The Value of Affliction

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It is good for me that I have been afflicted, 
That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

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David knew a thing or two about affliction. There were days in his life when he dared not ask, "What else could go wrong?" for fear that he would find out. Betrayal, sickness, personal failure, rejection, the death of loved ones--David experienced it all, and more. The pain was sometimes more than he could bear: "I drench my couch with my tears" (Psa. 6:6). 

And where was God in all of David's troubles? Right where He always had been, patiently guiding David's steps through the tortuous maze of life, toward a final home that would make it all worthwhile. Somehow, David had that awareness of a larger purpose: "And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You" (Psa. 39:7).

That hope made all the difference in how David dealt with the hardships in his life. He learned that the afflictions God sent his way were not retribution nor blind "bad luck," but chastening designed to cleanse away the dross and refine his character. The hard times drove David deeper into God's word, forging a stronger faith in God's power to make it all work out in the end. Rather than blame God for giving him a crummy life, he thanked God for giving him the wake-up calls he needed to keep his priorities straight.

We see this principle of fatherly discipline play out in the lives of many Bible characters. Joseph's rise to prominence in Egypt was facilitated by a long series of injustices and setbacks. Only at the end could he look back at all those sorrows and realize that "God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Job suffered horribly, without a word of explanation from the God who allowed it to happen. Yet he remained convinced that the experience would make him a better man: "When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). Paul saw his sufferings, which were considerable, to be nothing more than a "filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Col. 1:24); it was a privilege to partake of the life of Christ in the interest of a greater purpose.

In a society that is so pampered by pleasure and ease, God's people have likewise become desensitized to the value of affliction. We expect our life of obedience to bring us nothing but good all the time. So when calamity shatters our comfortable little world, our faith is destroyed. Our myopic understanding of suffering leaves us ill-prepared to deal with it. 

Affliction hurts, and it's okay to grieve when it strikes; even Jesus, when faced with His final ordeal, called out to God "with vehement cries and tears" (Heb. 5:7). But underneath the anguish we need a foundation of faith that will enable us to know that, in the end, God will make it all okay. 

Until that day, "it is good that I have been afflicted." I will learn from this experience, no matter how painful--and God will be glorified in my life.