Consolation From “the God of All Comfort”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.”—2 CORINTHIANS 1:3, 4.
1, 2. What kind of comfort do grieving people need?
GRIEVING people need genuine comfort—not platitudes and clichés. All of us have heard that ‘time will heal wounds,’ but in the early stages of bereavement, what grief-stricken person is comforted by that thought? Christians know that God has promised a resurrection, but that does not prevent the deep hurt and trauma of a sudden loss. And certainly if you have lost a child, other surviving children are no substitute for that precious one.
2 In times of loss, we are most helped by genuine comfort, comfort that has a solid basis in God’s promises. We also need empathy. This has surely been true for the people of Rwanda, and especially for the hundreds of families of Jehovah’s Witnesses there who lost loved ones in that diabolic ethnic massacre. From whom can all who grieve draw comfort?
Jehovah—The God of Comfort
3. How has Jehovah set the example in giving comfort?
3 Jehovah has set the example in giving all of us comfort. He sent his only-begotten Son, Christ Jesus, to the earth to give us everlasting comfort and hope. Jesus taught: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) He also told his followers: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) On another occasion he said: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) And Paul stated: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) By means of these and many other texts, we perceive the love of God and of Christ Jesus.
4. Why was the apostle Paul especially indebted to Jehovah?
4 The apostle Paul was especially aware of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness. He had been snatched out of a spiritually dead condition, from being a rabid persecutor of Christ’s followers to being a persecuted Christian himself. (Ephesians 2:1-5) He describes his experience: “I am the least of the apostles, and I am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the congregation of God. But by God’s undeserved kindness I am what I am. And his undeserved kindness that was toward me did not prove to be in vain, but I labored in excess of them all, yet not I but the undeserved kindness of God that is with me.”—1 Corinthians 15:9, 10.
5. What did Paul write about comfort from God?
5 Appropriately then, Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation through the comfort with which we ourselves are being comforted by God. For just as the sufferings for the Christ abound in us, so the comfort we get also abounds through the Christ. Now whether we are in tribulation, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are being comforted, it is for your comfort that operates to make you endure the same sufferings that we also suffer. And so our hope for you is unwavering, knowing as we do that, just as you are sharers of the sufferings, in the same way you will also share the comfort.”—2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
6. What is implied by the Greek word rendered “comfort”?
6 What inspiring words! The Greek word here rendered “comfort” is linked to “a calling to one’s side.” Therefore, “it is the standing beside a person to encourage him when he is undergoing severe testing.” (A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament) One Biblical scholar wrote: “The word . . . always means far more than soothing sympathy. . . . The Christian comfort is the comfort which brings courage, the comfort which enables a man to cope with all that life can do to him.” It also includes comforting words that are based on a solid promise and hope—that of the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus and Paul—Compassionate Comforters
7. How was Paul comforting to his Christian brothers?
7 What a wonderful example Paul was in giving comfort! He could write to the brothers in Thessalonica: “We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us. In harmony with that you well know how, as a father does his children, we kept exhorting each one of you, and consoling and bearing witness to you.” Just like loving, caring parents, all of us can share our warmth and understanding with others in their time of need.—1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8, 11.
8. Why is Jesus’ teaching a comfort for those who grieve?
8 In showing such care and kindness, Paul was only imitating his great Exemplar, Jesus. Remember the compassionate invitation that Jesus extends to all as recorded at Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” Yes, Jesus’ teaching is refreshing because it holds out hope and a promise—the promise of the resurrection. This is the hope and the promise that we are offering to people, for example, when we leave with them the brochure When Someone You Love Dies. This hope can help all of us, even if we have been grieving a long time.
How to Comfort Those Who Grieve
9. Why should we not be impatient with people who grieve?
9 Grief is not limited to some set time period immediately after the death of the loved one. Some people carry the burden of their grief all through their lives, especially those who have lost children. A faithful Christian couple in Spain lost their 11-year-old son in 1963 as a victim of meningitis. To this day, they still shed a tear when talking about Paquito. Anniversaries, photos, souvenirs, may bring back sad memories. Hence, we should never be impatient and think that others ought to be over their loss by now. A medical authority admits: “Depression and emotional swings may last as long as several years.” Remember, therefore, that just as physical scars on the body may stay with us for life, so do many emotional scars.
10. What must we do to help grieving ones?
10 What are some practical things we can do to comfort those who grieve in the Christian congregation? In all sincerity we might say to a brother or a sister in need of comfort, “If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.” But how often does a bereaved person actually call us to say, “I’ve thought of something you can do to help me”? Obviously, we need to take the appropriate initiative if we are to comfort the bereaved. So, what can we do in a useful way? Here are a few practical suggestions.
11. How can our listening be a comfort to others?
11 Listen: One of the most helpful things you can do is to share the bereaved one’s pain by listening. You may ask, “Would you care to talk about it?” Let the person decide. One Christian recalls when his father died: “It really helped me when others asked what happened and then really listened.” As James counseled, be quick to listen. (James 1:19) Listen patiently and sympathetically. “Weep with people who weep,” recommends the Bible at Romans 12:15. Remember that Jesus wept with Martha and Mary.—John 11:35.
12. What kind of reassurance can we offer to those who mourn?
12 Provide reassurance: Keep in mind that the bereaved person may at first feel guilty, thinking that perhaps there was more that he could have done. Assure the person that likely all that was possible was done (or whatever else you know to be true and positive). Reassure him that what he feels is not at all uncommon. Tell him of others you know who successfully recovered from a similar loss. In other words, be sensitive and sympathetic. Our kind help can mean so much! Solomon wrote: “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.”—Proverbs 16:24; 25:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14.
13. If we make ourselves available, how can that help?
13 Be available: Make yourself available not just for the first few days when many friends and relatives are present but for months later if necessary, when others have returned to their normal routine. The grieving period can vary greatly, depending on the individual. Our Christian interest and sympathy can mean so much in any time of need. The Bible says that “there exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” Thus, the saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” is a truism that we should live up to.—Proverbs 18:24; compare Acts 28:15.
14. What can we talk about to comfort the bereaved?
14 Talk about the good qualities of the deceased person: This is another great help when offered at the right moment. Share positive anecdotes that you recall about the individual. Do not be afraid to use the person’s name. Do not act as if the lost loved one never existed or was a nonentity. It is comforting to know what a publication from the Harvard Medical School stated: “A kind of recovery is achieved when the bereaved can finally think of the dead person without overwhelming sadness . . . As the new reality is acknowledged and assimilated, grief fades into treasured memories.” “Treasured memories”—how comforting to recall those precious moments spent with a loved one! A Witness who lost his father some years ago said: “A special memory for me is reading the Bible with Dad shortly after he began to study the truth. And lying on a riverbank talking over some of my problems. I only saw him every three or four years, so those occasions were precious.”
15. How can one take the initiative to help?
15 Take the initiative when appropriate: Some grieving people can cope better than others. So, depending on the circumstances, take practical steps to help. One grieving Christian woman recalled: “Many said, ‘If there’s anything I can do, let me know.’ But one Christian sister did not ask. She went right into the bedroom, stripped the bed, and laundered the soiled linens. Another took a bucket, water, and cleaning supplies and scrubbed the rug where my husband had vomited. These were true friends, and I shall never forget them.” Where there is an obvious need for help, take the initiative—perhaps by preparing a meal, helping with the cleaning, or running errands. Of course, we should be careful not to be intrusive when the bereaved person wants privacy. Thus, we should take to heart Paul’s words: “Accordingly, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” Kindness, patience, and love never fail.—Colossians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
16. Why can a letter or a card provide comfort?
16 Write a letter or send a comforting card: Often overlooked is the value of a condolence letter or a beautiful sympathy card. Its advantage? It can be read over and over again. Such a letter need not be long, but it should show your compassion. It should also reflect a spiritual tone but without being preachy. Just the basic message “We are here for you” can be a consolation.
17. How can prayer bring comfort?
17 Pray with them: Do not underestimate the value of your prayers with and for bereaved fellow Christians. The Bible says at James 5:16: “A righteous man’s supplication . . . has much force.” For example, when the grieving hear us pray in their behalf, it helps them resolve a negative feeling such as guilt. In our moments of weakness, of demoralization, Satan tries to undermine us with his “machinations,” or “crafty acts.” This is when we need the comfort and support of prayer, as Paul stated: ‘With every form of prayer and supplication carry on prayer on every occasion in spirit. And to that end keep awake with all constancy and with supplication in behalf of all the holy ones.’—Ephesians 6:11, 18, Kingdom Interlinear; compare James 5:13-15.
What to Avoid
18, 19. How can we show tact in our conversations?
18 When a person is grieving, there are also things not to do or say. Proverbs 12:18 warns: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” Sometimes, without realizing it, we fail to show tact. For example, we might say, “I know how you feel.” But is that really the case? Have you suffered the exact same loss? Then too, people react in different ways. Your reactions may not have been identical to those of the grieving person. It might be more sensitive to say, “I really feel for you because I went through a similar loss when my . . . died some time ago.”
19 It would also show sensitivity to avoid commenting about whether the deceased will be resurrected or not. Some brothers and sisters have been deeply hurt by judgmental remarks made about the future possibilities for a dead unbelieving spouse. We are not the judges of who will or will not be resurrected. We can be relieved that Jehovah, who sees the heart, will be far more merciful than most of us would ever be.—Psalm 86:15; Luke 6:35-37.
Texts That Comfort
20, 21. What are some texts that can console the bereaved?
20 One of the greatest sources of succor, when offered at the right time, is a consideration of Jehovah’s promises for the dead. These Biblical thoughts will be useful whether the bereaved person is already a Witness or is a person we meet in the ministry. What are some of these texts? We know that Jehovah is the God of all comfort, for he said: “I—I myself am the One that is comforting you people.” He also said: “Like a man whom his own mother keeps comforting, so I myself shall keep comforting you people.”—Isaiah 51:12; 66:13.
21 The psalmist wrote: “This is my comfort in my affliction, for your own saying has preserved me alive. I have remembered your judicial decisions from time indefinite, O Jehovah, and I find comfort for myself. May your loving-kindness serve, please, to comfort me, according to your saying to your servant.” Note that the word “comfort” is used repeatedly in those passages. Yes, we can find true comfort for ourselves and for others by turning to Jehovah’s Word in our time of affliction. This, combined with the love and compassion of the brothers, can help us to live through our loss and fill our lives again with joyful activity in the Christian ministry.—Psalm 119:50, 52, 76.
22. What prospect lies before us?
22 We can also overcome our grief to some extent by being busy helping others in their distress. As we turn our attention to others in need of comfort, we also get the true happiness of giving in a spiritual sense. (Acts 20:35) Let us share with them the vision of the resurrection day when people of all former nations, generation after generation, will be welcoming their lost loved ones back from the dead into a new world. What a prospect! What tears of joy will be shed then as we recall that Jehovah is indeed the God “who comforts those laid low”!—2 Corinthians 7:6.
Do You Recall?
□ How is Jehovah “the God of all comfort”?
□ How did Jesus and Paul comfort grieving ones?
□ What are some things we can do to comfort those who grieve?
□ What should we avoid when dealing with the bereaved?
□ What are your favorite texts for comfort in times of loss?
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Tactfully take the initiative to help those who grieve