Comfort, in common use, most often refers to a good mattress, recliner chair, or pair of shoes. C.S. Lewis captured the true meaning of the word in the following excerpt from Mere Christianity.
God is the only comfort. He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way …. Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.
Is God indeed the only comfort? If you’re talking about the comfort stemming from God’s perfect peace in Christ Jesus, yes, he is. Any other comfort is self-delusion. As the saying goes, “If you knew the facts, you’d be terrified.” Is God, in fact, the “supreme terror”? Why else do you think so many people try to deny his existence? In the human mindset, accountability is bad, and accountability to the Supreme Being of the universe is the supreme terror, because the joy-ride will end.
In thinking about beds and chairs, perhaps, “comfortable” would be the correct adjective. And that may apply to religion as well. But it doesn’t apply to following Christ. Sure, we can have perfect peace and unspeakable, glorious joy, but “comfort”? Christ has made us “strangers and aliens” in this world. In a very real sense, we are spies, plotting the world system’s overthrow. Can you imagine an Allied spy in Nazi Germany feeling comfortable? But even spies, fully committed to the freedom fight, have the comfort of fighting for what’s right.
As far as “allies” go, the worldly thought on the matter is, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” With God, you can know what a true ally is, whose alliance is motivated by love rather than convenience. All worldly allies will betray you when your interests conflict with theirs.
“Playing with religion” is church pew-sitters’ default state, recognizable by their attitudes and activities over the week’s other 166 hours. If you seem different in church, you’re playing the religion game, which is in fact, playing games with God. While he’s your soul’s lover, he doesn’t much like games.
Where Lewis says, “… the Christian religion is … a thing of unspeakable comfort,” I must disagree in part. The Christian religion might be a “thing,” even a comfortable thing, but the Christian faith is the intangible, spiritual marriage of Christ with his church.
If you didn’t pick up on Lewis’ “dismay” sentence, read it again—er, please (one must remain polite, even when making a point). What he calls “dismay” is conviction from God’s Holy Spirit for the sin in your life. You must experience that, before you can ask forgiveness and turn away from your sin. If you turn to religion for comfort, you’ve turned all the way around to follow your own way again. The true comfort comes from following and growing in Christ, who is the Way. And as Lewis says, the alternative is ultimate despair.