“… We were excessively burdened beyond our power, so as for us to despair even of living. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, so that we should not have trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver, in whom we have hope that also still he will deliver. (2 Corinthians 8-10)
The second book of Corinthians begins with Paul describing how God comforts us all in our troubles. (2 Cor 1:4) Great, I hear you non-Christians scoff, “you and your precious God are ‘OK Jack’ never mind the rest of us. Why would a so called good God allow everyone else to suffer in their afflictions while you get that ‘peace that surpasses all understanding'”? (Phil. 4:7) In fact anyone not feeling comfort or peace in their suffering has reason to make the same heartfelt complain. Indeed, Paul is not writing to nonbelievers here; he is writing to people of faith who are having a hard time. are some people comforted in their afflictions? Well, the second half of the same verse in Corinthians explains why he comforts us : so that we can comfort them who are also in any affliction. You see if we feel comforted or encouraged it’s not for us to relish (though we do), it’s to give away to others. The ensuing verses extol the benefits of suffering and being comforted and encouraged. If I am encouraged and comforted in my troubles it is for the comfort and encouragement and salvation of others. Sharing in troubles and comforts, sharing afflictions and triumphs, caring enough to pray for others not just ourselves, multiplies the joy and thanks that results from the comfort when it comes. (v 11) Everyone wins!
Now this was a great relief to me as I have been enormously grateful for all the blessings and love and comfort and encouragement that I have had heaped upon me throughout my illness by an awesome almighty God; I am grateful for all the prayer and care and love shown by others; I have sailed though without complication, feeling well, even, by and large, enjoying the experience; I feel truly blessed. The trouble is, I have sometimes felt that I should not brag about it too much incase people with similar illness who are not doing so great feel worse, somehow disadvantaged, dealt a bad hand, ignored by God, or people, or whatever people feel when life just isn’s fair. Could I, by saying how blessed and comfortable I feel even in the midsts of this ‘affliction’, appear smug, even condemnatory?
No, this passage at least seems to reassure me that by sharing the comfort, encouragement, and hope that I have, others will be comforted and encouraged too. Good, I don’t have to zip it! I’m not good at that.
Also it explains a bit about suffering doesn’t it? Suffering happens. (To mis-quote Forrest Gump). It’s that sort of world. But it isn’t dished out will-nilly by Satan, or fate, or even God. Sufferings are, like the terrible despair experienced by Paul and his comrades referred to here in Corinthians, instigated in people’s lives “SO THAT they should ‘not trust in themselves but in God...” (vs 9). THAT’s the crux of the matter. Paul and his buddies didn’t shake their fists at the world/the devil/the government/the neighbour/the NSH and rush into battle with said party crying ‘not fair’. But nor did they say: “Hey, God this isn’t nice, I’m sure it can’t be your will, sort it out for us will you?” What did they do? They just walked calmly through the storms, accepting that they could do nothing about it and instead resting in a certain knowledge that they could, and indeed would have to, trust God; and whatever was happening was part of his plan. And then, instead of second-guessing his plan, they set about noticing all the comfort and encouragement and love all around them.
Paul did. And then, rather than just sitting back and thinking: ‘thank God for that!’ he got out his quill and parchment and wrote to the Cronithians to tell them all about it, to comfort and encourage them in their own troubles.
You see if we just drift through life without a hitch, or maybe a few niggles and irritations that we manage to keep on top of, we will never really know how to lean on a God who can do immeasurably more than we can ever imagine. I for one wish I hadn’t had to get a brain tumour to learn the amazing love, power and comfort of God. In fact I already thought I knew God, I thought I trusted Him. I knew he was sovereign. I could talk the talk. But now I know how little I knew. There is nothing like a bit of hardship to show up your ignorance.
And so, loved and comforted in my ‘afflictions’, I am full of hope for a wonderful life. Like Job * (once he had taken stock of the encouragements all around him) maybe I too have finally realised, it’s OK, ‘My Redeemer lives’. (Job 19:25) And like Job it is now because my eyes have seen rather than just my ears hearing.(Job 42:5) You see we may preach about the love of God, how Jesus can save us, how people can be healed. But preaching this as hearsay is empty. Only someone who has been there, had the “sentence of death within themselves”, and yet then yet felt the encouragement, basked in the blessings, experienced the healing, can really be an encouragement to others.
But back in the ‘reality’ of every day existence within those tribulations, is pain, physical suffering, very real anxieties. It isn’t necessarily death we fear, but the pain and indignity leadung up to it. It isn’t necessarily the end of life we fear, but the worry and sadness of saying goodbye to loved ones, dependants, responsibilities. It’s worry about letting go of personal hopes and expectations.
But if we want to live this blessed life, cancer or no cancer, it’s never about gritting our teeth and ‘getting through this’. It’s never ‘putting a brave face on it’. It’s never about ‘luck of the draw’. It’s never about beating the odds’. It’s not even about healing the cancer.
It is about noticing God’s encouragement, his comfort, his provision in our tribulation: every little happy coincidence, every little unexpected sunbeam, every little opportunity for change, every little nugget of useful information that falls your way, every ‘trun-up-for-the-books’, every delightful surprise, every pleasure, every smile, every caring person He places in your path. Untold wonderful gifts from God are always there, it’s just that now in this dark place, they will stand out, if you notice them; take your eyes off the dark and ugly things and see light instead: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”(Phil 4:8) When you do that you won’t need your own courage, your own stamina, your own optimism, your own expectations; you won’t worry about your old hopes and expectations, you will be taking on His expectations His hope and His life. And it is immeasurably better than anything you could imagine, hope or expect for yourself.
And when you do, share it with me, and every one else you possibly can. Multiply the blessings.
[link to related blog post.]