Sometimes life gets… difficult. A few years ago, I had what came close to burnout – which presented as heart-attack symptoms. An MRI showed a brain abnormality. (It’s all fine – an MRI a few months later showed no change: it must be just be how God made me!) I felt broken. In many ways my life had been going fantastically: I was about to propose to my now wife! But this incident brought out all of the latent fears and doubts in my life. I slept for a few days. I questioned God. I wondered if I was really saved. I wondered if he was really there. (It’s really difficult to preach when you feel like that!)
Now, to be honest, I still ask those questions now and again. But there’s a difference. Somehow – through journalling, long prayers (a practice I really need to reclaim!), and reading the bible… God must be there. He is there. Somehow, God comforted me in my suffering. (Oh, and my family – particularly my now wife – were greatly used by God. Also, Adriaan Plass’ fantastic “Sacred Diary” books.)
As Paul starts this second of the preserved letters to the Corinthians, he speaks about something similar. He reminds me that the Father of Jesus Christ – our Father – is the source of all comfort. God himself comforts us as we experience the trials of life. But not just for our own comfort. That of course, but also so that we can comfort others with the same comfort that God gave us. God comforts us so that we can comfort others.
I think that Paul’s focus here is on suffering for the gospel of Christ – and God comforting us when we suffer unjustly. But I believe that if God is the God of all comfort, then that extends to every aspect of our lives.
You see, Paul and co. had had a horrible time in Asia. This great man of God was so crushed and overwhelmed, that he didn’t think he could endure. He thought for sure that he was a goner. But look at what he says (and this so matches with what I experienced): the result of this seemingly unbearable trouble was that he and his friends stopped relying on themselves and learned to rely on God – the one who raises the dead. Paul – the apostle Paul – had to learn to rely on God and not on his own strength. This side of eternity, I think that that’s a lesson we all need to learn – and learn – and re-learn.
The fact is, God does rescue his own. Not always. But we can put our confidence in him. Because he has ultimately rescued us completely. Every promise that God has made to us and for us – has already been answered with a resounding YES in Jesus. Sometimes, God in his grace will save us from our circumstances. But I need to remember always that I am already saved in Christ. I’m reminded of the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego just before they were to be thrown into the fiery furnace for refuse to renege on their faith in God: If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
There was another great sorrow and trial that Paul was enduring: his concern for the Corinthian church. He had decided to change his plans and not to visit them because he didn’t want to rebuke them severely. He wanted them to work out their own faith with fear and trembling. In many ways, this letter is meant to guide them back to Christ – a call for them to change their lives, and to follow God wholeheartedly. Paul didn’t go, because he wants to work with the Corinthians, not over them. He wants them – and us – to realise that it is by our own faith that we stand.
I trust God, because I believe that Jesus is the Son of God – and that he rose again from the dead. I trust him because of his promises. I trust him, because of who he is. Is my faith of great worth? No – but Jesus’ is, and I know he has promised to hold me firmly in his arms. But the fact is… I trust Jesus. Paul’s trusting Christ couldn’t save the Corinthians. They had to trust God themselves – to take up their crosses and follow Jesus. The trust of my parents guided me – but it won’t save me. The trust of my wife in Christ – it won’t save me. No: I need to personally trust God, the trustworthy one. Oh Lord – help me to do so more; help me to follow you well. Father: keep renewing my mind, and making me more like Jesus I beg you.