How do you understand the comfort of God?

In 2 Cor 1:3-7, Paul writes,

2 Corinthians 1:3–7 (ESV): Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

I think this is a powerful introduction to his letter to the churches in and around Corinth and the Achaean region, with the comfort of God being driven home. Paul writes the word 10 times in this passage. In NT Wright’s book, Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, he gives some various definitions of the word comfort:

It can mean ‘to call someone to come near’, ‘to make a strong appeal or exhortation’, or ‘to treat in an inviting or friendly way’.

NT Wright gives a lovely description of its function:

It meets people where they are, and brings them right on to the point where they are strong enough to see new hope, new possibilities, new ways forward.

It seems our modern usage of the word comfort has reduced its meaning and function to something like a ‘comfort blanket’, or a sympathetic consolation that doesn’t actually change the situation. However, Paul’s usage here seems much more pragmatic than that. It actually changes how we perceive a situation we’re in. It is an actual drawing close of God to us, and one to another. There’s a sense of the body of Christ coming together, and indirectly teaches us that lonely Christianity really isn’t a thing.

It’s taking me a while to adjust my understanding of God’s comfort, and I wondered how other people perceive this idea of comfort. Do the definitions that NT Wright offers reaonate or are they new to you?


Oftentimes, in my experience, when people talk about comforting others, as you said it is either a “a sympathetic consolation that doesn’t actually change the situation,” or simply saying, “everything is going to be ok,” attempting to offer hope, though without any backing to the statement, while also failing to recognize the hurt, grief, or injustice.

I love NT Wright’s definition of comfort, because it emphasizes both the coming alongside side someone amidst difficulty, and the substance of the encouragement.

Sympathetic consolation is certainly of some value, as when Jesus wept with Martha and Mary, even knowing that he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:17-43) or as with Paul’s command to weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).

Yet, I think the comfort spoken of here and elsewhere in the Bible goes beyond grieving with others to an actual offering of hope. I am in the middle of writing a paper right now, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is one of the primary passages I’m working with. In 1 Thess 4:13, Paul introduces this section to a community grieving death by saying he doesn’t want to them to grieve like those who are without hope. So, he shares actual hope of substance with them, comforting them by giving them hope concerning the resurrection of the dead.

And when the Greek verb translated as comfort in 2 Cor 1:3-7 (παρακαλέω) is used throughout the New Testament in the context of comforting or encouraging others it is often paired with, not only coming alongside others who are grieving, but also offering true substantive hope and encouragement.

In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas encouraged others with the hope that, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” reminding them of the final hope. In the conclusions of some of Paul’s letters it seems as though Paul is hoping that through news of how he is doing and the encouragement of his messenger the churches will be encouraged and comforted (Col 4:8; Eph 6:22) just as Paul himself was comforted through hearing of the faith of the Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:7) and the coming of Titus who shared with him the care and concern that the Corinthian church had for him (2 Cor 7:5-7).

So, it certainly seems to include the physical presence of other believers and the sharing of hope that, as you said, “actually changes how we perceive a situation we’re in.”

So, well I haven’t heard NT Wright’s phrasing before, his definition really resonates for me. I don’t want to be told everything is ok, in the face of circumstances that are clearly unjust or harmful, because saying such seems to overlook the hurt and accept the existence of evil without a hope for something greater. Yet, coming alongside in the pain and sharing the hope that there is in Christ in such a way that it reshapes my perspective has been immensely helpful!

I particularly love these verses in Corinthians, because it shows not only, how God comforts us in our difficulty and pain, but also how he can use what we’ve learned and the comfort he has shared with others who are going through those same times of difficulty that they may find a true substantive hope. Which, in itself I find comforting in difficulty, knowing that God can use these hard times not only for my growth, but for the encouragement of others!


Hi Alison,

Thank you for starting this thoughtful conversation!

Thanks to you, I now see more clearly how the idea of comfort can have a different meaning for us than it did in the Scriptures!

And our contemporary understanding of comfort is, ironically, no comfort at all. As you put it:

Blake, I appreciated you sharing this wise summary:

Alison, your question prompted me to look at one of the best resources for understanding the meaning of Greek words - BDAG. It’s a lexicon - a reference work for understanding the meaning of the Greek words. As Brent Niedergall explains, “The letters in BDAG are the initials of the four lexicographers behind the work: Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich.”

For the word παράκλησις, there are three main definitions:

1. act of emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation

2. strong request, appeal, request

3. lifting of another’s spirits, comfort, consolation

In their entry, they list 2 Corinthians 1:4-7 under the third definition.

So, if comfort is to lift someone’s spirits, how does Paul find comfort from God?

In his commentary, James Scott argues,

If verses 8–11 make it clear that “troubles” refers to a dangerous situation caused by outside circumstances, then comfort refers primarily not to an inner feeling of encouragement or consolation, but to divine intervention in the perilous situation and deliverance from it (cf. v. 10). Hence the expression “the God of all comfort” (v. 3b) corresponds to the “God, who raises the dead” (v. 9b), and the phrase “who comforts us in all our troubles” (v. 4a) relates to “who has delivered us from such a deadly peril and will deliver us” (v. 10a).

Paul Barnett comments,

How does God comfort his people? Although the later reference reveals God’s use of human intermediaries (7:6–7), in this verse there is no hint of such mediation. The exercise of “comfort” appears as a charisma, a concrete manifestation of the grace of God, a divine intervention.

In both cases, I think the important aspect is not only God’s substantive response to our need, but also our receptivity to God’s comfort.

As Paul says, “through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

How do we find comfort from God in our troubles?

It seems to me that God’s comfort is only available to us if we trust God to be with us and for us, even when our circumstances are dark and discouraging.

This is not to burden someone who suffers with the additional challenge: do you have enough faith???

Rather, it is an invitation to receive God’s comfort, even in our weakness, as Christ suffered for us that he might help us in our trials (verse 5).

When I have been in a well of discouragement, and someone has said to me, “God is with you,” sometimes it sounds like a lie. If God is with me, why am I having so much pain?

At other times, in the same hurt, a friend’s encouragement that God is with me has been the medicine that my soul needed. By God’s grace, I was able to receive this encouragement with faith, and be comforted by God’s care in the midst of my difficulties.

It is one thing to be comforted. Thank God, he offers us comfort and hope! It is another thing to humbly receive this comfort.