In January 2014, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It was a pretty bleak time, especially while I was waiting for the meds to kick in and the worst of the heaviness, sadness and fear to subside. I struggled to pray, I wept my way through church and I feared that I might be somehow disqualified from serving God in the future.
Perhaps you know that feeling, perhaps you’re feeling it now, or perhaps you have a friend or family member who’s struggling and you’d like to understand a bit better. Whatever brought you to read this, I’d like to share what I’ve found helpful as I’ve struggled.
Comfort is a funny thing, isn’t it? When we hear the word, we might think of soft and warm and luxurious things. But the Bible uses it a bit differently – it’s the idea of God coming to our rescue. The idea that in times of trouble, He comes to offer us light and strength and help.
It’s not about making the lives of those who are already doing well a bit better, but rather about bringing hope and healing to those who are having a hard time.
In the New Testament, the word paraklēsis is translated as ‘comfort’, and around half of the times it’s used are in 2 Corinthians. The is because the book was written by Paul at a point when life was particularly hard. So, it has become pretty dear to me in my own struggles. What does it say?
In chapter 1, Paul describes Him as ‘the Father of mercies and God of all comfort’, later, he describes him as ‘God, who comforts the downhearted’. Comforting is not just something that God does some of the time when He feels like it, rather, comfort is both what He does and who He is.
This is especially good news, because it means that God’s comfort is dependent on Him and not on us. He doesn’t comfort us because we deserve it, or because we’ve done anything to earn it – He comforts us because He is good and because we need it.
If you’re feeling in need of comfort today, don’t worry, God is ready to offer it to you.
Paul continues in chapter one with these words: ‘[God] 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.’
As I’ve already said, God is a comforter. What’s really wonderful is that the way He often does that comforting is through His people. Through their prayers, conversations, hugs and hospitality. This is why it’s so, so important for us to be part of a Christian community. Church is not an optional extra for Christians, and that’s especially true if you’re ill or otherwise struggling. We need one another. We are made for one another. And the way that God comforts us is through one another.
We have put our trust in a God who loves to repair what was broken, to find what was lost and to buy back what has been enslaved, and it’s not a surprise that He would find a way to redeem our suffering too, and to bring joy and goodness out of even the deepest sadness. That is vintage-Yahweh. And that is, in itself, a source of huge comfort – the idea that even as I write these words, the Lord might somehow use them to bring comfort to one of you as you read them.
He is God, and so He can make all things good. Even mental illness.
Paul spells out so clearly in 2 Corinthians that, whatever we’re going through, we can be confident that God will carry us through it. ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’, and the reason that is true is because Jesus was crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, and destroyed in our place, so that we wouldn’t ever be.
So, sisters and brothers, in the middle of the darkness and sadness and fear – hold on to Jesus. The wonderful news of the gospel is that He is, and will, keep holding on to you.
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