When a Hug Isn’t Enough
The world is in great need of comfort. For the hundreds of families who have lost loved ones in shootings. For those fleeing their homelands and leaving everything they know, love, and own behind. For those fighting the brutal war with cancer. For those suffering through divorce.
This world brutalizes God’s children. Racial violence is at an all-time high. School shootings occur on average twice a week. Suicide, depression, and anxiety are all rampant among our children and our adults. The TVs scream hatred and anger, and the video games gush violence. So many need comfort, indeed.
In her book So Long Insecurity, Beth Moore recalls an instance when she went to a doctor’s office with her daughter. She said the office had a rack of brochures about “every imaginable cancer.” Her daughter, Melissa, took the brochures one by one, looked them over, and then said, “Life is brutal, man.” She then also said, “He knows it’s scary to be us.”
Yes, it is scary to be us, and yes, our Father knows it’s scary. He, more than we, knows the danger of the evil, the depth of the depravity, and the toll of the suffering. And he cares. He cares deeply and truly, the way only true and perfect love can care.
“’Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). These words were most likely spoken to Isaiah as a command issued to the prophet, a directive to provide comfort to an equally brutalized people. These people were subject to hatred, war, slavery, and devastation, including the destruction of their homes and place of worship, and the deaths of most of their people.
But the question is this: How does one comfort such people? How do you comfort someone whose entire life has been destroyed, who’s watched a dearly beloved murdered before their very eyes? How do you comfort someone who has watched their home be reduced to rubble and their children led away as slaves?
Indeed, how do we comfort the one who has watched a loved one be eaten by cancer, whose child was killed in a shooting, or whose teenager took his own life? How do we comfort those who feel like all hope is gone?
A kind word will not suffice. A hot meal, a hug, an outstretched hand— they’re all sweet gestures, needed and appreciated, but they don’t heal the soul-suffering of these wounds. This brutality causes our souls to cry out for more than the world can offer.
The sovereign Lord told Isaiah how to comfort his people:
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2).
This direction is from a God who knows full well that it is scary to be us. He tells Isaiah to “cry out,” to tell God’s people that the warfare has ended and the peoples’ iniquity is pardoned. God is sending them a message: there is hope that the brutality ends and there is freedom.
This is the comfort we can and must speak today. It’s an acknowledgment of the brutality and the intensity of the suffering; it’s an urgent cry that iniquity is forgiven, that there is hope the brutality will end. It’s the gospel.
There is no comfort we can give to satisfy the cry of the suffering soul except the truth of the gospel. It acknowledges the wounds, offers forgiveness, and provides hope for the future, no matter how desperate or deep the pain.
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God. We must speak comfort. We must cry out the gospel message. Souls are desperate for it.