The apostle Paul was a missionary and founder of many churches. The church in Corinth was one of several that struggled as a young faith community. Their struggles pained Paul, and he wrote first to reprimand the church for its blunders, and also to encourage the young church to continue to fight for truth and love. In this second book of the Corinthians, Paul expresses remorse for a “letter of tears” in which he severely reprimanded, and consequently hurt the feelings of those in the church. After sending the letter, he immediately regretted his actions. This letter begs upon God to console both the church and himself for his actions. It holds to the promise that God can resolve conflict and console those who suffer, even when the suffering is self-inflicted.
Paul likened his suffering to a “sentence of death,” which he inflicted upon himself by his own actions. It is not uncommon for us today to shy away from publicizing suffering that is inflicted upon us (illness, natural disaster, being laid off from a job). But we are loathe to let others know about suffering that is (or perceived to be) self-inflicted (broken relationships, injuries, being fired from a job). The shame associated with self-inflicted pain keeps us isolated, and we often fail to turn to God. Paul’s letter models remorse and repentance, but also a recognition that God can console us in any situation, and in God we are reconciled.
Several years ago, someone I love hurt me deeply. I held the pain for several months, replaying in my mind only the part of the story where I was hurt. As time passed and the acute pain lessened, I had the courage to look at my part in the event. When I was ready to be fully honest with myself, I could see that the pain inflicted was not much more than a reaction to pain I had inflicted first. This is not to excuse the other’s behavior, but in acknowledging my own part, I was able to forgive not only them, but myself as well. The courage came from God. The willingness to forgive came from God. The reconciliation with the other person came from God, too.
2 Corinthians 1:1-11
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.
Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.