Freedom to Suffer
Monday of Pentecost 17
17 September 2018

When my father was killed suddenly in a car accident many years ago, a dear pastor friend came to the house to comfort my family and me. Under the shock of this tragedy, as I supposed, I had fallen ill, and thus I remembered little of his kind visit with me. However, I did remember his sharing this Bible passage: "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" (2Co 1:3-4). About this Word of God, he counseled me that now as a parish pastor I would understand better the grief of those under my care, especially if they had lost a father. I had been through this affliction, and so I would be able to comfort other persons with God's comfort which I had received from my friend.

 

Of course, the Apostle Paul means something more than, "Oh, your father died? I lost mine a few years ago. I know exactly what you are going through." No, it cannot be that any person is able fully to fathom the grief felt by another. Paul is not merely sympathetic. He is not claiming to be able to feel the same thing as those who are afflicted. Paul is not a cheap politician who claims, "I feel your pain." What good would come of that? Paul's willingness to suffer had to do with understanding the comfort that the Lord gives to the afflicted, rather than understanding the affliction of another. We might rightly say to those who are suffering or grief ridden, "I may not know exactly what you are going through, but here is what helped me when I was afflicted by grief." This kind of spiritual humility goes a long way to get you a hearing from those who suffer. We must reject the arrogance that claims to know the depth of the suffering of others. If you do, you will be able to help, rather than hurt.

 

What the Christian knows about suffering, is not that it will go away according to our timetable, but that it enables us to experience the compassion and rescue of the God of mercies. This God offers His Son into suffering and death and does not rescue Him except through suffering itself (Heb 12:2). We have a God who was willing to drain down to the dregs the cup of suffering rather than flee from it (Lk22:42). We have a God who was willing to be identified by the name of an object of torture and worshiped as the "Crucified" (1Co 1:23). God's abundant mercy shapes and drives His desire to save us no matter the cost in suffering. If He so suffers, what would make us think that we could, or even should, avoid it.

 

We experience the compassion of God while we are suffering, not apart from suffering. So, we, like Christ, ought never to avoid suffering, but welcome its approach as a cross from a loving heavenly Father, who desires only the best for us. Then we will know the compassion of God. John Chrysostom pointed out that the three children of Daniel were brought rescue while in the fiery furnace, rather than be rescued from the experience of immolation on the bonfire of a king's vanity. The Son of God sustained them by sharing the fiery furnace with them. Therefore, our comfort comes not through freedom from suffering but from the freedom to suffer with Christ, the Son of God. 


Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"To have mercy is the peculiar and excellent attribute of God, and the most inherent in His nature. This is why Paul calls Him the 'God of mercies.'
 
"Observe in this passage also the humility of Paul. For although he was in danger because of the Gospel he preached, he did not say that he was saved because of his own merit, but because of the mercies of God. This he afterwards declares more clearly, and now goes on to say, 'Who comforts us in all our affliction.' (2Co 1:4). He did not say, 'Who keeps us from suffering affliction,' but, 'Who comforts us in all our affliction.' For this declares immediately the power of God and increases the patience of those who are afflicted. For he said, 'Suffering produces endurance' (Rm 5:3). And so also the prophet, 'You have given me relief when I was in distress' (Ps 4:1). He does not say, 'You have not let affliction fall upon me,' nor, 'You have quickly removed my affliction,' but, while affliction continues, 'You have given me relief when I was in distress,' that is, 'You have granted me as much freedom and refreshment as I needed.' Which truly happened also in the case of the three children (Dan 3:21-30), for neither did He prevent their being cast into the flame, nor did He quench it, but while the furnace was burning He gave them liberty. And such is ever God's way of dealing with us; as Paul also implies when he says, 'Who comforts us in all our affliction.'
 
"But he teaches something more in these words. God does this not once, nor twice, but without end. For He does not for a time comfort, and at another time not, but ever and constantly. Therefore, he says, 'Who comforts,' not, 'Who has comforted,' and, 'in all our affliction,' not, 'in this or that,' but, 'in all.'
 
"'That we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.' See how he is thinking ahead in defense of his ministry, by suggesting to the hearer the thought of some great affliction. His modesty again is apparent, for it was not because of his own merits that he was shown this mercy, but for the sake of those that needed his assistance. 'That we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.' In this he also manifests the quality of the Apostles, by showing that, having been comforted and breathed awhile, he did not lie in comfort as we do, but he went on his way to anoint, to encourage, and to rouse others.
 
"Other people, however, consider as the Apostle's meaning: 'Our consolation is that of others also.' But my opinion is that in this introduction, he is also censuring the false Apostles, those vain boasters who sat at home and lived in luxury. He censured them not openly, but only incidentally, the primary object being to defend himself for his delay in coming to Corinth (2Co 1:17). It was as if he were saying, 'If for this purpose we were comforted that we might comfort others also, do not blame us that we could not come. For in this our whole time was spent, in providing against plots, violence, and the terrors which assailed us.'"

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Corinthians, 1.3
2 Corinthians
1:1-11

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:
 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
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. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, help me to understand my suffering as a gift from You. Keep me in Your comforting care. When I am in the midst of affliction, send Your messengers to me that they might comfort me with the comfort they have already received from You. Ready me by my suffering to return Your comfort to others when You present me with the opportunity. Amen.
 
For Michael Koutsodontis who is undergoing therapy for cancer, that the Lord his God would give him strength and healing to face suffering with Christ
 
For those whose suffering has led them to reject God's grace, that they might be brought to repentance and come to a knowledge of God's comfort for those who suffer
 
For the Council of Presidents of the LCMS as it meets in St. Louis, that it members would be kept in the holy faith of the church as its members oversee the churches and her pastors
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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