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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Comfort

Reading in 2 Corinthians 1 this week I was struck by verses 3 – 4.  You probably have those memorized, I noticed something that I had seen before but the implications came home more forcefully this time through.  Specifically the way affliction is modified in verse 4.
Can we comfort people who are going through pain we have not experienced?
The first time affliction is modified by “all our,” the second time, “any.”  The first instance is specific the second is general.  I have usually taken this verse to say that God uses the things through which I struggle to prepare me to comfort or encourage those who are experiencing the same difficulties.  While that is certainly true, that is not what verse 4 says.

It says that my struggles, my affliction – the word can also be translated “suffering” – prepare me to comfort those regardless of what struggles they are experiencing.  Sometimes I hesitate to engage with people going through stuff I have not navigated myself.  My thought is that I cannot understand and therefore cannot effectively support them.  Paul – actually the Holy Spirit here – says that is not true.  We are able and in fact required to enter into the affliction of those in our community to comfort them in “any” affliction whether we have experienced it or not.

Galatians 6:1 – 2, may be a correlating help here.  While the focus of 6:1 is on those who are in trespass, the exhortation remains sound.  When we engage in comfort we need to be drawing on our own experience of pain and the leading of the Holy Spirit so that we can bear one another’s burdens, 6:2.

It is not an easy assignment, but it is ours nonetheless.

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