By Not Known
Suffering is part and parcel of life. In varying ways and to varying degrees we
all have experiences and moments that perplex our minds, break our hearts
and prompt our tears. Life is often a vale of tears. What comforts us in our
suffering and how can we comfort one another?
Let’s start with what does not comfort.
False hopes. A well-meaning person may say ‘don’t worry, all will be well’. It
may, or may not, be so. Further, such a remark may say more about the
speaker’s discomfort with suffering than anything else.
Problem solving. When we hear of another’s problem it’s common to offer a
‘solution’. Men are especially prone to doing this. There is a time for
solutions, but it’s not the first need of a suffering person. Further, it is often
best to wait until someone asks before offering our ideas.
Shared despair. Another ‘comforter’ may climb into the pit of suffering with
us, reinforce how bad things are, then lead us into a downwards spiral. Thus
Job’s wife urged him to curse God and accept death (Job 2:9). Far from
helping, this may breed self-pity and depression.
Theologising. When Job suffered, some friends came to sit. When they spoke
it was a lengthy theological discourse about how only the guilty suffer and
therefore Job had best confess his sins and lift God’s curse. His friends were
wrong. Moreover, their many words only exasperated Job (eg Job 16:1-3).
What does comfort in suffering? Let’s go back to Job. When his friends first
came they sat silently with him for seven days (Job 2:13). That seems to have
been their most useful contribution and it’s worth pondering. Consider the
comfort of someone who simply attends a Wake service and gives a silent
handshake as they greet the family. Their mere presence means so much. Our
silent presence is a great gift when someone suffers.
However, our greatest comfort is to look at God and to God. The many words
of Job and his friends end with God’s self-disclosure (Job 38-41). Job’s response
was effectively to repent of his words and bow his heart (Job 42:1-6). Who was
he to question and doubt God? The New Testament takes us a step further. It
urges us to consider the sufferings of Christ (Heb 12:2-3). Not only was his
suffering greater, but its redemptive effect demonstrates forever that God is
sovereign and working for good even in our suffering.
Let us, too, also find and give comfort in looking at God and to God.