“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” said Isaiah (40:1). “Comfort” is one of those awesome biblical words, like “peace” and “joy,” to which the Bible gives such a stronger, more substantial meaning than the meaning we give it in everyday conversation.

In everyday usage, comfort means: ease, relaxation, maybe a little luxury. To comfort a person means to make them feel better. In its shallower sense, comfort (the verb) means, basically, to make comfortable, to make relaxed and easy. The Bible never once uses comfort in this sense, or even considers this idea as a valid one: more often than not, it views an easy lifestyle as an enemy. God is, in fact, not concerned in the least with our “comfort” in this sense. He has far bigger things in store for us.

The Bible sense of the word is that of giving strength, compassion, and rest. It is related to the ideas of “building  up” (i.e., edification) and encouragement (see 1 Corinthians 14:3) and essentially means to “come alongside.” To “come alongside” means to walk the same path, to come under the same load, to be a friend that is relied on. David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Clearly nothing is comfortable about the “valley of the shadow of death.” But David is not afraid, and does not stumble or stray, because of the comfort that God’s presence and guidance bring. The comfort of God makes David strong.

Consider this: the Holy Spirit himself is named “the Comforter.” Jesus said to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion, in John 14:16, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (KJV). The word “comforter” here is deep and wide in meaning and is translated several ways: Helper (ESV), Counselor (RSV), Advocate (NIV), Friend (NIRV). He is the coming alongside-er. He befriends us, comes under our loads, teaches us, and guides us. We depend on him, learn from him, cast our cares on him, and seek his direction and help. “Walking with” the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is what makes the believer strong, and unafraid, in this treacherous life.

Paul also speaks of God’s comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. He says,

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.
God’s comfort is less like a pat on the back and more like an arm under our shoulders. In our suffering, he does not often make us comfortable, but he does come close beside us and give us mercy. One of his purposes in our pain is that we will know his comfort deeply, for ourselves. Then, we can do the same for other people: come near to them in their troubles, be someone they can lean on, their advocate. That is what God does for us. It’s what he calls us to do for others.

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