I love early Christian Art! Trying to describe truth about God by way of painting is very difficult and sometimes risky. Words are the best form of art we have. God has revealed Himself in the Word/Jesus and in the scriptures. Yet, words cannot describe the realities of God fully and neither can paintings. But we should devour every word God has given us about Himself.
The painting above was a very common work depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which He is. Ironically, this painting is underground in the Catacombs of Rome. Needless to say, that was a place people needed visual reminders that Jesus was the Good Shepherd. In fact, we always need this reminder.
But what does this painting have to with 2 Corinthians 1? It all surrounds the word “comfort.” I’m sure you know that one of the names to describe the Holy Spirit is the Comforter. It comes from the same word here—paraklesis. The most basic meaning of this word is “calling someone to oneself.”
In other words, comfort comes when the Good Shepherd comes calling and brings us near himself. No other time does Jesus come nearer than when we are suffering. This word also means exhortation, encouragement, and consolation (consoling help). Notice its use in this verse (same word): Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the *consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. – Luke 2:25
I share the details of this word because I think we can ascribe “comfort” in our culture with some things that may not be accurate. One of the ways we comfort one another is not sending someone off on a cruise but rather being near them during the suffering. One of my favorite fiction books gives us a vivid and simple picture of this:
Sadie said, “I sat closer to my brother than normal. I needed his courage to rub off on me.”
The Tethered World, by Heather Love FitzGerald
These are strange and dangerous days we live in. At this moment, we are going through the COVID-19 pandemic. Rightly so, many churches have ceased gathering together until it seems safe for everyone to be near each other. This is loving each other and loving our neighbors. Yet it is difficult because God’s people are still suffering.
Whenever we start meeting together in person again, there will be several difficulties to endure through. For a time, we will meet together in person but will still maintain a certain amount of distance. Granted it will be much better than a Zoom or Messenger meeting where even conversation is difficult. But it’s possible to be lonely while being with people.
I say that because, for example, hugs communicate sympathy when words cannot. Oftentimes we don’t have words or we cannot even say anything because we are weeping and wailing. We need the embrace of those who love us. They give us courage when our tank is empty.
The difficulties of our future gathering with each other is the fact that there will be a variety of feelings among the people about how much and when we should be near each other. Those who will be willing to embrace must love still more for those who aren’t yet sure. Fear is not easy to shake. Caution will remain necessary for a time. So prepare yourself for these days as I know all of us are longing to assemble again.
This is an extraordinary passage in chapter one. The blessed happiness of God produces mercy and mercy produces comfort (nearness, encouragement, and consolation). God comforts us SO THAT we can comfort those who are suffering. Paul leaves the door open to what this suffering is—“any affliction.” That is so comforting!
The fact is, to follow the suffering Savior is to join him in his sufferings. But I love how Paul adds “so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” And as I understand this, these afflictions are good for us. Why? As in the example Paul gives, that they “were burdened excessively beyond their own strength so that…they would not trust in themselves but in God who raises the dead.”
And by what means did Paul attribute how God comforted them in such a great peril? Through the prayers of other believers! You might wonder if your prayers matter. This text should assure you that they do. But why would God use such means to comfort other believers? “So that *thanks may be given by many persons.”
It goes like this: we hear of our brothers and sisters suffering in a particular way and we start asking God to have mercy and give them courage in the midst of their trial. God answers our petition and all of us rejoice. We rejoice because God has heard and acted and so too those who were comforted rejoice for God’s consolation has come!
It says of satan that he is the father of lies. Here Paul describes God as the Father of mercies! What a great comfort that is, beloved of the Lord! Let me end with these encouragements:
…we who have fled for refuge might have strong *encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. – Hebrews 6:18
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. – John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, – John 10:14