Just three weeks after I turned 21 years old, my dad, who was 44, died following a simple elective surgery and a month of hospitalization. Pat and I had only been married 9 months. My mom was just 42, and my sisters were 19 and 14. His sickness and sudden death was a numbing, emotional roller-coaster experience. During that month, his doctor kept saying he was young and strong. But he died. His unexpected death was the first in our immediate family. Though we all seemed strong and resolute outwardly, we went through months of sadness and difficult adjustments. For several years afterward, just the antiseptic smell inside a hospital would launch an incredible wave of sorrow flowing over me. Later, as a pastor making sick-visits and hospital calls, I fought the nauseating, depressing feeling of loss, every time I entered a church member’s room.
You who have experienced this kind of loss know there are many sounds, songs, smells and people that trigger emotional switches inside us. My dad, mom, and family, were believers in Christ. We faithfully attended church, even the Sunday after my dad passed away on Thursday, before his funeral on Tuesday. We knew he was with Jesus in Heaven, but sometimes it takes more than knowledge to comfort hurting hearts.
Today, I want you to think with me about what God is like. Though God is ultimately unlike any picture, statue, or object we may see, He is ultimately a God of comfort. In “Knowing God,” J. I. Packer wrote that anything you picture as God, whatever it is, is very unlike the true God. It is for this reason God commanded His people not to make “any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). You could make no likeness that would do God justice, while at the same time, anything you crafted or imagined, that you likened to God, would dishonor Him and could mislead you.
So, if God is not like anything we could imagine on our own, invent or construct, what is He like? How can we know Him and worship Him? Fortunately, God did not leave us at a loss as to His true character, qualities, purpose and attributes. The Bible, His written Word, reveals what He is like to us, and what He expects from us. His divine revelation enables us creatures—to know Him—the Creator. When we ask what God is like, we want to know about His person, personality, values and demands.
In answer to the question of what God is like, the Bible teaches that He is a God of comfort. “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 will 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).
In these verses, God reveals three details about His Comfort.
FIRST, God is the Source of our Comfort. He is called the, “Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” He is merciful to His creation in general and to His people in particular. When hurting, you can call on Him and He will grant mercy. We are encouraged to, “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). When we face our greatest need, God is our greatest help. During times of grief and loss, God calls us to prayer. You don’t have to be shy or hesitant, but you can “come boldly” to God’s throne from whence He administers grace. He is the source of comfort. Go to Him first and often.
Notice that God comforts us “in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3). The word for “affliction” means crushing pressure, distress, trouble and hardship. Anytime you are afflicted and distressed, you can go to God and appeal for his mercy, grace and comfort.
SECOND, God’s Comfort is to be Shared. God comforts us when we are afflicted, so that “we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble” (verse 4). When you are hurting and God comforts you, He expects you then to reach out and comfort others who are struggling and distressed. Receiving God’s amazing comfort during affliction equips you to share that experience. John Henry Jowett said, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.”
THIRD, God’s Comfort is Significant. Our pain and His comfort produce something within us that would not happen otherwise. Paul shared that their affliction had been so great that they, “despaired even of life…so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (verses 8-9). The affliction they experienced, allowed God to teach them that they should trust Him, not themselves. When things are out of your control, you learn to trust the only One who can truly control.
We learn through trials and tribulations, that God can be trusted to comfort us. We would never know His power to bring contentment after a great loss, unless we suffered great loss. After his wife of many years passed away, the old Southern Baptist evangelist, Vance Havner said, “I didn’t understand that Jesus was all I needed, until Jesus was all I had.”
God’s comfort ministers to us, so that we can strengthen other sufferers, and ultimately understand that, through this unwanted and maybe unwarranted experience, we learn to trust God more than ourselves. When your loss is so massive it can’t be measured, seek the God who mends with His comfort.