Comforting the Afflicted, Afflicting the Comfortable
“You should seek to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
I stumbled across this little pearl of advice years ago in an article for pastors about effective speaking, and as the years go by, the more I see how true it is. American humorist and writer Finley Peter Dunne, I later discovered, first penned the phrase around a hundred years ago, except he was writing about how newspapers should impact society. Since then, the adage has been adopted by various politicians, educators, lawyers, economists, advertisers and even actors for whatever purposes they were trying to achieve.
As Discern enters its seventh year, I find myself thinking about that phrase once more. What are we trying to achieve? Our goals are simple, but profound: explain past and current events in the light of God’s Word; hold out hope for a dying world based on God’s promises; and show how you can understand God and change your life.
We’re not original. We’re merely trying to frame the Word of God in our modern context. But, by its nature, that requires comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
The comfort and affliction of truth
When it comes to that, no one can outdo Jesus Christ. During His time on earth He was a master at compassionately helping and healing those afflicted by sin, and equally masterful at challenging and infuriating those comfortable in their sins. And at the heart of every matter He addressed lay a simple concept—truth!
It’s a shame the truth has never been popular—it has an amazing capacity for both comforting and afflicting. The Bible’s story is one of humanity always searching for a sense of comfort, but in all the wrong things. Why can’t we find peace, justice, equality, mercy, forgiveness, love, happiness, gentleness—solutions to our inability to get along? The answers have always been there, in God’s Word. The solutions afflict us, though, because they require something that most people simply don’t want—we don’t want anyone, even God, telling us what to do.
Discern exists to make a compelling case that we can find true spiritual and mental comfort only if we are obeying Him.
The Bible’s story is also one of how we, beginning with Adam and Eve, have consistently exchanged the truth of God for a variety of lies. Lies about how to live, how to get ahead, how to succeed, how to be happy, what to believe—even lies about God.
Discern exists to expose those lies, because anything short of truth will never create a permanent comfort zone.
Finding comfort in a boiling world
Strangely, though, the lying promise of comfort is exactly the allure of sin. “Try me!” sin’s tempting voice smoothly purrs. “I’ll make you happy. I’ll ease your pain. I’ll give you what you want. I’ll make you comfortable!”
Discern exists to warn of the affliction of consequences and to reveal the spiritual forces that are really driving these destructive temptations.
Dear readers, look around. Every pot on the world’s stove is boiling! Can we ignore the growing problems and retreat into some artificial comfort zone? Another great biblical lesson teaches us that only when our affliction grows so strong, only when our discomfort becomes so unbearable, only when our sense of inability to solve our problems becomes so great, do we humans turn to God for help.
God’s way of life holds comfort, and His Word promises that comfort for the afflicted is coming. We will, upon the return of Christ, find rest in Him and His way of life.
Until then, yes, we’ll try to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted with the truth of God.