Troubles and sufferings come in many forms in this world. In the opening sentences of 2 Corinthians, Paul, writing to Christians in the city of Corinth and the surrounding region of Achaia (in southern Greece), reflects on troubles and sufferings. He especially has in mind those that come because of belief in Jesus. Paul reminds his readers of hardships he experienced because of his devotion to Jesus – hardships severe enough to make him think he was likely to die. Similarly, troubles and sufferings are afflicting Christians in Corinth and Achaia because they follow Jesus as Savior and Lord rather than the other “gods” worshipped around them.
Amid hardships affecting him and his fellow believers, Paul praises God! Why? He praises God because he knows that God is not distant and uncaring. The God of Jesus Christ is close and caring. He is the Father of all compassion and comfort for those who are afflicted. Because God is close and caring, Paul lives and writes in confidence and hope – confidence and hope in God and God alone, not in himself, not in circumstances of life, not in accumulation of wealth or power or prestige.
Being a devoted follower of Jesus did not exempt Paul from troubles and sufferings. Many of the “normal” afflictions of life persisted for him. Moreover, his being a faithful witness to and servant of Jesus brought more, and more severe, afflictions. In the mystery of God’s economy, being a follower of Jesus does not transport us out of all the difficulties and ills of life. Indeed, being a follower of Jesus may lead to more, and more severe, troubles and sufferings for his sake. Yet also in the mystery of God’s economy – seen clearly, definitively, and comprehensively in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – God comes with all compassion and comfort. Thus, with faith growing amid our own troubles and sufferings, faith growing from God’s resurrection care for us, we can come alongside others with deep and true compassion and comfort for them in their troubles and sufferings. This is the stuff of praise.