Comfort in Affliction

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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 tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4) 

Regarding the trials and tribulations of life, which Christ promised us are sure to happen (John 16:33; Luke 17:1), we have two thoughts, one ancient and one modern. From antiquity comes a comment by St Mark the Ascetic: 

When tested by some trial you should try to find out not why or through whom it came, but only how to endure it gratefully, without distress or rancor. (THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 57) 

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The question is not why did this happen, but what do I do as a Christian now that it has happened. The second comment from the current age, comes from biblical scholar Frances Young.  She reminds us that the modern age has developed a particular attitude toward life’s problems which in itself may not be helpful or Christian: 

“… we should remind ourselves of the post-Enlightenment tendency to view suffering, atrocity, and so on as grounds for atheism. The current assumptions of our culture include the notion that all ills can be removed, death can be indefinitely postponed, and all risk can be eliminated, if we can only find the right formula.

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This has been reinforced by the success of modern medicine and the assumption that we all have the right to treatments that will cure whatever afflicts us. The media encourage us in our refusal to face our vulnerability, mortality, and creatureliness. The presupposition is that bad thing shouldn’t happen, or certainly shouldn’t happen to good people; and since they do happen and the world is imperfect, there cannot be a God. Indeed, the world is so dreadful, as it impinges on us in our living rooms on the small screen, that trying to put it right or make sense of it seems beyond us—as compassion fatigue sets in and we find ourselves lost and insecure, confronted with the world so threatening that the most noticeable reaction is the creation of comfort zones. Indeed, religion itself is reduced to a private comfort zone, which the majority rejects as ‘pie in the sky when you die,’ while those of us who hang on in there are the more anguished about the state of the world, or the awful things that happen to us or those we know, and the insistent doubts and questions which are raised. We all want utopia now and cannot understand why things are the way they are. The cliches, ‘life is a journey’ or ‘going through a wilderness experience,’ have lost their power to shape the way we handle life. (BROKENNESS & BLESSING, p 30)

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“I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

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Jesus doesn’t promise us a life without struggle, nor does He promise to preserve us from struggling. What He tells us is that trials, tribulations and struggles cannot separate us from Him. Abiding in Him is what gets us through the trials of life, and even death cannot separate us from Him.  It is sometimes a hard pill for us to swallow as we would prefer not being comforted in affliction, but rather completely protected from affliction.  I remember when my 16-year-old daughter had a serious Lupus flare which lasted for months and she became critically ill as her kidneys failed.  The doctor told me they had come to the end of traditional treatments and now it was time to ‘cope and manage’ – my daughter had to learn to cope with the disease and the medical team would try to help manage the disease.  I wanted to shout, “NO! to cope and manage, we want a cure!”  But there was no cure to be had. Coping in Christ is what we had, and it wasn’t easy.

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