Comforting and Being Comforted by Greg Albrecht
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” – Isaiah 40:1
These uplifting words, among the most studied and often quoted words of Isaiah, speak of a time of comfort after the nation of Judah would bring self-inflicted destruction on its own head. Isaiah wrote at a time when corruption and injustice permeated the commercial, religious, and political culture – he prophesied that the end result of it all would turn the proud city of Jerusalem into a smoldering ruin, a heap of rubble.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God is an assuring message for all of us during any time of desolation, bondage and destruction. God will not forget us.
God always has and forever will be ready to rebuild the new from the old. God is always there, restoring and reconciling the loss and pain of the ashes. He resurrects the dead and breathes new life, the life of our risen Lord, giving eternal life rather than simply restoring the mortality and limited shelf life of our human experience.
What God rebuilds is not a similar structure like the flawed and failed one, but something entirely new. If our society addresses a human tragedy by rebuilding another human creation on top of one that was inadequate, we must be aware the new will inevitably meet the same end.
During all the protests and demonstrations in this June of 2020 we have once again seen human frustration with the pain and heartache of injustice. And, once again, we see hope for a better nation and world through the political process. Make no mistake – humans are capable of building a better world and learning from their mistakes, but we must never forget whatever we build will be intrinsically flawed.
Sadly, many of our human efforts to redress injustices involve revenge, payback and reprisal. Thus, the inevitable – the protests and demonstrations lead to violence – so that violence begets violence. We are left with the bitter reality that human definitions of justice normally lead to more violence.
Ezekiel, a prophet who followed Isaiah and actually lived in the captivity that Isaiah had earlier prophesied, spoke positively of those who “grieve and lament” (NIV) – who “sigh and cry” (KJV) the detestable things that happened in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:4).
We often have little or no power to change the failures in our society and culture, but we will be, as Christ-followers, weary of the hate-filled scenes that endlessly play out in our world. The murder of George Floyd highlights systemic racism but it also illuminates ongoing corruption – the repression of impoverished “little people” who often have no voice.
In that vein, the promise of Jesus was that those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). The statement is not so much a cause and effect promise, as in “only those who mourn will be comforted” as it is those who seek God’s comfort and live in it will mourn, as Jesus lives within them. New life in Christ mourns the systemic failures of human attempts at justice and righteousness while at the same time being comforted, living in God’s peace and resting in Christ.
As Christ-followers we mourn this national tragedy in the summer of 2020. We sigh and cry, we grieve and lament. However, we focus on a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God, and thus our faith is that he will turn all our tragedies into joy and salvation.
Emma Lazarus (1849-1884) was born in New York City of Portuguese Jewish descent, and was moved by the plight of recent immigrants and refugees arriving in her city and her nation. In 1983, a year before she died, she wrote “The New Colossus” as a tribute to all that the Statue of Liberty (the “Mother of Exiles” in her words) stands for.
The concluding words to her poem “The New Colossus” were later, in 1903, inscribed on a plaque and placed on an inner wall of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free: the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
While I doubt that Lazarus intended a Christ-centered perspective of her words, as a Christ follower I believe Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is the door (John 10:9-16). The door that will lead to the healing of our hearts and souls is not our government or our constitution.
So many within Christendom get sidetracked into nationalism, and must be reminded that the door is Jesus. A new government, new policies and new politicians may offer and provide temporary improvement, but the only ultimate and eternal solution is through the door of Jesus.
Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the gateway, the doorway, the entry point – the path and the road toward life. He leads us away from the darkness of hatred and racism into his glorious light in which we love all humanity, regardless of race, creed or color.
Jesus alone can give eternal and forever relief to the enslaved, the impoverished, the diseased, the aliens and the refugees. He alone can heal broken hearts. He alone is the Light of the World (John 8:12).
Political solutions are short lived and doomed to failure – they are intrinsically flawed. Some political solutions are better than others, no doubt, but there is no human answer to the great problems and tragedies involved in all that it means to be human. Let us focus on Jesus who is the real and eternal answer for all that causes us to mourn, sigh, cry, grieve and lament.