Paul continues to talk about God as the Father of mercies and the mother who comforts her hurting children but adds a purpose to God’s mercy and comfort.  The Father of Jesus Christ is the God who shows mercy and “who 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.” Forgiveness, mercy is needed because of our sinfulness. Comfort is needed because we live in a world that is full of suffering. God desires that we pass on the forgiveness, mercy, that we receive and comfort that we receive from God. By any estimation, 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 frames the Bible’s greatest text on comfort. The word “comfort” occurs no less than ten times in its noun and verb forms in this brief paragraph—essentially one-third of all thirty-one occurrences in the New Testament. Paul says more about suffering, and more about comfort, than any other writer in the Bible. And it is here that he says the most about it. Thinking about Paul’s life that might be expected. He was whipped, stoned, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded by Nero. But his whole life was one of suffering and comforting others who suffer. Hughes argues, “There is a reason for this, and it was to answer critics who held that the sufferings that characterized Paul’s life were evidence that he was not an apostle, because if he was the real thing, he wouldn’t be experiencing so much trouble. Paul’s answer was that abundant suffering and abundant comfort are, in fact signs of apostolic authenticity.”[1]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a more modern person who suffered greatly and passed on the comfort he received to others. He “was one of a handful of German theologians to stand up to the Nazification of the German church. Bonhoeffer’s courage thrust him into the leadership of the Confessing Church along with other stalwarts like Martin Niemöller. Bonhoeffer went so far as to found an underground seminary in Finkenwald, Bavaria, which was closed by Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler. This led to Bonhoeffer’s joining the resistance movement and his being imprisoned by the Gestapo in April 1943. Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison became a best-seller after the war. Among the letters is a beautiful poem written to his fiancé Maria von Wedemeyer entitled ‘New Year 1945.’ Stanza 3 is famous:

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving

Even to the dregs of pain,

At thy command, we will not falter,

Thankfully receiving all that is given

By thy loving hand.1

“Poignant words that became more so when, three months later, just as the war was ending, Bonhoeffer was hung in Flossenbürg prison. Fast-forward to some eighteen years later, across the Atlantic in America, when another bride-to-be was grieving the death of her fiancé and found much comfort in Bonhoeffer’s poem. Her fiancé, who died from injuries in a sledding accident, was the son of author Joseph Bayly and his wife Mary Lou. When she mailed Bonhoeffer’s poem to them, Joe and Mary Lou also found comfort in ‘New Year 1945.’ Twelve years after this (thirty years after Bonhoeffer’s death), Joe Bayly received a letter from a pastor-friend in Massachusetts relating that he had visited a terminally ill woman in a Boston hospital for some period of time and had given her Joe’s book of poems, Heaven, as comfort for her soul. The pastor said that the dying woman had stayed awake late the previous night to read it and told him of the comfort and help she had received from it. A few hours later she died. The woman, the pastor revealed, was Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, Bonhoeffer’s fiancé three decades earlier! God’s comfort circulates among his children—and sometimes it comes full circle, as it did from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Maria von Wedemeyer in her grief to Joseph Bayly, Jr.’s grieving fiancé to Joe and Mary Lou Bayly in their grief and then back to Bonhoeffer’s one-time fiancé as comfort in her dying hours.2 Our text alludes to this astonishing cyclical nature of comfort—its mutuality—its overflowing nature.”

[1] Hughes, R. Kent. 2006. 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Macmillan, 1953), p. 221.

2 Personal correspondence of Joseph Bayly, June 23, 1980.