Our Comfort in Life and Death

Dear Reader,

I am borrowing again from an e-mail I wrote to a friend going through hardships a while back . . .

I read a newspaper article lately about the Dalai Lama and his view of how to deal with hard times (it was one of those fluffy reporter’s opinion pieces). His take was that we need to rise above the trials. The way to not be utterly depressed by them is to basically psych yourself into the position where you no longer feel they matter, to find happiness within no matter what is going on in your life. This is NOT the biblical view. The Bible acknowledges that while the world was created good (Genesis 1:31), it no longer is. Pretty much every problem you can come up with is in the Bible–war, disease, poverty, loneliness, betrayal by loved ones. And God’s people cry out to Him in pain about all these problems (the book of Job is all about Job’s trials; Psalms contains many prayers of those in distress). The answer is not to not let these things affect us. I don’t think we can help that. It is not that these things don’t matter and that we won’t or shouldn’t feel them but that God gives us other comforts and promises to balance them out. It’s the kind of feeling you get when a new baby is born in the family after another loved one dies. It is not that you don’t miss the one who died or don’t feel that pain but there is something good to balance it out. So what is the comfort God gives us? What helps us balance out and get through all the pain in this life?

 
I am going to quote the Heidelberg Catechism (a Catechism is a document that sums up for us what we believe. It is written by men and so may not be perfect but it can be useful. A catechism uses a question and answer format.) The first point it covers is:
“Question 1. What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.”
There are a lot of points that can be brought out here. The first is the assumption that we need comfort. There is a lot of bad in this life. We are not promised that it will be easy. Actually, we are told to expect pain and suffering. And so we are in need of comfort.
The second thing I notice is that this is our ONLY comfort. There are a lot of things people can rely on which may fail them–their family and friends, good health, wealth, prestige, certain talents (being the best whatever), the list goes on and on. All of these things can fail one. Our only comfort, the only thing which cannot and will not fail us, is God Himself through Jesus Christ His Son. How specifically is this a comfort? Notice that the first thing is just that we belong to Him. We are created by God, in His image (Genesis 1:27). We are His people (“Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his ; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” Psalm 100:3). Unlike all the other things in life which we may lose, nothing can take us from Him (“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:38-39). And this God will supply all our needs. He gave His own Son as a sacrifice to pay the price for our sins. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). As for the sufferings in this life, they seem large to us now but we are told that they are but for a short time. We are like children who have to wait a week for Christmas and the wait seems huge and unbearable. But God is like the Father who can see the bigger picture and knows that this wait is really very small if only we could see what good things wait for us and how long they will last. And the pains we experience are like a child getting vaccines or having a dislocated shoulder popped back into place. It seems horrible to us now but our Father knows that it is for our good in the end–“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
But all these things are still only about the first half of the answer–what is our comfort in life? There is even more hope in the second part–that God is also our comfort in death. Obviously, I have no experience of this, but I think that at the moment we die, even if we have had a great life and have friends and family all around us holding our hands and loving us at the moment, we are still alone. They can’t help us in that moment. The only one who can help us and be with us then is God Himself (“Even on through death itself, our constant guide is He” Psalms somewhere). And the best part, the part that should really keep us going in all the hard times, is the promise that this world is not all there is: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). A frequent comparison for life in this world is childbirth–it seems endless and painful when you are in it, but what waits at the end is so joyous you quickly forget the pain when it is over (“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” Romans 8:22).  What waits for God’s people is a renewal of life in a renewed world that is going to be good as it was originally created to be. Where there will be no more pain or suffering or disease or betrayal. It is not something we see yet, but through faith, we have confidence that God will fulfill His promises and so we are given the strength to go on in the midst of our trying circumstances “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:24-25).
 
So how do we cope in this world when everything is falling apart around us? It is not to say that it doesn’t matter. The pain is real. We cannot expect to escape it in this life. But we have God’s promises to balance it out. Though we may be sad and even depressed at times, these should keep us from utter despair because our situation is not hopeless. All our troubles will end, though the wait seems long to us, and what comes after will be better than we can ever imagine.
Nebby
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