“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–7)
Paul explains that the suffering we experience is not for us alone. We can get pretty selfish with our suffering. We hoard our suffering, unwilling to share it with the people around us.
How self-centered can we be?
When you experience affliction and suffering, know for sure that God wants you to share it. God is the God of all comfort. He is the one who comforts us in our affliction. Why? Paul is clear: “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” There is a missional aspect to the suffering we experience, and there is a missional aspect to the comfort that God gives us to help us through that suffering.
From a biblical perspective, trials are actually blessings for many reasons (e.g., see James 1). One of those reasons is the comfort that we receive, which in turn becomes the comfort we are ready to dispense to the suffering people around us.
Our suffering can be so specific to our unique situations, and the comfort that God gives us can feel wonderfully individualized. God truly does reach directly into our particularized pains and bring healing in a way that seems meant for us alone. But it’s not. Yes, God’s comfort meets us where we are, but that’s not where it stops.
The next time you experience God’s comfort in the midst of suffering, don’t stop at thanking him for it. Ask yourself how that comfort can be passed on. Maybe the answer will be immediate. Or maybe you’ll be waiting for years. But until our experience with suffering ends in the comfort of the people around us, it has not fully run its course.
The flipside of this is equally important. If God expects us to share his comfort with other people, it means that God may well pass on his comfort to us through other people whom he has comforted. In other words, when a fellow Christian embraces you in the midst of your suffering, the comfort you are receiving from that person has its origin in God.
God is “the God of all comfort.” He’s the source. So accept the comfort of your brothers and sisters not as the misguided efforts of people who ought to be minding their own business, but as the mediated comfort of God sent to you through someone who has been comforted by God in the midst of affliction.
Your suffering is not about you. It’s about us. And ultimately, it’s about the God of all comfort.