Second Corinthians 1:3-4 proclaims that God comforts us in all our troubles and then instructs us to comfort others. Receiving comfort from our brothers and sisters should be a source of great encouragement to us however, many of us have had just the opposite experience. Words intended by our brothers and sisters in Christ to strengthen us, haven’t encouraged us at all, instead, our burden has increased.
Think of some of the comfort you’ve heard offered to someone in trial. “It could be worse.” “God needed him more than you.” “I’m praying for you.” “I know the right person is out there for you somewhere, just be patient.” “When I finally stopped wanting _______ [you fill in the blank], that’s when God gave it to me.” “It’s not as bad as…” “You need to repent of your sin and then you’ll be healed.” “God is faithful, He won’t give you more than you can handle.” “My brother-in-law’s cousin went to a clinic in _______ [you fill in the blank] and she got well. I’ll find out the name of the clinic for you.” “If you just have enough faith, your trial will go away.” “Trust God, He works everything together for good.”
God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3), but not all the comfort we get (or give) is genuine comfort. Therefore, it’s helpful to distinguish which kind of comfort we have received when others offer solace to us.
I would like to suggest that splitting comfort into 3 different categories can help us respond to comfort appropriately.
Category 1: False comfort.
False comfort seems to make assumptions such as:
- Comfort is found in better circumstances.
- Comfort is found in anticipating a lessening of pain or the end of the trial.
- Comfort is found in the knowledge that things could be worse than they are.
- If I understand ‘why,’ the trial won’t be as painful.
The goal of false comfort is to make you feel better or to make painful feelings go away.
Examples of false comfort might include: “It could be worse.” “God needed him more than you.” “I know the right person is out there for you somewhere, just be patient.” “It’s not as bad as…” “My brother-in-law’s cousin went to a clinic in _______ [you fill in the blank] and she got well. I’ll find out the name of the clinic for you.”
Although on some occasions false comfort may temporarily lift our burden, false comfort falls far short of genuine comfort. In many cases, false comfort fails to provide any comfort at all, and in some situations, false comfort increases the burden of suffering. False comfort is not truly comforting.
Category 2: The comfort of Job’s comforters.
Job’s comforters believe that suffering is a result of personal sin. Thus, if you will repent of your sin, your suffering will end.
Job’s comforters seem to make assumptions such as:
- Bad things only happen as a result of wrongdoing.
- If you do right, nothing bad will happen to you.
- Doing righteous works will result in an improved situation. God can be controlled by righteous works.
- Figure out what you did wrong, repent, and the suffering will end.
Examples of comfort from Job’s comforters might include: “When I finally stopped wanting _______ [you fill in the blank], that’s when God gave it to me.” “You need to repent of your sin and then you’ll be healed.” “If you just have enough faith, your trial will go away.”
While some of what Job’s comforters say may be true, it is certainly not true in all situations for all people. Additionally, it seems that Job’s comforters have the same goal as those who offer false comfort – hope is found in the trial or pain being removed. As with category 1, the comfort of Job’s comforters is not truly comforting.
I would propose that comfort given with the goal of simply removing pain, while spoken out of genuine kindness, is nevertheless inferior to the comfort our loving Savior would like for us to offer. My reasons for believing such comfort to be inferior are because 2 Corinthians 1 would lead me to conclude that genuine comfort is intended to strengthen us to endure (vs. 6) and equip us to praise God (vs. 3). Comfort intended to do this would be my third category of comfort. I’ll explore this more in my next post. Ironically however, even when we receive genuine comfort we sometimes fail to be comforted. Also in my next post I’ll explore why even genuine comfort sometimes isn’t comforting.