Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. – 2 Cor 1:3-7 (NIV)
What springs to mind when we read or hear ‘comfort’ or ‘comfortable’? What other words do we associate with comfort nowadays? Relaxing on a cozy sofa, rugged up with your favourite doona in front of a crackling fireplace on a rainy winter’s day? A life devoid of stress, say having your mortgage paid off completely after a financial windfall? Or perhaps you’re comfortable when you finally have the right combination of painkillers to keep your chronic back pain under control.
The Greek word translated as ‘troubles’ here is thlipsis, which literally means ‘crushing pressure’. This is not trivial annoyances or pesky inconveniences—elsewhere this word is translated ‘tribulation’, so it is severe. From centuries past, a torture that is used in both East and West is the application of progressively heavier weights on the chest of a torture victim—until he confessed, recanted or died from asphyxiation. But what kind of comfort can overcome such terrible affliction?
The word translated as ‘comfort’ is parakaleo, which means to call to one’s side. In the KJV it is most commonly translated as ‘beseech’ (beg, implore, entreat), which in other translations is translated as urge, appeal or exhort. In other contexts, it is also translated as console, encourage or strengthen. The Holy Spirit, Who does all these things, would in the 15th-century be referred to as the Paraclete in acknowledgement of His role as the Advocate and Mediator for and Comforter and Helper of believers, the One Who comes beside us in our time of need.
The English word ‘comfort’ itself is derived from the Latin word ‘confortare’, meaning ‘to strengthen very much’. In line with 1:6, to comfort means to give the great strength needed to patiently endure suffering and to bear the heavy burden. So to comfort goes beyond ‘making someone feel good’. It means to share the strength that can sustain them through a difficult trial—the strength which only God can provide, the comfort which ‘abounds through Christ’ (1:5). Our true comfort, our strength that can overcome the most severe pain and struggle, comes through the power of God.
Editorial by Andrew Chan