About the same rough time frame that the Apostle Paul was writing, there was a great Roman, Cicero, who also did a lot of writing. He lost his beloved daughter Tullia, the chief delight of his heart. She died at a young age and Cicero was absolutely broken by the loss. Cicero had a friend whose name was Sopicius Severus who did what any good friend would do. He wrote a letter to him and tried to comfort him. Sopicius tried to remind Cicero that, after all, suffering and death is the common lot of humanity. All of us have to die sometime. Sopicius reminded Cicero that she had died at a period of Roman history where the republic itself was failing. In the long run, it might be good that she did not live to see the dissolution of the empire. What we have here is a friend–learned in all the wisdom of the ancients–trying to do the best he can for a man who was close to him. And yet, there is not much comfort there. At best, there is understanding and sympathy, but not comfort.
Now, contrast that–the greatest of the Romans doing the best they can–with what Paul himself does when he wrote to the Thessalonians who had also lost friends. What Paul does there is speak about a time when they would see their friends again. He wrote, “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words (1 Thess. 4:15-18).
This is what I mean when I say that God is the God of all comfort. It is the experience of that comfort in suffering that teaches us to trust him and gives us the ability to comfort others. Paul said that life is filled with troubles. He knew firsthand, because he had experienced more trouble than most people. But Paul knew that there is great comfort in suffering because God is in charge of all. Because God is sovereign, good will triumph over evil in the end. Sin will be punished. And all that is endured for Christ’s sake in righteousness will be rewarded at that last day.
I have only one more thing I want to say to those who may not be Christians. If you are not a Christian I want you to think about what you are missing. You may not have experienced a good deal of suffering up to this point in your life. But if it has not happened yet, it will. It does not make any difference how healthy you are. Some day you are going to get old. Eventually you are going to die. It does not make any difference how blessed your life has been. The time will come when those close to you will be taken away. You are going to go through these things. The question is how are you going to go through them? Are you going to go through them without the comfort that comes from God? Or are you going to go through them with the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles? I commend the Christian way. I commend Jesus Christ, who endured all of this for you, suffering death for every man in order that he might bring many sons into glory.