Affliction. The very word conjurs up unpleasant images, such as pain, misery, and oppression, No one really likes that word, especially when it relates to themselves. Yet, most of us have been the objects of affliction, have gone through times of affliction, or will soon be afflicted. As Christians, how should we view affliction?
As always the key is in the Scriptures. First, we need to start with the knowledge that affliciton is not random. Psalm 103:19 tells us that the Lord's sovereignty rules over all; and Romans 11:36 tells us that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him. So we see that there is not situation that the Lord is not sovereign over, and does not pass through His counsel. A few years ago, Pastor James Boice of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was diagnosed with liver cancer already in an advanced stage. In his last address to his beloved congregation he said, "I know that many of you are praying for my healing, and I appreciate that, but let us remember that the same God we are praying to for my healing could have kept me from getting cancer." Dr. Boice understood the sovereignty, the Divine providence of God in the affliciton that had come upon him.
Secondly, since affliction is not random, and is under the aegis of God, it should not surprise us when it happens. I Peter 4:12 tells us to not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon us, as though some strange thing is happening to us. James 1:2 tells us that trials will come upon us; and I Peter 1:6 tells us that trials are necessary. So to think that our life will not have times of afflicition and suffering is not reality. The direction or source of the afflicition may be a shock or a surprise, but not the affliction itself. There is a well known pastor who many years ago was in a staff meeting and was in the middle of telling his staff how thankful he was for them, and how much he appreciated their friendship when one of them replied, "If you think we are your friends, you've got another think coming," and the entire staff resigned and left, as that staff member had secretly engineered a revolt against him. Needless to say, he was devastated; and at his church that day is referred to as Black Tuesday.
Thirdly, since affliction is not random, and is under the aegis of God, it must, it does have a purpose. Affliction is purposeful, it is useful, both to God and for us. I Peter 1 and 4 tell us that trials prove out the genuineness and the quality of our faith. James 1 tells us that affliction produces endurance, and that endurance makes us more mature and complete in our faith. Afflicition does not come upon us because of the whimsy of God, or because God is being capricious. It always has a higher aim, an eternal benefit. God's dealings with us are not just for the here and now, but also for the hereafter, as He has our eternal good constantly in His mind. To paraphrase I Peter 1:6-7, at the revelation of Christ we will not stand before Him empty handed wondering if we will be accepted, but will have a faith in hand that has been put to the test and found to be the real thing. This proven faith will then be the source of our praise, honor, and glory. Afflicition is the red badge of our faith. Also, Psalm 119:75 says, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." Affliction from God always has a purpose, a good purpose, and it is because of God's faithfulness that He brings it about.
Fourthly, there are some present benefits to affliction, as well. Psalm 119:67 says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word." Affliction brings us back in line with the word of God. So we need to examine ourselves in light of our affliction to see where we might have gone astray. Psalm 119:71 tells us, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes." Through affliction God teaches us His word, and we see so many times that in the midst of affliction God's word comes to us to teach us, to comfort us, to direct us, to sustain us. It could be something new and unlearned from His word, or it might be something we already know that comes to us; but in and through affliction His word becomes part of us, a part of the fabric of who we are.
Finally, note that in verse 71 the Psalmist says it is good for us to be afflicted. We know that God's purposes are good, but we also get some insight into why affliction is good from the word itself. This Hebrew word for affliction, along with a few of its close cousins, means to find oneself in a stunted, lowly, humble position, or to be brought low. Why is it good for us to be in this lowly humble position? Because that is when we are most receptive to the Lord, and when we walk the closest with Him. It is when we are humble that His grace is most available. It is when we are humble that we see our need and His supply. It is when we are humble that we are the most cognizant of our sin, and the most repentant. It is when we are humble that we are also the most dependent and the less self-sufficient. It has been said that if dependence is your goal, then weakness is an advantage.
The two examples I used above were both pastors, and that is intentional. Pastors are afflicted, and it is good for them to be afflicted, just like everyone else. In fact, it may be more needful for us to be afflicted. If you have read about life of Calvin, who many consider the greatest theologian/pastor of the church, you read of a life of almost constant affliction, but also a life greatly used of God. The genesis for this post comes from what I have been thinking about over the last several days. As you may know, I am bi-vocational and last week was a difficult week workwise, plus my son made a trip to the Urgent Care center to have stitches in his chin. Then on Sunday morning while preparing the location where we have church, I stepped off of the stage while looking another direction, tore ligaments in my ankle, and had to be taken to the emergency room. During the incident and since then, the word of God has come to my mind...it is good for me to be afflicted, in faithfulness God has afflicted me, don't be surprised at the ordeal, consider it all joy that you are being matured and completed, trials are necessary, trust in the Lord God with all your heart and don't lean on your own understanding, God is able to work all things together for good for those who love Him, His power is perfected in weakness; and another from Psalm 119:65 "You have dealt well with Your servant according to Your word.
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune may appear random, and even unfair, to the world; but for us as children of the living God, we can rest assured that they have passed through the counsel of God for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. So, my friends, let us give thanks unto the Lord when affliction comes our way, because it is indeed good for us to be afflicted.