This morning I heard the sad news that Australia has lost another soldier in Afghanistan. Regardless of your feelings about Australia’s involvement, the life of every soldier or civillian (Australian, Afghan, whatever) lost in such conflicts is a terrible thing. Despite all our exposure to death through the media we need to try to hold onto the enormity of every life lost if only so that our basic human compassion doesn’t die a slow death as well. As Josef Stalin infamously said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million – that’s just a statistic”.
But as I was listening to the chief of Australia’s armed forces, Angus Houston, speak at the press conference, I was struck by these words, addressed to the dead soldiers family: “I know that there are no words that can provide comfort or ease your suffering at this terrible time”.
The reason these words struck me was that in my quiet time this morning, I’d read some very different words in 2 Corinthians 1: “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 have received from God.” This comfort is not just mere wishful thinking or kind thoughts. Neither is it a hollow comfort that attempts to lessen the suffering of those who grieve. Instead, it points to the God of all comfort who asks us to depend on him as the way THROUGH the inevitable suffering of this life.
Grief is real and the appropriate response to suffering and death, even for Christians. But as we are reminded in Psalm 23 & 1 Thessalonians 4:13, ours is a grief in which God stands beside us and walks with us and leads us through it. God has known suffering and death, and he knows the hope and the peace that lies beyond them both for all those who trust in Jesus.
I hope that this is true comfort to any of you who suffer and I hope also that the comfort you receive will then overflow to others as God intends. When someone is grieving, we do in fact have words of comfort to offer – comfort, hope & even eternal life.