The Father of Mercies Comes Near

“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.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Mercy is defined as getting that which we don’t deserve. If I get pulled over for speeding and the officer lets me off with a warning, we would say he had mercy on me. He gave me the gift of passing on an offense that should have cost me time and money.

From very early in the Bible, God identified Himself with the label of “merciful.” In Exodus 34:6, God passed before Moses and said these words to him: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This phrasing of God’s character can then be found all throughout the Old Testament. The Israelites repeated it to each other and to their children.

We see hints of this same language in 2 Corinthians, but Paul calls God “the Father of mercies.” What does this mean? If He is the Father of mercies, that means He created mercy in its essence. It comes from Him. But we also notice that the word is plural (‘mercies’), meaning there are many kinds of mercy that God has created for His children. His mercy is diverse based on what we need at any given time. Paul then specifically includes that He is the “God of all comfort.” Comfort is a form of God’s mercy that is demonstrated specifically when His children experience trial and suffering.

God’s comfort has been dear to my heart all my life. I experienced lots of fear and anxiety in my childhood and teenage years. When I first read Proverbs 18:10, I clung to it: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Despite the many fears I faced, I believed the Lord was my leader and protector. But I also learned something that eventually proved untrue: If I trust the Lord, terrible things won’t happen to me.

When I was 17, I was sexually assaulted. Everything I thought I knew about myself, others and even God seemed to be turned upside down. I was forced to look sin and suffering dead in the face, and what I discovered is that it comes to all people, no matter how well they perform. 

I was also forced to contend with what I thought was true of God. I believed He was a merciful God, that He protected His children. So how could this have happened? As painful and heartbreaking as it was (and still is) that I experienced assault and all the consequences of it, that experience opened up a door in my heart.

It took quite a while for me to walk through the door. I felt really stuck for a long time. But all the while I felt the Lord calling me forward into something new. When I finally opened my heart and mind to healing, I began to see Jesus again.

When I was in my twenties, someone wise reminded me that Jesus suffered the most horrific assault that could ever happen – abuse of all kinds. He was mocked, spit on, beaten, stripped naked and laughed at, and physically exposed to everyone watching. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked the Father to spare him from this abuse if possible. He didn’t want to experience it, but he was willing to do it. Why?

Hebrews 12:2 says he did it “for the joy set before him.” What was that joy? The joy that carried Jesus through his crucifixion was the New Covenant. The creation of a new family to bring into his Father’s kingdom. The possibility of reconciling our relationship to God so that we could be united to Him forever. The cross is a literal picture of how much Jesus loves us, and how much the Father loves us (who was willing to send His only Son through such horror in order to adopt us.)

Because Jesus experienced every kind of suffering, including abuse, I can be assured that He understands and is walking with me through my suffering. Jesus’ mercy means that when I’m overwhelmed and tired of fighting and grieved to my core, He’s experiencing all of that with me. And He has suffered so that my suffering will only be temporary.

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus is our great high priest. He leads us in our faith and has made the ultimate sacrifice for our sin. He leads us into the throne room of grace, where we receive mercy from the Father. And we are invited to enter that place in any and every moment of need.

In walking through that door of healing, I learned that God hates abuse and suffering of all kinds. He created a world that was meant to be free from these things. When sin entered, it fractured everything. But when Jesus came and took the penalty for all sin and suffering, you and I were given the right to be called children of God. This doesn’t mean suffering ends, but it means we are not alone in our suffering. We have a great high priest, king and shepherd through it all. We still have to fight, but now we have the weapons of spiritual warfare. We are equipped with what we need to sustain us till we get home.

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Losing Heart, Gaining Perspective

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This week I’m particularly drawn to a passage in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul explains our frailty as humans and compares it to the glory of God and the salvation we’ll inherit when our suffering on earth finally ends.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

“Losing heart” indicates deep discouragement that leads us to give up and stop moving forward. I don’t know about you, but I have lost heart to varying degrees during 2020. Why does Paul say he isn’t losing heart? What kept him going through so much trial and suffering? The answer comes in previous verses.

  • In verse 6, he reminds us that God shines light into our hearts – “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Light is shining into our hearts if we are believers in Christ, and that light gives us hope.
  • In verse 7, he paints a word picture: treasures in jars of clay. He’s saying that the absolute glory and goodness of God lives inside these human bodies. God’s design in putting His glory into these frail vessels constantly reminds us that He is the one with all the power, not us. This is good news! We don’t have to muster up the strength to carry on. His power is at work to move us forward.
  • In verse 14, he says he knows …”that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” The truth of his inheritance spurs Paul forward and encourages his heart.

So Paul does not lose heart. His body is wasting away, but his spirit is renewed every day as he consciously recalls these truths: God’s light shines into our hearts, God’s power is hard at work within us, and God is bringing us home to heaven where suffering will no longer afflict us.

Paul then goes on to say that our affliction is light and momentary. At first blush I feel offended by this statement. I look around and see death, sickness, abuse, poverty and racial discrimination. I have a very hard time calling our present suffering “light and momentary,” and I certainly would never say that to a counseling client or friend who is grieving. What is Paul doing?

This passage is an example of a literary form of comparison in which the author holds one concept up next to another in order to magnify the difference between the two. The comparison lies between our current affliction and the “eternal weight of glory” that’s coming for all those who trust Jesus as Lord. So even though our current affliction is very great, Paul is saying that it will seem minuscule once we’re settled in our eternal home. Paul isn’t saying our suffering is worth nothing. He actually says our suffering is preparing us for the eternal glory that’s coming. In other words, we’re gaining perspective as we suffer.

I am currently standing on the earth. Compared to my body, the earth is massive. But compared to the whole universe, the earth is tiny. My suffering matters to God. Nothing is lost on Him. Psalm 56:8 says God keeps our tears in His bottle. Every moment of affliction is recorded and felt by Him. But He’s preparing us to see the earth fade into a tiny dot. The universe of heaven is waiting for us.

Remembering these truths doesn’t stop us from suffering. It’s not a form of denial. It’s a widening of our perspective. It’s a “zooming out” so that we can understand more fully what God is doing. We’ll never completely understand. Suffering is mysterious. But we can trust that He is with us. Our tears are in His bottle. And glory is coming.

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