Monday, November 12, 2012

The God of All Comfort

Oak tree in CorsicaI have written before about my Papaw's death this spring.  That morning, I talked to my Dad on Skype, then I crawled up on my husband's lap.  He held me just like he does our girls.  I cried until both our shirts were soaked in tears.  Before long though, a thought occurred to me.  I haven't cried like this in years. Many years.  Why?  Because my life is free of real tragedy - losing a grandparent, even a beloved one, at 34, is no tragedy.  And even in that day's sorrow, I cried selfish tears.  Papaw lost nothing.  He was a faithful and godly man and his hope is mine (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

My life has been blessed beyond measure.  Although little tragedy has touched me, no one makes it through life without mourning.  Still I can't imagine that the least tactful guest at a funeral would dare to say that all that sorrow is a "good" thing. But Jesus always has had an unusual perspective.

We often think of the Sermon on the Mount as a time when Jesus named and surpassed the requirements of the Old Law.  However this beatitude: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." is an idea taken directly from the Old Testament (Matthew 5:4). Isaiah says the Lord God sent Jesus to, "...comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:2-3).

How puzzling.  I understand the part about how God comforts those who mourn.  This is the same God, after all, who keeps our tears in a bottle (Psalms 56:8).  I understand the  fact that peace comes after sorrow like the dawn comes after the night (Psalms 30:5). But the second half of the prophecy seemed baffling at first glance.  Isaiah lays out an amazing reversal of fortune ending the prophecy with the thought that the mourners will be called oaks and through them God will be glorified.

So I started to wrack my brain.  Could I think of an example of God's reversal of fortune in the life of Bible woman?  A time when He brought Himself glory by rescuing a lady who was mourning?  Suddenly I had a whole list in mind.

Jochebed - (Exodus 2) When her son, Moses, was given up to the river Nile, God returned the baby to her to be nursed and went on to raise Moses up to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Hagar - (Genesis 21) Standing across the way from her adolescent son so she didn't have to watch him die of dehydration, Hagar encounters an angel who lets her know that she will be watching him bloom into a nation instead.

Ruth and Naomi - (Ruth) Mourning the loss of two sons and husband, the impoverished Naomi (who says she should be called Mara - bitter - instead) treks home accompanied by her widowed daughter-in-law.  God gives her instead, wealth, a home, and a grandson to carry on her family's name.

The Shunnamite - (2 Kings 4) After facing infertility, she is gifted with a child.  When the child dies in her arms, she races off to confront Elisha.  Elisha returns her son to her whole and alive.

Dorcas' widows - (Acts 9) Standing around her bed weeping and presenting the clothes she had made; except for Peter's timely interference their sorrow would have been complete.

These women and more that I could name, all have variations on the same story.  Each one has someone important to them snatched away: a child, a friend, a husband.  Each of them mourns and God turns the situation around into not only a blessing but  something that brings Him glory.

I am not going to pretend that every story God is telling in our lives is a happy one.  But He is "the God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3).  He spends much of the Old Testament reminding the Israelites of the time when they were languishing in slavery in Egypt, and He liberated them and established them in the land of Canaan.  It seems like on a small scale He is telling that story over and over in the lives of these women.

When we cry out to God in our sorrows, we are joining a chorus of the faithful.  When God comforts us, either by reversing our fortune or simply bringing us comfort, He is only acting in character with the whole of His revelation. He has always been praised by His daughters as the God who turns things around (I Samuel 2, Luke 1:46-55).  When we consider the resurrection and judgment awaiting all mankind, we see that none of us has irredeemable tragedy.  In His mercy, by the blood of His son, all our sorrows are a "momentary light affliction" (2 Corinthians 4:17).


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