Summary: Focuses on the wonderful comfort that God gives to us in the midst of our afflictions, and suggests five ways He ministers to us in such times.
PERSPECTIVES ON SUFFERING January 20, 2008
Series: 2 Corinthians- Strength through Weakness
Introduction- In his book The Pressure’s Off, psychologist Larry Crabb tells this story from his childhood.
One Saturday afternoon, I decided I was a big boy and could use the bathroom without anyone’s help. So I climbed the stairs, closed and locked the door behind me, and for the next few minutes felt very self-sufficient.
Then it was time to leave. I couldn’t unlock the door. I tried with every ounce of my three-year-old strength, but I couldn’t do it. I panicked. I felt again like a very little boy as the thought went through my head, "I might spend the rest of my life in this bathroom."
My parents—and likely the neighbors—heard my desperate scream. "Are you okay?" Mother shouted through the door she couldn’t open from the outside. "Did you fall? Have you hit your head?" "I can’t unlock the door!" I yelled. "Get me out of here!"
I wasn’t aware of it right then, but Dad raced down the stairs, ran to the garage to find the ladder, hauled it off the hooks, and leaned it against the side of the house just beneath the bedroom window. With adult strength, he pried it open, then climbed into my prison, walked past me, and with that same strength, turned the lock and opened the door.
"Thanks, Dad," I said—and ran out to play.
That’s how I thought the Christian life was supposed to work… God shows up. He hears my cry—"Get me out of here! I want to play!"—and unlocks the door to the blessings I desire.
Sometimes he does. But now I’m realizing the Christian life doesn’t work that way. And I wonder, are any of us content with God? Do we even like him when he doesn’t open the door we most want opened—when a marriage doesn’t heal, when rebellious kids still rebel, when friends betray, our business fails, when financial reverses threaten our comfortable way of life, when the prospect of terrorism looms, when health worsens despite much prayer, when loneliness intensifies and depression deepens, when ministries die?
God has climbed through the small window into my dark room. But he doesn’t walk by me to turn the lock that I couldn’t budge. Instead, he sits down on the floor and says, "Come sit with me!" He seems to think that climbing into the room to be with me matters more than letting me out to play. I don’t always see it that way. "Get me out of here!" I scream. "If you love me, unlock the door!"
We so often have that view of God… when we find ourselves in that locked room He should just come in and open the door… that’s what we want!!... but God has never promised to open every locked door… but we don’t understand that, and we don’t like that… And this is one of the questions that has plagued the people of God from the beginning… Job!!... Why do people suffer??... Can God really be loving and good if He allows so much suffering??... Is He powerless to do anything??
We can’t begin to answer all the questions about this, but in our passage Paul speaks directly to the issue of suffering and affliction, and while he doesn’t and cannot answer all the questions, he provides several clear perspectives and principles about suffering.
To use the illustration of Crabb, Paul says God doesn’t always unlock the doors to our rooms of suffering, but He does join us in the room to comfort us, so that we might be able to help someone else when they are in a room of suffering and the door is locked.
Context- last week we looked at Corinth and Paul’s relationship to the church… he is now beginning his letter to them, and begins by speaking of his experiences of suffering.
1. God is a God who comforts His people, vs. 3-4a.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction…
He begins with a word of praise to God… blessed… Christ- it is a doxology… may God be praised… Paul is praising Him because He is a God who comforts his people… we this first in His character… Father of mercies and God of all comfort- “The compassionate Father and the God who always gives comfort.”… He is characterized by compassion and every kind of comfort… this is the nature of God… this is the way he is… this is how he relates to us… this is different from the gods of Greece and Rome… unlike the Greek pantheon of gods who are unconcerned about human anguish, the God of he Christians cares for them. Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman naturalist and Stoic, wrote “that [a] supreme being, whatever it be, who pays heed to human affairs is a ridiculous notion.” Pliny also said that suicide was the “supreme gift” that God bestowed on man. (that’s how man is to deal with suffering)… but the God and Father of Jesus Christ is one who sees the misery of His people, hears them crying out, and is concerned about their suffering so that he comes down to comfort them