You’ve heard it before from others and most likely from your own lips…or at least in your mind- “Well, just be glad your situation isn’t like ___________ (fill in the blank).” Think with me. The last time you were in a tough situation, under stress, fearful, or in hardship and someone told you something to that effect, how helpful was it really?
For instance, a young mother of 1 child who is experiencing the difficulty of a newborn is never helped by the experienced mother of 6 condescendingly saying “One child! That is nothing. Just wait. You’ll long for these easy days!” Now this doesn’t mean a word of rebuke is never needed when someone has a complaining spirit or that a reality check on the big picture of life is totally out of place for a person. But this shouldn’t be our default way of serving each other in hardship.
In Philippians 4, Paul does call for the believer to be joyful (vs. 4), thankful (vs. 6), and content in Christ (vs. 11), but note that this doesn’t take away from the Philippians’ clear concern for Paul in his immediate hardship (vs. 10).
All situations are different and are hard in different ways and for different reasons because there is no such thing as two identical circumstances and people. However, there is one commonality, a God of all comfort.
In affliction and suffering, God isn’t there to rebuke us and compare our situation to others, saying “Snap out of it. Get over it. You think you have it hard? Come on now. Job had it way harder than you!” Rather, He is the God of all comfort. The circumstances are there to ultimately make us rely more on God and not self (2 Corinthians 1:9). Thus, our comfort is not that the situation actually isn’t that hard and that we’re just not tough enough or that someone else's situation is harder than mine so I should feel better. We aren’t called to be comforted by changing our perception of reality. We aren’t called to be comforted by something within us or within others. Our comfort, instead, is that God is in the midst of our suffering; He is loosening the grip of self-reliance on our lives and a new flood of grace into our lives. Since this is God’s purpose and way of dealing with our suffering, this is the reason Paul admonishes the same response from us. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, 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” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
And lest we begin to think that suffering outside direct affliction for Gospel proclamation doesn’t count, remember that for the believer, every aspect and circumstance is experienced from the sovereign hand of God and in union with Christ, for our conformity to His likeness (Romans 8:29). He is with us and we are in Him in the midst of all; thus, all is from Him and of importance to Him. Therefore, we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).
Sure there’s a place for loving rebukes and God-centered reality checks, but make sure you first groan with your brothers and sisters and don’t groan about them.
Here is a great song by Bob Kauflin that reminds us of God's comfort in suffering.