Afflicted Ones: The Church Needs You to Be Brave

Recently, I was reading 2 Corinthians 1:4, reminding myself how God’s comfort is meant to be passed through to his children like a conduit of blessing—from one afflicted person to another. I had always put my focus on the word “comfort” for an obvious reason. The word is used six times in three verses:

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. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV)

Although my main focus when reading this passage has always been on the comfort of God given to us through Christ, this time was different. My attention was drawn to two unassuming words that I'd quickly glossed over in times passed: all and any.

All the comforts of God for all our afflictions—any possible affliction under the sun is eligible.

It suddenly dawned on me that one of the main points in this passage is the sufficiency of God’s comfort to meet us in any and all afflictions—even the ones we treat as taboo or stigmatized or insignificant. God’s comfort isn’t only for the uncomfortable interruptions we experience in life; not just for the trivial and menial inconveniences we grumble through. God’s comfort isn’t only for the life-changing moments when the world seems to crumble at the drop of a dime. God’s comfort isn’t only for the hospital room, the cemetery, the jail cell, or the Sunday pew. God’s comfort isn’t just for body ailments or spiritual ailments or some mysterious mix of the two.

God’s comfort is all-sufficient for all our afflictions—for any kind of affliction. All. Any. Nothing is excluded. Nothing is off-limits. That is good news. It means we don't have to look elsewhere but God's word for our hope and help (Psalm 119:49-50, 2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:12, Romans 15:4).
Charles Spurgeon, the "Prince of Preachers," experienced depression for many years of his ministry. William Cowper, the great hymn writer, had debilitating, paralyzing anxiety for most of his adult life. C. S. Lewis lost his wife to a violent form of cancer. Joni Eareckson Tada became paralyzed from the neck down when she was a teenager. All of these and others have been God’s chosen instruments for bringing truth, grace, and hope into the world. The best counselors have themselves been in counseling. It’s how God works.
– Scott Sauls
What Keeps Us from Comforting the Afflicted?
This is a glorious truth, but the effects of it are not felt in the church as heartily as they could be. Why do we have such a hard time connecting the comforts found in God's word to our everyday hardships and afflictions (Isaiah 49:13)? Why do we treat our various afflictions as abnormal surprises that run contrary to a life of fruitful faith (John 16:33)? The passage clearly indicates that affliction of all and any kind is an experience to be expected in the Christian life. Temptations and struggles are common to man—believers in Christ are not exempt from temptation or struggle or any affliction (1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Peter 5:8).

In 2 Corinthians 1:3, Paul refers to our Lord as the father of mercies (some translations use the word “compassion”) and the God of all comfort. If the afflicted ones in our collective church body are bereft of God’s compassion and comfort, it's because we as individuals are not imaging our Creator the way we're designed to (Isaiah 40:1). Believers in Christ have both the privilege and duty of bringing glory to God by imaging his merciful comfort to the hurting and the hopeless.

Yet, this kind of imaging typically counts a high cost—it requires selfless service, putting the needs of others above our own agendas, and the willingness to appear inept or ignorant in our attempts to be helpful. Loving someone in their pain doesn't require expert training—it requires our humble humanity.

Paul Tripp once wrote, "our suffering does not belong to us." When we've been afflicted (physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.), the comforts we received from God are not meant to be stored and locked away in a dungeon of experiences we’d rather forget. 2 Corinthians 1:4 specifically uses the bridge “so that,” meaning there is a continued, on-going, intentional purpose for the comforts God bestows upon us in our afflictions. Those comforts are first meant for our benefit, and then they are meant to spill over onto someone else who is suffering.

We will not, however, find the courage to share these kinds of comforts if we're afraid to take the risk and image God in showing compassion and comfort to others. We hesitate, perhaps, because we're afraid to damage our reputations, our credentials, our peer-approval, our social status, or maybe even our close relationships. These are understandable fears and concerns, but ultimately we must recognize and accept that our afflictions do not belong to us, and that we benefit no one by hoarding God’s comfort. The Scriptures tell us that we find refreshment for our bodies and our souls as we serve the needs of our fellows:

If you pour out yourself for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide  you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:10-11
The comfort we are receiving [from God] is a merciful kind of comfort. Therefore, if we experience it, we will be merciful people. It is inconceivable that we would receive this kind of comfort—merciful comfort—from God, and bottle it up and say to others, “You may go to hell while we enjoy our comfort, thank you very much.” It’s inconceivable that anybody could be a Christian and feel that way. We have not tasted the comfort that is the merciful comfort from God through Christ if that’s the way we feel…to give comfort is more deeply satisfying and more blessed than to receive comfort.
– John Piper
Restoring Counseling to the Church Requires the Afflicted to Be Brave
These reflections are extremely relevant to today’s challenges in restoring counseling to the church. I mourn over the challenging realities of obtaining reputable biblical counseling help. But we cannot complain about the shortcomings of the church without first pointing the fingers at ourselves. Who among us is ready to image the Father of mercies and the God of compassion? It takes more than a willing heart—it takes an equipped hand.

But the help cannot gift transformational hope unless it is offered in gospel truth and love. There are many who would offer all kinds of help, like rattling off a list of how to live your best life now and avoid suffering or pain or struggle or sin. Those places exist, but those places are not the church built on the foundation of Christ our rock. We need people who are willing to lead like our Father, with comfort and mercy, and then walk with the afflicted as they peel back the layers of their heart, their fears, and their doubts. Gospel hope and help gives the afflicted both comfort and clarity regarding who God is, who they are in Christ, and what gospel reconciliation means for the problems they are facing.

Truth without love is devoid of comfort. Love without truth is devoid of mercy.

Where are the people who want to redeem their afflictions to comfort those in any affliction with the comfort they have received from God through his word? Where are the afflicted ones who will take a risk in order to let others know they're not alone in their struggles—that they too have walked a forlorn road?

The church needs the afflicted to care for the afflicted so the comforts of God can be fully dispensed. When the afflicted are shamed or silenced or shunned, Christianity suffers and God’s name is profaned.

Afflicted one, your time to be brave may not be now, but know you were always meant to become a conduit of comfort. You may be deep in your hurt and to make any mention of a potential purpose in your pain seems more like a blasphemy than a blessing. My heart aches for you, as I have felt that same way. I know those tears and those cold floors and those groanings too deep for words.

I pray for your restoration. I pray the day will come when you are on the other side of your affliction (or at least in a position of perspective) and that in God’s timing, you would find the courage to share the comforts God has given you to someone else who needs to receive them. Faithful Christians have gone before you and have walked the road you're on—they also received God's merciful comfort and lived to tell others about it.

But for those whose time is now, take courage. If you hear God beckoning you to make use of the comforts you have received, be humble and pray for discernment. God has helped me to fold my pains into his purpose, and he has helped others to do the same for generations. In fact, the Bible is a book about God's redemptive plan for all and any of our pains. We know how the story ends in Christ. We know what God ultimately makes of our afflictions and we know what he will ultimately make of us: affliction-free and glorified at last.

Until that day, we need to bravely comfort one another with the comfort we have received from God through Christ in our afflictions. We need to be bravely vulnerable for the sake of someone else's affliction—to be bravely sacrificial for the sake of Christ. This is the foundation of some of our most God-glorifying biblical counseling encounters: shared experiences woven together by shared comfort. Afflicted one, the church needs you to stand brave when the time is right, to share your experience but also to witness about your divine Comforter. Experts are helpful, but God's comfort in your affliction will powerfully testify to the tried-and-true, furnace-proof living hope and help we have in Christ.
We receive both suffering and consolation for the sake of others, and we are bound to give out again all that we receive. It is the essence of the true Christian life first to be dependent upon God for everything, and then to give forth to all around us that which God has poured into our spirit. The heart would soon die if it pumped in the blood, and never pumped it out again; but it is by that perpetual process of giving out what it has received that it continues in life; and the highest form of Christian life is the reception of all that comes to us out of the fullness of Christ, and then the free giving out of what he has bestowed.
– Charles Spurgeon
Biblical counseling is precious to me, not only because I have trained to become a counselor, but because I have personally benefited from it as a counselee. If you are afflicted in any way and want to learn more about how God might begin to fold your pains into his purpose, I would encourage you to learn more about the biblical counseling movement and pray how you might become involved. Whether you simply want to better understand your own afflictions, or you want to learn how you might be able to help spread gospel hope and help to those around you, accessing these websites will open up a treasury of resources that can be helpful on your journey: Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Christian Counseling Education Foundation, Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship.

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Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart, the host of The Hope + Help Project podcast, and is a guest contributor at Desiring God. She writes frequently about motherhood, sin, and sorrow at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
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