Dear God, we pray that you would open up the scripture to us today, making it real in our hearts and in our minds. Teach us how we can have hope in you. Teach us not to lose heart. Help us to know the comfort you offer us in our suffering.
In the second letter to the Corinthians, Apostle Paul reveals to them that he and his companions experienced suffering that seemed like sentence of death! Yet, he tells us that they do not lose heart. Despite his predicament, Apostle Paul starts out his letter addressing the Corinthians with grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Then he blesses the Corinthians, a blessing of our God of mercies and comfort! Paul teaches us that we can have hope in our suffering, but how? God may have comforted Apostle Paul, but how would we know, that God will also comfort us? And if we have been comforted, it is so that we might comfort others. But why would anyone else’s suffering comfort another person? I always found it puzzling when someone says to me, you’re not alone in your suffering. Ok. So, I’m not the only person who might have felt the kind of pain and suffering I am experiencing. So? So what? What difference does one person’s suffering and pain do for suffering and pain of anyone else?
Before we talk about what kind of hope we might have in God, let us understand what kind of suffering Apostle Paul is talking about. Paul writes, “for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Paul does not speak explicitly of the suffering that crushed him. Probably, Paul and his companions were being persecuted for being Christians. This suffering, which crushed Paul and his companions was so great that they even despaired of life itself, affliction so “deep” that “it seemed to him like the sentence of death” – a blow from which he could not recover on his own, but had to rely on God who raises the dead.
Have you ever felt this kind of suffering? Despair is a deep sense of hopelessness. It’s not like, oh your favorite sports team lost a game or that you cannot find the right pair of jeans that causes us despair. Despair is the sense that life is meaningless and that all our effort to find meaning in life is hopeless. From experience, I know what such despair feels like and I know that despair does not discriminate against age. Young and old, alike, when in despair, the word hope is like a foreign concept. It is the state where the possibility of anything getting better seems impossible.
Because of the pandemic, I know that we know of suffering and pain due to feelings of loneliness, alienation and meaninglessness. Such feelings of despair might have been more pronounced during the lock down. Even when you are surrounded by friends and family, you can still feel alone. Regardless of the number of friends you have, you can still feel that no one understands you, and that you are standing alone in your pain. You might have felt alienated – feeling separation from God, or other people or even from yourself. You might feel lost like you are the only person lost in deep space, just floating in the darkness! I know that despair can be real for all of us because it is part of the human condition, which we experience at some point in our lives.
However, while we are afflicted, we are not crushed:
8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8)
We are not crushed despite being afflicted in every way because of God’s power: “this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The answer to how we do not lose heart is because God gives us hope, peace, and comfort in our suffering. And we carry on by praying to God when we are suffering and in pain. God will answer our prayers mercifully. God will not forsake us. We do not lose heart.
Pray – Well, when we are in the midst of such despair, such suffering that we want nothing but to escape from the suffering, what can we do? Nothing we can do can save us from suffering and pain except to pray our tears, our fears and our despair to God. We can’t do anything because it is God who comforts us: In Isaiah God says, “I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass,” (Isaiah 51:12).
In despair that might as well be the sentence of death, Paul did not rely on himself, but on God who raises the dead. Paul writes, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Notice here that Paul does not say God who raised the dead (in past tense), but God who raises (present tense) the dead. God’s power is the same yesterday, as it is today and will be tomorrow just as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And this God who raises the dead, comforts us. Do not lose hope. Pray to God who knows what we need and knows we are in despair. And God will hear our prayers and God will answer in accordance to God’s will.
God will not forsake us – How do we know this? God sent God’s only son to die for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God. So we know that God will rescue us because God has already rescued us:
He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10).
God does not just rescue us once. God continues to rescue us. In this God, we can have hope because God will not leave us alone to suffer in our misery. We can have hope in God who raised Jesus from the dead. God who has already rescued Paul will rescue him again. Have you ever been saved by God in the past but now believe you can’t be saved? Well, think again. God who raises the dead can help you now as God has already helped you in the past. If God can resurrect Jesus from the dead, what could God not do? There is nothing that God can’t do. The question is only a matter of whether something is in accordance to God’s plan. Have faith in God who makes the impossible, possible!
Even as Jesus was ascending to Heaven, Jesus asked for Holy Spirit to be with us. In John 14:16, Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (NRSV). Jesus goes on to say in John 14:26 that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit strengthens us by teaching us “everything” and reminding us of all that Jesus has taught us. The comfort that Paul speaks of strengthens us.
Paul states that his “hope” for the Corinthians is “unshaken.” Paul is not simply wishing or hoping for God’s consolation for those who are suffering. But from experience, Paul knows of the comfort that God gives to those who are suffering. Based on his knowledge and experience of the comfort that God has given him, his hope is “unshakable.” It is with conviction and certainty that Paul knows that God will grant consolation to those who are suffering.
God consoles us. We know from Hebrews 4:14-15 that we have a high priest, Jesus Christ, who can sympathize with our weaknesses for we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Jesus didn’t come to suffer just so that he would know what our suffering would be like and offer us words of kindness! Jesus came and dwelled among us, knowing that it would cost him his life to come down to us! It is because Jesus suffered that Jesus can sympathize with us. God is with us and will not forsake us in our suffering and pain.
God consoles us so that we can console those who are in suffering and affliction. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1: 4 and 6:
4 [God] who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God... 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. (1 Corinthians 1:4-6)
Why should we comfort others? Because Jesus suffered on our behalf, because Jesus knows the pain we experience, because Jesus comfort us, we know in our suffering not only that we will be comforted, but that in turn we might comfort others because we know the pain others might be experiencing. When we patiently endure the sufferings, which others have also suffered, we will experience comfort that only God can give us.
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Paul tell us why/how/that we do not lose heart:
16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
We are suffering now. But as Apostle Paul tells us, “our outer nature is wasting away” but, “our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” Our outer nature wastes away. We get older, we feel despair, we lose hope. But our inner nature is renewed day by day. God renews us. Hope we have in despair is not hope we create. It is not hope we ourselves imagine for ourselves. Hope we have in despair is hoping in God. Hope in being renewed day by day. Hope in the “eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” once the “slight momentary affliction” passes. We have hope to be united with God. And we have hope in what we cannot see: God’s unconditional love and God’s promise of being present with us eternally as well as now.
God offers us peace now. In John 14:27, Jesus goes on to tell his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” This is the kind of peace that Paul greets the Corinthians with, and this is the kind of peace that God offers us in our suffering.
If you are in despair, have hope in God that God would offer you God’s peace and comfort. It’s not easy to live in this world. What we have going for us is that God loves us. It’s amazing the kind of love that God has for us. It is unconditional and it is divine love that has been freely given to you and to us. Have hope in God. If you have a hard time having hope in God, then have hope in the God who has shown favor to me, to you in the past, and to us in the past. In our suffering, we do not lose heart because we have hope in the God who loves you so much that God sent God’s only son. We have hope in God who gives us peace and comfort in our suffering.
Let us pray: Dear God, thank you for your deep love for us demonstrated through Jesus Christ dying for our sins on the cross. Thank you for the comfort and peace you give us in our suffering. Help us to know the peace you give us, the peace, not as the world gives, but the peace that surpasses our comprehension. God, if anyone is suffering at this very moment that you comfort them and lead us to comfort them as well. Please help us to have “unshakable” hope in you. Amen.