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Comfort in Affliction

'#453 Winter light' photo (c) 2010, Mikael Miettinen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]                      

By Donald P. Hammond

If there were any two words that could be used to summarize essential tenants of Christian faith, "παρακαλεω" and "θλιψις" would be strong contenders. Not because they are written more than any other two words in the collection of works we call scripture. And not because they are imperative commands uttered by the Lord of the Hebrew Scriptures, nor Son of Man of the Gospels. But because of their meaning. Now of course attempting to essentialize the faith into two words must be considered futile, if not ludicrous, yet I am not the first to do so, nor will I be the last.

Παρακαλεω rendered phonetically is parakaleo which is translated as "to exhort, comfort" and is used with nuances to mean calling for aid, inviting comfort or beseeching something from a divine source. Θλιψις on the other hand, rendered phonetically is thlipsis which means "to hem in, to oppress or to vex." Thlipsis is also a term that means "to be hostile to."

In the scripture for today parakaleo and thlipsis are translated (in the NRSV) as "console" and "affliction." This text is the go-to place wherein we remind ourselves that God consoles us in our affliction. Where we humbly remind ourselves that as Jesus suffered, so we suffer. And this is good and fine and true. I cannot read this passage without a sense of the ironic. As Paul does, we are quick to place ourselves in the role of the afflicted: the ones who need consolation. I believe this to be a grievous self-serving error. For those outside of the church, or outside our particular hermeneutic, we are not consolers, but in fact we are the ones who afflict. If we did essentialize our faith into just two words then we must make ourselves the consolers who focus outside ourselves and seek to comfort the afflicted-other.

Donald P. Hammond is interim assistant to the director of enrollment at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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