“Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep Your word.” (Psalm 119:67) “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
Some folks would read what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 119 and wonder if he’s a few cards short of a whole deck. How could anyone view affliction in a positive way? To folks who don’t know the Lord, it makes no sense at all, and to those who do know the Lord, there may actually be a question mark or two.
If you read Psalm 119 all the way through, looking for themes or for repeated words or phrases, you discover words like “Law,” “statutes,” “word,” and “affliction.” Affliction appears in five different verses in Psalm 119, suggesting that affliction and struggle and trouble and problems are at least a sub-theme if not a major theme.
One of the questions that obviously arise is: What is the source of affliction? And there are related questions. Does God cause it? If He does, why does He? It seems like He would want us to have peace and comfort in our lives rather than affliction and problems.
The true source of all affliction is sin. The original sin of man broke everything. There was no affliction prior to that. Adam and Eve messed it up for us all. Their sin is the real source of human ills, but let’s not just play the blame game. The reality is that every one of us has also sinned. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) So, some affliction may simply be the result of our own sin.
Some affliction can result from the violation of physical and other laws. Stand in front of a moving freight train, and guess what will happen. Do drugs, and guess what will happen. Cheat on your spouse, and guess what will happen. Rob a bank, and guess what will happen.
But what about the person who tries to live a good and right life and still goes through a time of affliction? Well, the original sin idea is still at work. The only reason there is death and sickness in the world is because of original sin. But we can’t just point to that. The reality is that there are times when God may allow some affliction to come into our lives. There are times when God may actually allow Satan to afflict us in some way. To what end? That is where the psalmist comes in. Hear him again: Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep Your word… It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.” Affliction is intended to drive us to God, to seek our answers in Him. His intent is to guide us toward a stronger relationship with Him so that we may do what is right. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that a good father will discipline his son so that he will grow in the right direction.
If you find yourself going through affliction, whatever the source may be, turn to God with it and ask Him to apply His redemptive power to it to use it in ways that can glorify Him.
Lord, We still don’t like affliction, but we do pray that as we go through it we may benefit from it spiritually and relationally. Amen.