I need comfort too when others are suffering

It’s hard taking on board the suffering of others. It knocks my day to pieces when bad news comes through about a fellow Christian. It’s depressing. It’s depressing not knowing what to pray about too, because I have no idea if God intends to heal the person’s illness, or stop the person from dying, or if he’ll ease the desperate situation the person is in. I can’t read God’s mind, so I can’t promise the person a good outcome either. What do I say at his bedside, or at church? I feel utterly helpless.

So that’s two of us now suffering. The sick or dying person is suffering and I am as well, and I can’t just blank it out of my head and carry on my day unperturbed, because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26 we can’t help suffering when a fellow Christian suffers. When one part of your body is in pain the whole body feels it. In the church that’s the way it is.

But Paul also made the rather startling statement in 2 Corinthians 1:6 that his suffering brought “comfort and salvation” to others. Oh, so in the church that’s the way it is too, is it? But how? How can suffering cause comfort? And Paul goes one step further too, when he says his suffering brought “salvation,” meaning it actually spared people from despairing.

Paul does not back off the fact in verse 5 that Christ allows us to suffer, but he adds a bit on the end of the verse, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” With Christ, suffering never travels alone. It is always accompanied by comfort. But not just comfort for the one suffering; it’s comfort for the ones watching and hearing about the person suffering too. That’s why Paul could say in verse 7, “our hope in you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” And I appreciate that, because I need comfort too when others are suffering.

Here’s how it works, says Paul: He explains how terribly he suffered in Asia, to the point that he and his coworkers “despaired even of life,” verse 8, but their hope was kept alive “as you help us by your prayers,” verse 10-11. And that’s where comfort comes from for those watching others suffer. It comes from knowing our prayers keep the suffering person’s hope in God alive. Jesus literally transforms our prayers into hope. And how comforting that is, that no matter how badly a person is suffering, our prayers guarantee God’s “gracious favour” on him, verse 11.

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