Paul presents a different view of suffering from the conventional wisdom we read in the book of Job (2 Cor 1). One of the major reasons for the shift in thinking about suffering is the experience of Jesus Christ, the ultimate righteous suffering servant. The notion that He who was without sin was made to suffer for the sins of the world must have some sort of extension into the life of faith. This extension is that when we suffer on behalf of others, we reflect the attitude of Christ and therefore join Jesus in his work to love the world until it hurts.
Paul wrote this to the Corinth church:
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ”. (2 Cor 1:3-5)
Paul seems to argue that the reason why we can relate to people and help others is that we have experienced the same things. He claims that when we suffer and are comforted, we learn how to be a comfort for others as they suffer. We are God’s tools for administering healing in the world, but only as we have received healing ourselves from God.
And notice who we are suffering for__Christ! He is the example and the one through whom the comfort comes. God comforts us because we suffer for Christ. This is different from suffering because we face the consequences of some sin we committed. This is not suffering because we made a poor decision. Paul was participating in church planting work all around the Roman world, and he experienced suffering because he was a follower of Christ. We must make that important distinction here!
“We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us” (2 Cor 1:8-10).
There is something in the above passage that seems to show us that those who suffer have the opportunity to put greater trust in God. Paul said that although they thought they would die they trusted in the God who raises the dead! That is a powerful proclamation! As we suffer, we still have a choice to put our confidence in God or to reject God. To Job’s credit, he did not reject God but went to God with his question of “WHY?” Paul’s writing declares that when we put our confidence in God, He will rescue us and this promise does not come from someone driving an expensive car and living in a fine house. It’s from Paul who has a laundry list of bad days for the sake of Christ.
When Paul was rejected by God to deliver him from his thorn in the flesh, Paul rejoiced. “For this thing, I petition the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor 12:8-10).
In the end, there is a purpose to the madness and contradiction of life that has the wicked prospering and the righteous suffering. There are those who think that if we receive comfort from God, then our troubles just go away, but instead of removing the pain God grants us the grace and strength to persevere through the pain and hurt and time of suffering. God also grants us the opportunity to become a blessing to others in their pain and hurt. So the end game is not our comfort, but God’s Kingdom.