“Comfort, Comfort, my people, says your God.”
So, what is comfort and why is it important? The Hebrew word that Isaiah uses is נחם (nacham), which means “to ease one’s regrets or griefs.” When the Hebrew scribes translated this passage into Greek, they translated נחם (nacham) as παρακαλέω (parakaleo), which means “to encourage, to treat with care and hospitality, or simply to call out to someone — to exhort (which is an aspect of preaching). When Jerome translated this into Latin, he used the term consolor, which means “to console or to lighten someone’s spirit.” By the time Wycliffe was translating this text, he chose to use the word, “comfort,” which comes from the Latin root, comfortis, which means “to forcefully strengthen.”
The Heidelberg Catechism begins by speaking of the only “comfort” for the Christian in life and in death — the word which Ursinus and Olevianus (Heidelberg’s principle authors) chose here in the original German was trost, again, a word that means to comfort or console and the word that Luther used to translate this passage in Isaiah. Yet, this first question to the catechism assumes that comfort is something that Christians both want and need, which brings us back to the question, why is it important?
While the question needs to be asked, lest we be unclear as to the “why,” it ought to be rather obvious to the Christian as to why we need comfort in this world. It is a world that is fallen, a world that is marked by sin, and it is a world that is filled with death and decay. And, as we grow older and mature every day, our bodies weaken and grow more frail; disease wreaks havoc on young and old and the wicked in this world seek to use the weak to gain power for themselves. While we have little stabs of joy in this life, how much more often do we need to face trial and discouragement. Hence, we need comfort — we need to be forcefully strengthened, we need to be consoled in our times of sorrow, and we need to have the weight of our grief lessened. That is why we need comfort and question 1 in the catechism will explore wherein we find that comfort as Christians. For now, though, it is important to be reminded that not only is comfort something that we need as God’s own, it is something that God desires and designs to give to us in his Son, Jesus Christ — hence the language of the prophet Isaiah who looks forward toward the coming of the suffering servant.
Seek your comfort in Christ, dear friends, and not in the decaying things of this world. Further, recognize that this world is not our home, so why would we ever think we can be contented here?