The Dichotomy of True Comfort

"Comfort and Ease." This was the topic of discussion during this month's Theology at the Bottleworks (currently meeting via Zoom). We'd actually planned for this conversation before the pandemic shutdown hit here, and it seemed a perfect time to pick it back up now during what is, for many people in many ways, a particularly uncomfortable time.

Early on, our moderator gave us a couple of definitions which seemed somewhat contradictory. One was "a state of ease and freedom from pain or constraint," while the other was "a strengthening aid."

In processing differences in types of temporal comforts (material, consumable, relational, etc.), versus what I now find truly comforting in my own life, I notice what feels like a marked contradiction as well.

Ultimately the single most comforting place for me to be is in the presence of the Lord—talking to Him, listening to Him, realizing His love and care. Yet strangely, and as I frequently hear from others, I don't always find myself pursuing Him as strongly as one would expect if this is where such true comfort is found.

The question then is why not? I've heard all kinds of reasons, often involving time constraints (which are recently not such a problem for many of us). But for myself, I've come to realize one reason is this: As I go to Jesus, I really have to deal with things I might not want to—things I may even be actively trying to ignore. I have to work through deep issues and concerns, whether in the world or in myself. This, of course, can be incredibly UNcomfortable. But as He guides me through and begins to course-correct my understanding, I can also see that He is always with me, a "refuge and strength" and "very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46) And as I sink into that reality and begin to trust Him, I find incredible comfort—and most definitely a "strengthening aid."

During the conversation, it was intriguing how quickly several people indicated that, while comfort in itself may not be inherently wrong, merely pursuing a life of comfort was not seen as a positive. It was also a common concern that perhaps a growing interest in a return to personal comforts was taking priority for some during this time. After all, I noted, "freedom from constraint" is currently a rather hot cultural topic, perhaps especially in the States. It seems we often have, in part, a discomfort rooted in sheer inconvenience. But I question how this affects our love for our neighbor. Are we invested in our personal comfort—perhaps more colloquially our "rights"—over and above the comfort and care of all others?

Looking at Philippians 2:1-8, it's clear God calls us to a different way of thought and action than simply our own self comfort.

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind."

Reading on, these words particularly stand out to me:

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

And how are we to do this? By having the sacrificial mind of our Lord:

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Jesus gave up every possible comfort, leaving His Father's side, coming to live with and serve broken people, even going to a torturous death before His return to life, all to give us the ultimate comfort of knowing God. We can have "freedom from constraint" in going to Him now, and we look forward to complete "freedom from pain" in a renewed world. This truth is our "strengthening aid," one meant not only to give comfort to us, but also giving us the ability to comfort others, even sacrificially as Jesus did.

Jesus shows us that our greatest comfort came through His ultimate "inconvenience," and His willingness to give up His own comfort is the foundational reason we can trust Him. In Christ, we find these seeming contradictions are actually complementary. And nothing could be more comforting.

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