As a human being doing her best to survive on planet earth—I’m well acquainted with hardship. The news bleeds stories daily of loss and heartache and my circle of friends has been hit hard this year with unexpected deaths that have shattered hearts and devastated lives.
As a foster parent it’s even more apparent because the children we receive are from homes that have been nearly devoured by affliction. Problems so deep and pervasive they seem beyond repair.
And I would have despaired—but for the Psalmist’s gentle exhortation:
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14
I don’t know what it’ll look like but I pray to see the goodness of the Lord in my life. And I wait for it.
The psalmist blows softly at our flicker of faith, but Paul offers a bold promise—with a contingency.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
“All things Lord? Even this?” I ask.
“All things,” He answers. “Especially this.”
According to the Bible, loving God can transform every sorrow, no matter the depth, duration or causation…into something good. That is a staggering promise.
In All Things for Good, published in 1663, Thomas Watson brilliantly illustrates how the best and worst experiences benefit the soul of a Christian. Here are ten ways affliction serves the believer. The first eight are from Watson, the final two from me.
1. Afflictions to the godly are medicinal. We don’t say “The Lord gives, and the devil takes away”, but the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.* Whoever brings affliction to us—God sends it. (*Watson quoting Augustine). The psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” Psalm 119:71
Joseph’s abasement made way for his advancement. King Manasseh was more beholden to his chains than his crown. The crown made him proud, but the chains made him humble. (2 Chronicles 33:11-13)
2. Affliction teaches us what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning and we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore, God lets loose affliction, and then we feel (its bitterness). A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon.
3. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us to know affliction that we may better know ourselves. We see corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. In prosperity a man seems humble and thankful…but set this man on the fire of affliction and the impatience and unbelief of the heart boils up.
4. Affliction unites our heart. Often in prosperity our hearts are divided, cleaving partly to God and partly to the world. In this way, affliction rids us of idolatry.
5.Affliction conforms us to Christ. He wept, bled and was crowned with thorns. Why do expect to be crowned with roses?
6. Affliction destroys sin. Sin is like the tree that breeds the worm and affliction is like the worm that eats the tree. Affliction by degrees seems to work out the corruption of the heart. The rougher the file, the less rust.
7. Affliction loosens our hearts from the world. When you dig away the earth from the root of a tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth; so God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the earth.
8. Afflictions make way for comfort. God sweetens outward pain with inward peace. “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” John 16:20
9. Affliction grants wisdom. It is a gift to learn from our mistakes. It is a greater gift to learn the first time the mistake is made.
10. Affliction grants compassion and insight. It is a dangerous thing to speak into another’s pain when you’ve not experienced a similar sorrow. Affliction can unite us to others with a giving and receiving of encouragement.
We needn’t seek affliction any more than we need to add sugar to a child’s diet--it will find us, but as Christians we needn’t fear it or crumble in despair under it.
The Apostle Paul give us more. Not only will all things work for good for those who love God, but God Himself will fight for us with His great love turning every hellish dart—tribulation, distress, famine, persecution, nakedness, peril and sword from deathblows to servants. For in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37
There is at least one more way affliction is beneficial. Hebrews 13:14 reminds the believer that she is an exile, seeking a city that is to come. Affliction teaches us to put no hope in the might of the flesh or the power of earthly authority but in Christ alone who is coming again to make all things new.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "