By JIM NICHOLS
Do you want one? Do you really want a consolation prize? That sounds like something awarded to a person who does not win, who does not finish in first place.
This is one of many traps our competitive world has set for us. It has turned “consolation” into a nearly negative word when it is, in fact, a major quality of God. Furthermore, scripture identifies it as a quality to which we should aspire as a gift to be used in the world as a follower of God. We are to be consoling people because God has offered us His consolation to share with others.
There are many identifiers of God in scripture. Some speak of His attributes such as “infinite, wise, faithful, good, merciful.” Others consider his actions such as “feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick.” To speak of God as a “consoler” is not our favorite image because to require consolation means something has gone wrong. There has been some injustice, some untimely death, some threat ahead. I have been wronged or am anxious and need something to grasp onto, something to console me. The problem or situation may remain, but I need some spiritual tools to continue functioning. We have all been there, have we not?
In the first chapter of Second Corinthians, Paul is writing to a community that is suffering in various forms. Because of that, they are trying to find ways to make meaning of their situation. They are doing exactly what you and I would try to do.
Paul’s approach is to remind them of who God is: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation. . . “ In the subsequent few verses, Paul uses forms of the word “consolation” ten times. Because of Jesus’ walk as a human, God knows suffering well and understands the need for consolation being offered.
For those of us reading and trying to understand God’s mission for us, we should not miss the continuation of this passage. Paul explains that the consolation God has offered to us should now be translated into consolation that we offer others. Our gift is to be passed on because we have been empowered.
An important insight for us is that the same root word that is translated as “consolation” here is used other places to describe the Holy Spirit, the “comforter.” With the introduction of the Holy Spirit into the world, God’s followers have an access to new guidance, peace, and abilities that not only act in our lives, but can and should be passed on from us to others as consolation/comfort. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not just for us.
Sometimes the evidence of consolation having been received and in the process of being passed on is clearly observable. The scene was a hospital waiting room. Visitors were circulating in and out as the day went on. At any one time there were perhaps a dozen present in a small annex. Each of them had come because two common friends were in mortal danger for their human lives. Although the visitors knew each other, they did not necessarily know the consolations each had received in the past. One had survived breast cancer and had said at one time that others had to pray for her because she was unable. Another was a parent of a child of multiple hospitalizations. Still another visitor was even then receiving significant medical treatment daily. There were no strangers to the hospital either for themselves or some they love.
What were those visitors accomplishing by being there? They were present. They were present for one another and for the two hospitalized friends. Presence is one of the strongest mechanisms of consolation.
Consoling does not make the problem go away. God’s consolation of us does not take us out of the world and its concerns. It does, however, assure us that God is walking with us and has promised not to leave us alone in the world. Our hope is not that our earthly concerns be removed by God, but that God will move through them with us.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain
I find myself in need of God’s consolation as I age. Consolation is a wonderful gift. Thank you for the reminder.