Loving those who are suffering

Our 2024 Lent book Loving My Neighbour focuses right to the heart of discipleship and what living out our faith really looks like. Bringing together well-respected voices from across the church, it offers a broad and diverse range of perspectives on the biblical imperative to love our neighbour, and provides thoughtful encouragement as we seek to live this out in today’s context, through Lent and beyond. In this edited extract, Esther Kuku reflects on ‘Loving those who are suffering’.

25 February 2024

The God of all comfort

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 (NIV)

The book of 2 Corinthians starts off with a big embrace from God, reminding us that our heavenly Father is ‘the God of all comfort’ (v. 3). In this letter, the apostle Paul confronts the church in Corinth after re-establishing his apostolic authority. In doing so, he describes how he has suffered for Christ. Paul says that he and his friends were ‘burdened beyond measure’, so that they even despaired of life (v. 8, NKJV).

The way Paul writes about God shows the depth of relationship he has with him. He refers to him as ‘the Father of compassion’ (v. 3), the God of mercy. He asserts: ‘If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation’ (v. 6). Paul is confident in the nature and character of God, and for good reason. If anyone knew first-hand about the comfort of God, it was Paul. He found himself in many uncomfortable circumstances: imprisonment, beatings, stonings and shipwreck, to name just a few.

However, God didn’t get the violins out to comfort Paul, neither was ice cream or chocolate involved. The word for ‘all comfort’ in this passage is the ancient Greek word paraklesis, and it means much more than tea and sympathy. It’s about helping and making strong.

God didn’t get the violins out to comfort Paul, neither was ice cream or chocolate involved.

More than tea and sympathy

The level of repetition of the word ‘comfort’ in these short verses of scripture demands our attention: nine times, with slight variation for context. Paul is really trying to land his point.

Have you ever had to comfort someone going through immense suffering, such as the death of a loved one, a terminal illness or the pain of divorce? Our natural inclination is to throw our arms around them, to try to fix things and make it all better, or to try to identify the source and rationalise the pain in order to connect with them. Yet in our desire to help, when loving someone who’s in trouble we could inadvertently misrepresent God.

People who are hurting won’t be cured by chocolate or tea and sympathy alone – and for someone like me, that’s a hard thing to accept! In this section of scripture God simply says: exactly what you receive from me, give to someone else. I love how this is written: please do not give a second-rate type of comfort to others, but the same level of intensity as you have received from God; the comfort, compassion, mercy and forgiveness shouldn’t be diluted or polluted in any way.

Do not give a second-rate type of comfort to others, but the same level of intensity as you have received from God: the comfort, compassion, mercy and forgiveness shouldn’t be diluted or polluted in any way.

A personal gift

If you’ve never been in trouble, this is going to be difficult to do. I am always wary of people who present as perfect and show up as if they have never been through anything. Because our revelation of who God is, his character, his nature, is aligned to our experience of him. If you’ve never been a recipient of God’s deliverance or never been transformed by the depth of his compassion and comfort in your midnight hour, then you may end up offering a type of comfort to others that is the letter as opposed to the spirit.

But once we’ve been in trouble ourselves, it changes how we handle other people, because we see ourselves in their situation. And loving those who are suffering becomes a personal gift that is effortless for us to give.

Let’s open our hearts and be bold in our endeavour to bring the healing power of Jesus to those we meet. Let’s be undiluted and honest in our approach. Let’s activate it in the lives of those who are experiencing difficult times, speaking words of faith over those who are suffering, because the word of God sets us free.

God, in every aspect of his being, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, isn’t just full of comfort and strength ‘to’ us; he is full of comfort and strength ‘through’ us. He will use you and me to minister to those who are hurting if we will allow him. We simply need to be available and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Esther Kuku is director of communications and engagement at the Resuscitation Council UK, and a radio presenter for Premier Gospel. She has worked as head of communications for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, in international development roles at Tearfund and World Vision, and as a national broadcast journalist.

Loving My Neighbour: A Lenten Journey

Inderjit Bhogal, Joanna Collicutt, David Gregory, Esther Kuku, Sanjee Perera, Gemma Simmonds, John Swinton
edited by Olivia Warburton

It’s never been more important to understand how much God loves us and how much he wants us to love each other. Loving My Neighbour takes us on a journey through the challenging terrain of how we can truly love one another, individually and in our communities. Daily Bible readings and reflections from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day explore how we can love in truth, love the vulnerable and the suffering, embrace difference, care for our world, and love ourselves as God loves us. Holy Week brings us back to reflect on Christ on the cross, who loved us to the very end.

Find out more and order Look inside the book