My father died in the early hours of 30 August 2016. I am grateful that he was released from a body that had grown tired and feeble. There is a strong sense of loss now that he is gone from our lives. Phone calls, e-mails, and visits from friends have been a source of consolation during this time of sorrow. I appreciate those people that identify with our pain and uphold us in prayer.
The theme of consolation is found in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. Paul’s sense of affliction resulted from opposition to his mission in Asia. He felt like someone that had received a death sentence. The passage reminds us that faithfulness to God may expose us to marginalization and suffering. Today many persecuted Christians and refugees can identify with Paul’s description of feeling unbearably crushed.
Most of us deal with other kinds of affliction. I think of difficult circumstances due to broken dreams, tragic events, destructive behaviour patterns, betrayed trust, and the finality of death. There are moments in life when each and every person is shaken to the core. During these times we feel depleted of resources and unable to adequately face the challenges that lie ahead. In such dark valleys, we need God and community.
Paul’s words allow us access to the deepest realms of his heart. He describes God as the Father of mercies and consolation. The Greek word for consolation (paraklesis) meant much more than sympathy. To console was to enter sensitively into the space of other people in order to understand, express solidarity, and strengthen their capacity to live fully and faithfully. We need to understand that Paul experienced God in this manner. The consolation of God in difficult times equips Paul to offer consolation to other people in their periods of distress. We notice that Paul carefully states that consolation comes from God. Fellow Christians can be the channels through whom God works.
A slow and reflective reading of 2 Corinthians 1.3-11 encourages the church to be a community of consolation. I wonder if our mission and outreach would be more effective if we were known as a places of healing for people passing through times of sorrow and despair. It seems logical to think that the God of consolation and the Father of mercies would want his character to be reflected in the nature of our fellowship.