We are all aware of the hurt and suffering which has torpedoed our country in the last month, particularly the hurt and suffering which has to do with racism in America and the killing of George Floyd. And all this comes on the heels of a pandemic which continues to rob some of life and plague many with fear and uncertainty. I don’t have a new word or interesting bit of encouragement for this hurt, suffering, and fear. Most of the time, I’m unsure of what to say at all, and the rest of the time I know that my words are laced with selfish motivation or fueled by guilt.
As we try and cope with the current American context, our words have turned into siloed echo chambers shaped by either side of our peculiar political coin. Social media is a cacophony of opinion, repetition, and self-justification. We already knew this, but tragedy has proven to only amplify the noise. Not every message is wrong or even for ill. Many are necessary for a time like this. But as the choirs calling for change and calling out injustice sing louder, we must recognize that these messages mainly offer us the opportunity to identify and diagnose our sins, not our ability to eradicate them. In other words, even the best messages out there are messages of law. They are words that aptly and correctly say, “Do this, don’t do that,” or “This is wrong, this is right,” and yet paradoxically have the effect of either pushing us further away from fulfilling the law, or at least affirming our prideful delusions that we’ve already fulfilled it. Either way, the word of law can’t get us to what’s right.
Something else is necessary for that.
While we need messages of law to expose our deeply flawed hearts, we must have a word of grace to save them. And before you object that what we need is change - not salvation - let me remind you that our shouts for change are evidence of our need for a savior.
Fortunately, while the world hounds us with shouts of the law, in 2 Corinthians 1 the apostle Paul reminds us that our God is a God of comfort. The word of gospel he offers us is reprieve from both our inner and outer battles. His promises to save, redeem, and forgive are a respite from the demands we put on ourselves and the affliction that results from our inability to fulfill these demands. In fact, he is the God of comfort who “comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor 1:4).
On the cross, our sufferings have become his. And, consequently, his death and resurrection have become ours.
All our affliction, every single part of it, is not only known by God, but also was suffered for by his son on the cross. Christ suffered for the sin of racism. He suffered for the pain endured by those fighting disease and illness. He suffered for the wrongs of those who don’t even realize they do wrong. Christ suffered for those who lack power as well as for those who abuse power. It’s in this way that Paul says we share in the sufferings of Christ - not because the larger our suffering, the closer we are to Christ, but because on the cross, our sufferings have become his. And, consequently, his death and resurrection have become ours. We have handed over our affliction in exchange for the comfort of his grace and mercy.
This comfort is shared by all who are afflicted and believe. In Christ, there is no longer us and them, you and me, a greater and a lesser (Gal. 3:8). This means we, too, can offer our neighbor something other than messages of law. We can offer them the very gospel message Christ first gave to us. The comfort we know from being told, “You are forgiven,” is now ours to give out freely.
As Paul reminds us, in Christ, we suffer together, and we are comforted together. In the sure hope that our burdens have been handed over to our God, we are given new eyes that face outward to see and share in the affliction of our neighbor. Here, we can finally mourn when we need to mourn, forgive when we need to forgive, and comfort when we need to comfort. This doesn’t come at the cost of denying sin but allows us to name sin for what it truly is as a pervasive reality in this life for our neighbor and for us.
Words fail me at a time like this. I do not know what to say. All I can say is how much we have left undone. All I am capable of communicating is a further echo of the law’s demands.
But I do know that in Christ I have been forgiven. You have too. Our suffering is now his, and in exchange, he has shared with us the good and certain comfort of his promise. Thankfully, these words are not mine; they are his.