Saturday, January 29, 2005

Getting Comfortable

OK, I forgot about item 3. That is simply that I have been reading through the book of Job for the last several days. Now there was an unhappy guy! Job had some friends. And with friends like these . . .

These friends have been the origin of a term, “Job’s Comforters.” That’s not something warm and thick and cozy on a bed. May heaven keep us from ever being a Job’s comforter. That is someone who manages to say all the wrong things at just the wrong times in just such a way as to add to the sufferer’s woe, rather than supporting and strengthening them.

Now, where am I going with all this? In 2 Corinthians 1:3, the Bible says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort . . .” God is the God of all comfort. That seems to fit with the idea that God wants us to be happy. When we are unhappy, we seek comfort. Does that move us toward happiness? So I want to look first at a definition of comfort, then look at the ways some of us seek comfort.

A Definition of Comfort.

Here are a few words I usually use in my wedding sermons, when I talk about the vows that a couple makes as they marry.

Comfort - The promise to comfort implies that there will be some hard times ahead. That is the nature of life, that there are difficulties as well as joys. To comfort another person does not mean to make them feel good, but to be with them when they hurt. It means to acknowledge the things important to your spouse, and make them important to you as well. Comfort can be a caring embrace, it can be a listening ear. Comfort can be gentle words of affirmation when an ego has been bent and bruised. Comfort can be a blanket and aspirin when someone is ill. It can be that hot bowl of soup when someone is cold. To comfort someone is to remind them that they are precious in your eyes, and in the eyes of God. Rarely are we able to take away another's pain. Often we can be with them in their pain. This is comfort.
I get this from the origins of the word, comfort. The two syllables come from Latin, com, an intensifier syllable, and fortis, meaning strength. Comfort means “to strengthen completely.” I believe that this happens through the presence of another. The wondrous promise in scripture is that God is with us. That very presence is what gives us strength. Notice that the original meaning doesn’t seem to have much to say about feeling better. Yet, that still seems to happen.

I remember when I was a little kid and would get the stomach flu. That was no fun! What a lousy way to get out of school! I would be lying sick in bed, absolutely miserable. Then my mom would come in to check up on me, perhaps laying her hand on my forehead to check the progress of my fever. Somehow, the cool of her hand, the presence of my mom helped me. I was still sick. I still had a fever. My stomach was still in violent revolt. But I was helped. I was strengthened. I was comforted.

The ultimate comfort is what preachers like to talk about at Christmas time, Emmanuel. God with us. God promises his presence to his people in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Jesus repeats the promise at the ascension, “. . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 19:20b)

So, comfort has more to do with strength to endure than it does our ease. We gain that strength, when others are with us during our struggles. Next, I will look at ways many of us seek comfort, and what the results can end up being. (It’s not good . . .)

1 comment:

bruce said...

Thanks Chris,
It is good to see another pastor blogging. Comfort... The goal of all of struggling mankind. Today I see many who simply refuse to live if there is any pain or any suffering. Prozac is just the tip of the iceberg.
The church lacks a good 21st century theology of suffering. All of society and business promises comfort. When never delivered, many feel hopelessness.
Comfort, as peace, is delivered only in Jesus Christ.
Thanks again,
Bruce Harpel