Saturday, January 7, 2017

Speak Comfort to Me

“Speak comfort to me, Jacob!” wails Ebenezer Scrooge as he stares fearfully at the ghost of his former partner. He sees the ghastly chains and the anguish on Jacob Marley’s decaying face, recognizes his own future fate and cries, “Speak comfort to me!”

How do you comfort a scrooge? What do you offer a man who is not a victim, but a perpetrator? What do you say? “You made your bed; now lie in it.” “Didn’t you think there would be consequences for your actions?” “Comfort? You?! What comfort did YOU ever give?”

What if it wasn’t Scrooge begging for comfort? What if it was a man recently arrested for torturing a disabled person live on Facebook? He stands before you begging for comfort. What do you say? “Thug. I hope they throw the book at you. I hope you get tortured in prison. I hope you get to see what it feels like to be the victim of merciless, heartless, conscienceless human dreg.”

My own heart hurts as I consider this. Here’s why: I, who have been wonderfully comforted by Christ, stop short of offering that comfort to others, in much the same way that people were short to offer me that comfort when I was overwhelmed by sorrow.

Think this through: Jesus taught that those who mourn would be comforted. The context of his words (Matthew 5:2-12) helps define that mourning. It is a personal sorrow over the condition of being poor in Spirit. It is weeping that comes from hungering and thirsting for righteousness yet experiencing sin and crying with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). It’s not necessarily the mourning that comes from being a victim or suffering loss. Such sorrow calls for comfort, to be sure, but the spiritually mournful man that Jesus speaks of is a victim of his own actions. He has wounded himself with his sin. He is the recipient of his own just consequences, and he has no good merit by which to call for comfort. He is like the tax-collector in the temple, kneeling at a distance, beating his breast and crying out, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).

And Jesus says that this man and those like him, the ones brokenhearted and saturated with remorse, will be comforted.

By whom? Who would extend assurance, blessing, companionship, peace, and a measure of rest, hope, and unconditional love to a tax-collector, a pathetic miser, a thug, a woman caught in the very act of adultery, a persecuter, and a betrayer?

Jesus, the friend of sinners.

And by extension, the people who follow Jesus. We should be ready to forgive (a thing that most of us are willing to do judicially) and comfort (a thing that most of us are not the least bit ready to do personally).

Why is it so hard to offer comfort to a wretch? What makes it so difficult to put our arms around the person who sinned against us, assure that person everything will be alright, and love that person as a friend? Hasn’t Jesus done that for us?

Here are some potential reasons…

1. To be honest, we hardly ever see that kind of mourning! We seldom witness people having overwhelming remorse. Instead, we see people justify themselves, express sorrow over getting caught, minimize the weight of their actions, and expect light or no consequences. It’s like we’re toddlers in the nursery, fighting over toys and pointing the finger of accusation, “He did it!” It’s so rare to see genuine contrition. Rare, but not extinct.

2. We forget that people who sin are, to a degree, their own victims. The Bible even says it, “The immoral man sins against himself!” (I Corinthians 6:18). Sin results in death (James 1:15); the sinner is committing eternal suicide with each rebellion against God. The sinner has many victims, but he himself is on his own list; his actions harden his heart, rack up judgments, and sear his conscience. He (or she!) is pitiable, not just in spite of sin, but because of it.

3. We forget that we were under judgment until true sorrow led us to repentance. We have been broken over sin and rejoiced that God’s judgment was absorbed by Christ on the cross so we could have grace. At least, I hope that’s true about you. I hope, before you ever need to comfort a sinner who has been crushed by the weight of his own sin, you have been crushed by the weight of your sin and cried out to God for mercy and experienced the comfort only He can give through the Gospel.

May the Lord crush us, comfort us, and use us to comfort others. How sweet will be the day when we are face to face with him, and his presence is our final perfect comfort. No wonder his appearing is called "The blessed hope!"

I wish the ghost of Christmas Present had come back to Scrooge for a short post-vision meeting. Or maybe Marley could have done it. As Scrooge clung to his curtains with the vision of his own grave melting away from his sight, someone could have been there to put an arm around the old skinflint and say, “You know, it’s going to be alright. You’re forgiven.”



3 comments:

  1. It is cool that you wrote this article because I'd just been thinking about those words. I saw A Christmas Carol at the Melodrama a few weeks ago and those words rolled around my head. Scrooge was asking for comfort before he was repentant for his actions. In that moment he wanted to hear that everything was going to be okay, even though it wasn't yet. So how do we offer comfort, without it being a false comfort? I was thinking about how the ghosts showed Scrooge the truth so he could mourn over his sin. He needed to see the pain that he'd caused before he could be remorseful. But at the same time we are called to extend mercy and forgiveness to others because we ourselves have received it. How do we offer comfort and truth at the same time? I've been thinking about these things a lot because I see so little mercy, especially from Christians online and in social media. Collectively we seem pretty judgmental. We should be people who offer comfort and hope. It's given me plenty to think about.

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  2. Laura, great comment! I don't think we can extend comfort where there is no remorse. But we can change the way we see people and deal with them. I think of the story of Betsy, Corrie's sister in "The Hiding Place" who had pity on the Germans who were mistreating them. Her pity and love were expressed in her concern over the judgment they would face before God for what they had done. Or I think of Jesus on the cross, asking His Father to forgive His killers, "for they know not what they do." In both cases the guilty had no apparent remorse, but they were seen with compassion, even in their sin.

    As a Christian, I should be able to look at a torturer and experience a righteous indignation over his sin, a pity and compassion over his condition and his future if he doesn't repent, and a willingness to embrace him in love if he turns from his sin. I should be able to express all of those convictions to him before he ever repents. And if he does repent, I guarantee you he will need all the comfort we can give him or he will be overwhelmed with grief and spend the rest of his life in a dazed state of, "Oh God, what have I done?"

    Somehow the Christian community (mostly in America, I think) has failed to learn that God loves all his enemies. Judgment is real and eternal and inevitable -- but only for those who reject His love by rejecting Jesus.

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    1. Thanks Jim. I always appreciate your insights. Great article.

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