Posted February 22, 2012

John H. Hampsch, cmf

One of the many purposes of suffering—one seldom recognized as such—is its ability to equip us to comfort and encourage others effectively; it fashions us into more refined instruments in the hands of the divine Comforter. As with so many insights into suffering, this one is primarily Pauline: “The Father of compassion and the God of all comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God…Through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Cor.1:4-5).

All self-help groups are really the afflicted comforting the afflicted. Alcoholics Anonymous has proven that no one can help an alcoholic as well as one who has struggled with that same problem and compassionates the victim in his struggle. This one-to-one comforting ability is enormously enhanced when, as Paul says, our comforting overflows “through Christ.”

But this first requires that we have learned to suffer with Christ, whose sufferings “flow over into our lives” (verse 5).  Peter says, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength that God provides…through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet.4:11). Those who are most effective in providing spiritual and emotional strength to AIDS or cancer patients or the elderly infirm, the bereaved, or any distressed person, are those who have had the maturity to recognize in their own adversities the love of God, his wisdom and the grandeur of his sovereign will.

Such wounded comforters, in channeling God’s soothing love to his precious children languishing in misery, transmit Jesus’ own presence to a suffering humanity. They happily share in his prophesied messianic calling “to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Is. 61:3).