A friend of mine called me unexpectedly. After we got through the small talk there was an awkward silence. I figured there was some reason why she would be calling, but whatever it was, she was having trouble getting it out. Finally, she did.  She was struggling with life–physically and emotionally.

So I tried my hand at counseling.

It was humbling.  It was humbling because I quickly realized I was not the Bible scholar I thought I was.  It was humbling because I realized my own reservoir of experience wasn’t deep enough to draw from in a meaningful way.  It was humbling because she seemed to give me more questions than I gave her answers. I found my muddled brain saying time and time again, “I don’t know.”

I cared.  I tried.  And sometimes, after our phone calls, I would hang up with a satisfied sigh–convinced we were almost through the darkness of her depression.  But it was like drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk. Real life would hit like a rainstorm and wash my handiwork into a kaleidoscope of marred colors as nothing more than evidence that we had tried and failed.

One question she asked stuck with me. God is supposed to be our comfort, but I don’t feel at all comforted. And so people tell me God is my comfort, I just can’t feel it. But what good is comfort you can’t feel? Isn’t comfort a feeling?

I’m pretty sure I must have given my standard answer to that.

I don’t know.

But I trusted.  I knew God had rescued me from my own pit.  And I knew that there was a way out for her too.  I just didn’t seem to have the right words at the right time.  She seemed inclined to believe that people who tried to help her were just artificially filling in the vacancies God had neglected.  What was I to say to that?

David is, in no small way, my go-to author for these kinds of times.  David knew about depression and despair.  He knew what it was to be hated.  To be hunted.  To be overwhelmed.  To be pressured.  To be sick.  To be desperate.  To be broken.

In Psalm 69, he paints a compelling picture of himself sinking into a pit of quicksand.  He cried for help until he was weary, his throat was parched, and his eyes grew dim.

David was in pain.  The God of all comfort loved David dearly.  And David knew it.  He believed it.

But he did not always feel it.

So…what about my friend’s question?  What good is comfort if it doesn’t make us feel better?  Shouldn’t comfort make us comfortable?  Shouldn’t it take the stinger out of the pain?  If we’ve been comforted, shouldn’t we feel comforted?

After pondering this a while, I realized the answer will always require a measure of faith. Jesus didn’t promise comfort so we wouldn’t know pain. He promised pain so we would know comfort.

Jesus promised to send a Comforter soon after He promised tribulation, persecution, and pain. Then He promised to be with us until the end of the age.  The comfort is His work of grace to get us through this life glorifying Him by longing for the next.

Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.  His words were words of comfort, not words of cure.

I’ll never forget the words of a lady I know whose husband of twenty five years had recently abandoned her for another woman after a long, secret affair. She returned my note of attempted encouragement with a card that said while she regretted the circumstances, she would not exchange “the sweetness of her close fellowship with Jesus” for anything.  God sent her comfort in the form of Himself and His Word.  She was happy despite the storm that would rage in her family for years.

But it doesn’t always look like that. 

I read the story of Darlene Diebler Rose, a young missionary wife who ended up in isolation in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. God sent comfort to her starving body in the form of a hundred bananas dropped off by a man she regarded as an enemy. God sent comfort by meeting her physical needs in a miraculous way.

But it doesn’t always look like that.

Apostle Paul needed comfort. He needed companionship to buoy his spirits and energize his faith.  Paul needed friends who would come and see him in prison.  Who would help meet his physical needs.  Who would act as his courier.  Who would pour energy into him so he could, in turn, comfort others who would in turn comfort others in their times of need.  2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

Most of the time, it looks like that.

Sometimes comfort is simple.  Ordinary.  It comes in the form of a friend–their caring touch or simple generosity. Imperfect, unromantic, but comforting nonetheless if we choose to allow their kindness penetrate the crust of our hurt.

Friends may be guessing at what to do and what to say–and getting it wrong much of the time–but comfort is no less from God because it comes at the hand of another person.  It is no less real.  No less biblical.  God can send a raven to deliver a meal, but He is more likely to send a church member, a neighbor, a friend.

In the end, my friend was able to look back on her time of depression as a time that equipped her more to be able to help others who face similar circumstances.  And I sure hope that, one day, someone asks her questions like “if God is our comfort, shouldn’t we feel comforted?”

If nothing else, it would comfort me a little.

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