Where do we flee to receive comfort in times of tribulation, suffering of the soul? Many times we are directed inward. But realistically that can be a dead end. If I am struggling with sin, temptation, despair, then my inner voice is often the loudest cheerleader for continuing in the pit of despair.
How then do we find comfort in tribulation? We go where Jesus, the Word incarnate, has promised to be: His Word. The Word spoken, the written Word, the visible Word (Baptism and Lord’s Supper), the forgiving Word (Absolution).
Martin Luther understood the turmoil of the Christian life. He also discovered in the written Word how God speaks to His people. Yes, the Word as Law condemns, but once the Law has worked that result, then the only Word God speaks is words of comfort, forgiveness, hope. In the book The Genius of Luther’s Theology, Robert Kolb and Charles Arand write (also quoting Luther):
Because human life in this world stumbles over temptation and tribulation of many kinds, faith also needs constant reinforcement through the Word of promise. In such times believers are called to flee to Christ’s bridal chamber. There Christ alone reigns, and he “does not terrify sinners and afflict them but comforts them, forgives their sins, saves them. Therefore let the afflicted conscience think nothing, know nothing, and put nothing against the wrath and judgment of God except the Word of Christ, which is a Word of grace, forgiveness of sins, salvation, and life everlasting.” Such reliance on grace is hard for those caught in the struggle to repent, but it is faith’s way under the power of the Word. (p. 143, Quoted part from “Lectures on Galatians 1531-1535,” Luther’s Works 26:120)
When we struggle with sin and its affects (guilt and shame), we often find it hard to turn to God. Our temptation is to continue listening to the condemning Word of Law.
But even well-intentioned Christian friends can offer words, but the effect is the opposite.
Christians distinguish the use that the speaker makes of the law from the function the law actually performs in hearers’ hearts and minds. They should not be surprised when their attempts to bring order and discipline to people’s lives gives these people new insight and instruction regarding how human life works best. And Christians should be particularly sensitive to the fact that what they intend as instruction in good living or a simple call for order and discipline can easily turn into a crushing message, perhaps even an accusation, for a tender conscience. (p. 150 The Genius of Luther’s Theology)
I need to hear that comforting Word—often. My memory, my guilt, my shame want to continue in the dung pile of sin. I don’t need the Word of condemnation. I can’t stand it! If God is speaking one more word of condemnation through friends/family, it will be too much.
But Jesus says, “No! That is not my final Word. I have fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17); I am the end of the Law (Romans 10:4). Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your souls.” Jesus says: “No more! You are mine! Nothing can separate you from My Father’s love through Me!“
Our hope and joy is a both/and (now, not yet) situation. Jesus brings forgiveness, joy, peace, etc. now, and then there is the final hope when Jesus returns. We will hear that ultimate comfort:
Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)
Those are words of comfort today, and every day. And we need to hear that word often.