Father of Mercies and God of all Comfort
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, – 2 Corinthians 1:3
Starting a new blog series was not really on my agenda as I had hoped we would be out of a lockdown and able to meet by now. That not being the case it’s blog number one then of a new series! I have left some of the Old Testament characters behind to look at Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth. This will not be an in depth exegesis but rather thoughts from my own devotions.
What does the church, or in fact the population need to know about God today, this week, this month, this year? It’s been been eight months since we were greeted with the onslaught of Covid 19 and thousands upon thousands have, and are, suffering emotionally and physically from the effects of this virus. Many have lost family and friends while others lives have been spared but not without resulting consequences and repercussions. We all have lived with restrictions creating anxiety and uncertainty. To the many struggling to make sense of what is occurring they are asking questions like; Where is God? Who is God?”
The answers we should give are very important therefore, they must not appear trite or as if they just ‘roll off the tongue.’
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Matthew 10:29
They, therefore, being “of more value than many sparrows” (vs 31). We may rest assured that this event did not catch God by surprise but that needs to be said gently. In James 4 we are reminded that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring (vs 14). In fact, James faces us up with some huge questions like, “what is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (vs 14). Instead, they and we “ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (vs 15). This shows that we can build our lives not thinking of how fragile life is, but again in expressing this we must speak with gentleness and sensitivity.
As Christians we should stand with confidence and with unshakable assurance on this glorious truth, that God orchestrates all things, both blessing and challenges, both triumph and tragedy, for the ultimate spiritual good of those who love him and “are called according to his purpose.”
But, perhaps most important of all, is that the Church and all the saints throughout the U.K. need to know what Paul believed “the Church in Corinth together with all the saints who were in the whole of Achaia” needed to know (2 Corinthians 1:1) that being, that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, (2 Corinthians 1:3) who will comfort us in our affliction (vs 4).
Paul didn’t write this in some isolated and insulated ivory tower or from the perspective of a detached and out-of-touch theologian who himself never encountered pain and suffering and the anxiety that tragedy so often brings with it. In fact he tells us he knew affliction (vs 8).
Paul and his companions were so utterly burdened beyond their strength that they despaired of even life itself (vs 8). They were on the edge. They believed their peril to be deadly (vs 10) which does put some of the things we ‘stress’ about into perspective.
It also seems that Paul was acquainted with the darkness of depression and how to deal with it.
5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn-fighting without and fear within.6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 2 Corinthians 7:5-6
This is a man who had suffered the physical horror of being stoned by an angry mob (Acts 14:19) and had felt the unending emotional pressure of responsibility for the care of others (2 Corinthians 11:28).
What we read in our bibles is not the account of a cold detached man but rather one who had endured “imprisonments” and “countless beatings” and was “often near death” (2 Corinthians 11:23).
Five times he had been beaten with thirty nine blows, three times he had been beaten with rods. He had been stoned several times, not to mention having endured shipwrecks and countless other dangers from both friends and enemies (2 Corinthians 11:25-26). The next verse carries on, he knew “toil and hardship and sleepless nights, even hunger and exposure to the elements” (vs 27).
So, when Paul the “apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” describes our Father as the one who is the source of mercy and the fount of all comfort, he knows what he is talking about and can testify to having received that mercy and comfort. In fact it seems to be what got him through.
I suppose that some in our nation might be inclined to curse God for what has, and is, transpiring in 2020. Paul dos not but rather, in verse 3, he declares God as blessed meaning one to be thanked, worshipped, adored and praised. As counter intuitive as that may seem, declaring God as blessed puts all other things into perspective. I wonder if Paul ever read the book of Job?
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” Job 1:20-21
Paul asks us to focus on two things:
When he says that God is the “Father of mercies” and “God of all comfort”, he means more than simply that mercy and comfort come from God. Yes, God most definitely dispenses these wonderful blessings, but Paul is more concerned to tell us something about God’s character, his personality, the disposition and the inclination of his heart. In other words, we should read this passage something along the lines of, “the Father who is characterised by mercy” and “the God whose heart delights in giving comfort.” This is the One who is dealing with us. Of course Paul is describing what God does. But even more foundational is what he says concerning who God is, and what he is like. This is his nature, says Paul, his personality, not simply his performance. What he does is a reflection of who he is, and he is above all else characterised by tender hearted compassion and gentleness and love and a passionate desire to encourage and strengthen those who are suffering hardship and hurt.
The next thing to get our head around is the breadth of God’s merciful and compassionate nature, for he is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (vs 3-4). The phrase points to the fact that comfort of every kind comes from the heart of our Father. Whatever sort of comfort is needed, you can trust in God’s plentiful supply. Some commentators say he is “ever ready to console” or whose “consolation cannot fail us” It describes the comprehensiveness of God’s compassion, “who gives every possible encouragement” as another commentator says. (Look at Psalm 145:9, Micah 7:19, Isaiah 40:1, 51:3, 66:13)
How does God do this? What could he possibly say to us that would have this effect? Perhaps Paul remembers David’s words “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no God apart from you’ (Psalm 16:2). Or the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Could what he was experiencing as he writes to the Church in Corinth have led to the promise he wrote to the Church in Rome a while later, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword, [or viruses]? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37). We only have One that can truly help, He is the only one you can trust.
I can’t begin to know or understand the depth of loss being felt in our nation, or the nations of the World, and I certainly don’t intend to say learnt pious words spoken from the comfort and safety of my own sofa but this I do know and can say with all confidence,
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:22-24.