Friday, February 28, 2014

Mirroring the God of Comfort

Last week, we took a look at how God comforts his children, even when they are suffering for their own sin.  The Israelites suffered when the Babylonians took them into exile for forty years, and God gave them words of comfort, even though they were exiled because of their idolatry and materialism.  Christians today suffer for their sins too.  Sometimes we experience the discipline of the Lord or the discipline of His church.  Sometimes we just suffer the natural consequences of our sins. It can be difficult to feel compassion for someone who brings suffering on herself, but if our Father is in the comforting business, we should be too. 

Someone who is enduring hardship because of their sin may need to be reminded how much God loves them.  The imagery in Isaiah 40 is that of a tender shepherd, gathering His sheep to his breast.   The Hebrew writer reminds us that God loves us even more than an earthly father, and that may be why we suffer for our sins at times.

"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?... All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

If someone is questioning whether God can still love them, we can remind them that God's discipline is a sign of his love. He wants what is best for us, and suffering for our sin is sometimes exactly what we need.

Sometimes our suffering is not in the form of discipline from God.  Paul tells us that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8); sometimes we reap the natural consequences of our sins. Too often, we use that scripture to sneer at those who are mired in the pain that comes from wrongdoing.  The lonely old man whose family will no longer associate with him because of past misdeeds, the woman whose husband left her over infidelity, and the girl whose body and mind are wracked with pain over a past abortion are often objects of scorn.  "Well, you reap what you sow," we say.  Those words were meant as a warning to us to avoid sin, not an excuse to degrade people who are suffering.  The rest of Galatians 6 speaks of gentleness in turning someone from sin and bearing one another's burdens.

In special circumstances, God uses fellow Christians to discipline an unrepentant sinner.  In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul had some harsh words to say about a member of the congregation who was living in sin (1 Corinthians 5). He encouraged the church not to associate with the sinner until he had repented.  Evidently, this form of church discipline was effective because Paul has much gentler words to share in his next letter to the church.

For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you. But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree, in order not to say too much, to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:4-8).

The best way to comfort someone suffering for sin is to forgive her and love her.

Abeuni2Once I heard someone say that a mom shouldn't hug and comfort her children after they get in trouble because then the discipline wouldn't mean as much.  Hogwash.  God comforts his children even when they deserve their pain, and he expects us to do the same.  Whether it is my children or a fellow Christian, we should mirror God's comfort with forgiveness and love.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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