In the New International Version of the Bible, the word comfort appears 72 times. Interestingly enough, the word discomfort only appears once. In Jonah 4:6, it says, “Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.”
Two things to note in this verse:
One, it says “ease his discomfort” not eradicate it; and, two, even easing discomfort can produce feelings of happiness. Yet, ease from discomfort is fleeting — as evidenced in the very next verse, when God causes a worm to come and chew the vine and kill it, leaving Jonah out of shade and back in discomfort. God uses this whole discomfort-vine-worm scenario to teach Jonah something about himself.
When God took away the vine, which was so comforting to Jonah, Jonah became very angry. God used this as a way to show Jonah his misplaced priorities. Jonah was very concerned about the vine and about his own comfort. He was more concerned, in fact, about his own physcial condition than he was about the spiritual condition of 120,000 souls in the city of Nineveh.
Jonah, refusing to do what God wanted, rushed into the desert to pout and wound up angry because the desert is a place where there is little food, little water, little vegetation, and a whole lot of sun. Perhaps some of the discomfort we find in our own lives comes not from some worldly conspiracy against us but from the natural consequence of our own decisions. Like with Jonah, God may use our discomfort to teach us how to make better decisions next time and avoid that particular discomfort in the future.
According to Scripture, there is a real need for comfort in life because there is real pain in life. Here are a few of examples where comfort is needed:
- Because of a hard life of work and toil (Gen. 5:29)
- Because of the death of a loved one (Gen. 24:67 and many others)
- Because of prejudice and oppression (Ruth 2:13, Eccl. 4:1)
- Because of physical illness (Job 7:13)
- Because of catastrophic life circumstances (Ps. 23:4; Isa. 51:19)
- Because of a broken heart (Ps. 69:20; Jer. 8:18)
- Because of suffering (Ps.119:50)
Comfort lies at the heart of God Himself. He is the originator of comfort, knowing and understanding the pain and suffering that have come into this world. Thas was never His plan, but comfort — true comfort — is one of His solutions.
His plan is found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, in which the word comfort is used nine times:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Some of the suffering of others I have observed over the years makes no sense to me at all. I cannot find any reason for it, and it has at times stretched my belief in a caring and compassionate God. But so often I have been comforted in that doubt by the very people who suffered so. By sharing their sufferings, they arrive at a place of comfort. Because of the incomprehensible nature of this interaction between comfort and suffering, I know it is the work of God.