BY SUSANNA REYNOLDS
Many times, stories about people in the Middle East seem hyperbolic. Even when we hear these stories it’s easy to be dismissive because we simply can’t comprehend daily life actually being like what we hear. We take the snapshots of Iraqi or Syrian streets that we’ve seen from the news and copy and paste the story that we hear, but the context is so unfathomable to us that it is natural to shrug it off as if it’s happening on a different planet and doesn’t affect us at all. We have been quite desensitized by consumerism, individualism, and nationalism. It isn’t all our fault necessarily because it is the culture that we live in here in the west, but often times we feast on it in our fear and apathy.
The Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis gets right in our faces of how we handle the “enemy” and how far we are willing to stretch out our necks for the widow, orphan, betrayed, and homeless. How are we to even begin to comfort them when it is so difficult for us to imagine the world they live in or what they’ve come from or when we have never endured the same kind of suffering? Thankfully for us as Christians, the Apostle Paul wrote down these words of life from Father to us for such a time as this. Whether we are going to the lands that people are being riddled out of or we are caring for displaced peoples in our own home, we can heed to and put great hope in them:
“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 may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
We remember the sweetness of God’s comfort as He bore our sin and created us into brand new beings. And we remember that He may ordain our suffering in the future for the sake of the comfort of the gospel being demonstrated again as our anchor. The reality of having hope in suffering is a great testimony. That is why I believe the Apostle Paul used the word “share.” He didn’t say that people could see it, he said they could share in it. Our brothers and sisters as well as those who have not yet heard the gospel can have an actual witness of God’s goodness in the middle of crisis and partake in that testimony of His faithfulness. It gives a spark of hope for others to be able to bear their own suffering as well, which we pray becomes a Damascus road experience and discipleship opportunity for those who have no hope or those who have put their hope in a nonexistent god. Paul is also reminding us that self-comfort only takes us so far and we must allow the gospel to be our one source of relief in suffering. Only a couple of verses later, Paul says
“…But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again." (1:9)
God does this in order that our suffering would ultimately become our joy and praise of Him. Through these trials, when we remain steadfast, worshipful, and faithful to the one who will be proven Faithful, it is a means to having a deeper reliance on God. These things will make us true and refined witnesses who have a weighted capability to mourn with the mourning and apply the rich balm of the gospel to those who are suffering.