Paul isn’t given to complaint. Confronting, clarifying, cajoling, counseling all of these are present in his letters. But not so much does he talk about how hard he has it, how unfair his life is, how much he wishes that the coffeemaker worked better, that the clothing choices were more plentiful at the market, that people on the donkeys on the backroads of Asia Minor would use their turn signals.
But in the beginning of a letter he talks about how we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. When we are part of a club of pain, Paul says, and we have been comforted by God, sustained in the most miserable moments, we can tell that story, offer that support, share in the silence with those who find themselves in similar straits.
Any of us who have attempted to offer care in those moments know what it’s like to have the person we are helping look at us and say, “That’s easy for you to say.”
Recently, a person looked across the hospital bed holding a parent’s body and said, “Have you lost a parent?” I acknowledged a bit of my personal credibility and went back to providing care for the moment.
And that’s why Paul writes, ““For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. . .”
Paul wanted them to know that he knew what the pain was like, the uncertainty, the sense of imminent death, the crushing hopelessness in a time of no medical hope.
Paul wasn’t chipper. But he was aware that in the most difficult moments God is aware. I’m guessing that he never said, “God’s got this.” I’m guessing he always said, “God cares about you and me.”