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The God of Consolation

Grief

by Dennis Pollock

Life just doesn’t seem fair! Despite our clichés like “things always work out” and “life has a way of evening itself out,” anyone with any sense and who is even slightly observant will discover that real life doesn’t always work that way. Wicked, covetous men sometimes live long, healthy, prosperous lives and good men sometimes die way too soon. Sweet, good little girls sometimes grow up and live out their lives as lonely spinsters, while naughty girls sometimes end up with rich husbands and beautiful houses filled with children. Talent is often rewarded but not always. Sometimes talented people, for various reasons, go ignored and unnoticed, and live lives of frustration and disappointment.

We look at others and become depressed. Why are they so beautiful when I am so plain? Why is it that they can be so at ease with people, while I constantly feel awkward? Why did they get blessed with such a brilliant mind while I am stuck being so dull and slow?

Most of us are realistic enough not to expect perfection. We recognize that we are bound to be stronger in some areas than in others. But we find it odious that we should have major deficiencies, significant weaknesses, and substantial difficulties which keep us from experiencing that blissful, peaceful, happy life we feel we really deserve – certainly more so than that other person who has more than us and yet isn’t nearly so nice as we are. It just isn’t fair!

Of course God could fix things quickly if He chose to. The minute we prayed for a sharper mind, or better social skills, or a husband, or more friends, He could instantly zap us with an immediate answer and erase our disappointments. He could and He sometimes does, but He usually doesn’t. Dull people usually go on being dull, poor people being poor, ugly people being ugly, and weak people being weak. And if the answer comes, it normally comes gradually, and as a result of some work on our part. But sometimes it doesn’t seem to come at all.

God our Consoler

For such folks, and to some degree for every one of us, one of the greatest insights we can gain once we are safely in Jesus Christ, is an understanding that our God is the God of consolation. He may not always relieve that pressure we face, He may not remove that burden we bear, He may not enhance that sense of weakness we live with, but He will find creative and powerful ways to console us in our suffering and weakness. The word consolation is a great word and one with which we should all be familiar. Consolation is that which loving friends try to provide when someone they care about has been through an appalling time of pain or loss and is terribly discouraged. We want to somehow make up for their loss. We want to say something or do something or give them something that will help ease their pain and make them smile again.

As humans we are pretty limited in our ability to console. Our words seem so futile, our gestures so meaningless. But there is a Consoler who is vastly better at it than we. In the Scriptures God is called “The God of all comfort,” and He is spoken of freely as the One who brings consolation to the suffering and the discouraged. Paul writes to the Corinthians:

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ... And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation (2 Corinthians 1:5,7).

Here we find consolation associated with suffering. Notice the use of both present and future tense. The sufferings are present tense: “As you are partakers of the sufferings…” But the promised consolation is future tense: “So also you will partake of the consolation.” At times we feel as though God hardly notices our suffering and misery, but in truth He is keenly aware of what we are going through, and has special consolations for each and every difficulty, tragedy, disappointment, humiliation, weakness, and attack that we will face as we travel through this harsh world. Some of these consolations will be given us in this life, and others will be revealed in the next.

Present Consolations

Thank God, there are some consolations that are given in this present life which make our burdens a whole lot easier to bear. In the realm of gifts, personality, and talent, God gives consolations to those in Christ who are noticeably less gifted than others. Paul deals with this theme in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:21-25).

ComfortPaul uses the way we cover certain “unpresentable parts” of our bodies with attractive clothing, while leaving the more presentable ones (like hands and ears) bare, to illustrate how God gives special grace to some of His children who seem to be the weakest of all. If we didn’t know better we might suppose that it would be the all-American types who would make the best and most effective servants of Christ – those happy individuals who grew up with impressive personalities, who were good-looking, straight-A students, outstanding athletes, and were voted “most likely to succeed” by their high school peers. And some of these types do end up as gifted and effective ministers of Christ. But strangely, so do some who were none of these things.

I think of Kathryn Kuhlman, who had a dynamic ministry in the 1950’s through the 70’s. She was not beautiful and was far from being an intellectual. Her sermons, if you could call them that, were frequently disjointed ramblings that would never have impressed a homiletics professor in any seminary. She drew out her words in a strange manner that turned many people off. She had no seminary degree. To top it off, she was a “lady preacher” at a time when women ministers were paid little respect, and she was divorced in an era when divorce was considered death to any ministry. And yet God used her in a phenomenal way and people were constantly reporting miraculous healings in her services. Had she not had that gift of healing working so powerfully in her life, no one today would know her name. But she was one of those “unpresentable parts” to whom God gave special honor, and she touched the world in ways that could never be explained by her very limited talents and abilities.

 I believe God, in large and small ways, finds creative and unique means to honor and bless His faithful children who appear a bit weaker than the norm. To a woman who will never be able to have children He might give an especially caring and attentive husband. To a man who always struggled academically He may bestow a mechanical gift that smarter men couldn’t touch. Those lacking social skills may find they have been given an ability to focus keenly on specific tasks that will result in them making far more money over the course of their lives than others who were always the life of the party. People coming from poverty-stricken backgrounds sometimes seem to possess an extra measure of ambition and drive which takes them to places where others can never go. If you think yourself to be one of those “weaker vessels” I would encourage you to look for some special grace in your life. If you walk faithfully with Christ, almost surely you will find it.

But our greatest consolation in this life is Jesus Christ Himself, and His sweet presence. The Bible says of Simeon: “This man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). That Consolation was not a gift or a talent, but a Person – Jesus Himself, the Son of God who came to this earth to die for our sins and to introduce us to our holy Creator. And the Holy Spirit, who comes into our lives when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, is called the Comforter. In the midst of our many afflictions and pressures, as we walk by faith through this world of pain and difficulties, we who are Christ’s are continually comforted and consoled by the presence of the indwelling Spirit. He assures us that we belong to God, that He has our lives in His hands, and that our future is exceedingly bright. He brings encouragement when we are discouraged, light in the midst of our darkness, peace in our conflicts and struggles, and joy when things look their worst. As Paul puts it, He gives us “everlasting consolation and good hope by grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16).

Future Consolations

But if the consolations of God in this present world are wonderful, the consolations God has reserved for us in the world to come are none too shabby. It is one of the great ironies in Christendom that believers have so often ignored those final amazing chapters in the Book of Revelation, which describe our eternal home. We have a wonderful future reserved for us, living on a new earth and in the holy city of God, called the New Jerusalem. Here we shall live in a continual, conscious awareness of the presence of God, in bodies that never age or become sick.

Consolations for our short time of struggle in this present world will abound in this beautiful place. Jesus says to those ungodly men and women who found themselves wealthy in this life, “You have received your consolation,” and to those who have been satiated with all our wicked world has to offer, “You shall hunger.” But those who trust in Christ shall experience wonderful and amazing consolations for the sufferings they experienced during their short tenure on this present earth. Those who mourned shall laugh, those who were persecuted for their faith in Jesus shall find His words fulfilled: “Great is your reward.”

The Bible says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Who knows what treasures and blessings await those Christians who seemingly found themselves “short-changed” in this life. Those whose spouses died young, those who lost children, those who were forced to carry burdens such as mental illness, depression, loneliness, poverty, or those born so physically unattractive or so shy that it became impossible to find a spouse, may discover that in that place God has prepared for them there are blessings, honor, and delights that far exceed anything they could have ever dreamed or imagined.

Imagine researchers have discovered a vaccine which will ensure that men and women will never be sick over the course of their adult lives. Suppose that vaccine must be given while one is still in their teens, and will result in the individual living well past one hundred years of age without any sickness, disease, or infirmity. There is but one catch. For the first day after receiving the vaccine, you will become quite sick – in fact you will feel terrible. But by the second day all discomfort will be gone and the vaccine will have done its work. You are set for over eighty years of perfect health.

Who would refuse such an opportunity? Who would be so foolish as to be unwilling to trade one day of misery and sickness for eighty plus years of perfect health? This is not so different from what God offers through the gospel, although vastly understated. God tells us, “Accept My Son Jesus Christ, endure a life on earth of ‘light afflictions,’ and then come and live with Me for eternity where you will never struggle or suffer again.” Is not a paltry life here on earth consisting of seventy to ninety years of struggle worth a trillion, trillion, trillion years of perfect peace and joy in God’s presence in heaven? And after that you are only getting started! Beyond that, for most of us, our life on the earth isn’t all that bad anyway. Most of us have far more good days than bad ones. But even if the reverse were the case, the salvation Jesus Christ provides is infinitely superior to any bargain we have ever seen!

For eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of men and women, the things God has prepared for those who love Him. It is truly an “everlasting consolation.”


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