something to strengthen and encourage them to persevere in hope as we live out what it means for us to be people comforted, in order to comfort others.