When we read these words, we revel in the mesmerizing sound of “my only comfort.” It washes over us like we’re getting a spiritual massage.
But let’s face it—we don’t totally buy that answer, do we? We certainly don’t live it. My only comfort . . . really? Not a chance. Sure, the notion smells like a Sunday afternoon pot roast simmering in the oven, but do we ever actually sit down to eat?
Certainly most Christians would be quick to affirm that yes, Jesus is our comfort. Likely he is even our chief comfort, our highest comfort, our most valuable comfort. But our only comfort? There’s the rub. That small word—only—raises the bar pretty high.
There are times when Christians experience Jesus as their only comfort. This feeling seems to arise most often when they are stripped of all other consolation. For example, Christians experiencing intense persecution in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq probably don’t have many other comforts to lean on except Jesus.
This observation seems consistent with the historical framework in which the Heidelberg was written. In those days, life expectancy was low; half of the babies died before the age of 2. The ravages of war were always imminent, and diseases like the Bubonic Plague decimated populations. Again, there wasn’t much to cling to but Jesus. This close proximity to suffering is why some catechism scholars prefer the translation "consolation" rather than "comfort."
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m not saying that modern North American Christians don’t love Jesus. I know we do. But more often than not, Jesus just isn’t enough.
Let’s be honest for a moment. Isn’t it true that we want Jesus, but we want
Jesus and our health?
Jesus and a comfortable retirement?
Jesus and our kids to go to church?
Jesus and our deceased loved one back at our side?
Jesus and we want our church to play the right music?
Maybe we do love Jesus, but we also want more. And that means he’s not our only comfort in life and death, is he?
But perhaps there is another way of looking at that high bar these words set for us.
In this life, maybe “my only comfort” is more of an article of childlike faith and less of an experiential fact. Perhaps “my only comfort” is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not yet seen, and we get the best glimpses of Jesus, our only comfort, in the midst of suffering.
In that case, confessing “my only comfort” lies at the very heart of authentic faith formation. And yet I believe there are times, in spite of all our other “comforts”—and contemporary life is certainly choking us with its comforts—when we do “get it,” if only for a fleeting moment.
Maybe “my only comfort” is our North Star that shines all the brighter in the storms and as our life’s journey draws closer to the other side. I’ve heard it said that getting older is a relentless series of losses. And yet, as these losses accumulate, the ship gets lighter and frees our love for Jesus to accelerate and soar.
So when we can’t sleep at night because we long for Jesus and our health, and our kids’ obedience, and our spouse’s presence, may we also rest our head on our pillow captivated by the rapturous hope of him whom we believe to be our only comfort, feasting on the promise of his own dear presence.
My only comfort? Yes, really.
My Only Comfort—Really?
- What is your personal response to Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism? What makes it so meaningful to so many people?
- Is it true that belonging to Jesus is our only comfort? Or is it more realistic to confess that that is our main comfort among many? Describe other things in which you find comfort.
- Is belonging to Jesus enough comfort for us? Is it wrong to want and aspire to more comforts than that?
- Schuringa writes, “maybe ‘my only comfort’ is more of an article of childlike faith and less of an experiential fact. Perhaps ‘my only comfort’ is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not yet seen, and we get the best glimpses of Jesus, our only comfort, in the midst of suffering.” How does that help to distinguish this one comfort from all the others?
- Schuringa observes that as we age and/or approach death, our many comforts keep on dropping away. What’s the only comfort that can sustain us through death itself? Talk about how this explains the popularity and importance of this Q&A.
- Does the comfort of Q&A 1 only kick in on our deathbed? Read carefully the rest of the answer to Q1 and discuss how that confession also impacts our lives right now.