Affliction. Nobody wants it. But everyone gets it.
I have read 580 chapters of the Bible since August 5. Some days I read 10 chapters, and some days I only read 5. But in my reading I have noticed a recurrent theme - Suffering. Affliction. Misery. Tribulation. Trials.
I've read about the afflictions of Job, who lost everything (animals, wealth, his children, and his health) and the trials of Naomi, bereft of her husband and both her sons, living in a strange land. I've read about those who served idols and suffered tumours and barrenness, and about Hannah, who loved God and prayed so hard for a son that Eli thought she was drunk in the middle of the day. I've noticed that no man suffered more than our Saviour did - He suffered so much that He sweat great drops of blood - a sign of great duress. And yet Stephen suffered martyrdom, and was joined by many in white robes before the throne of God, calling out, "How long, O Lord, how long?"
Some suffered blindness or lameness so that they could bring glory to Jesus as He healed them. Others were thrown to lions or made to endure illness or poverty or loneliness or tragedy.
Roget's Thesaurus puts it like this:
afflictionn.suffering, pain, distress, trouble, misfortune, tribulation, trial, hardship, adversity, misery, wretchedness, calamity, catastrophe, disaster, ailment, infirmity, sickness, disease, disorder, grief, woe, sorrow, care, unhappiness, heartache, cross, cross to bear, ordeal, torment, scourge, plight, difficulty, burden, curse, bane, visitation; see also difficulty, pain.
- affliction implies pain, suffering, or distress imposed by illness, loss, misfortune, etc.;
- trial suggests suffering that tries one's endurance, but in a weaker sense refers to annoyance that tries one's patience;
- tribulation connotes severe affliction continuing over a long and trying period;
- misfortune is applied to a circumstance or event involving adverse fortune or to the suffering or distress occasioned by it
Joni Eareckson Tada knows about suffering. She's spent the past 40 years stuck in a wheelchair, without the use of her arms or her legs. I listened recently to a talk she gave called God's Jewels. She taught that Job was right when he said, "Man is born to trouble, surely as sparks fly upward." She reminded her audience that Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble." Trouble, affliction, pain, suffering - all pages in the textbook that teaches us who we really are.
And who are we? Sinners, saved by grace. Saints, in need of more grace. We are people who are being conformed day by day to the image of Jesus Christ by the Hand of God, and the tools He uses to do so involve pain and suffering. Joni said,
God is concerned about your poverty or my pain. He’s concerned about your broken heart or my broken neck, but girls, those things are not His ultimate focus. He cares about that stuff, but those things are merely symptoms of the root and real problem. God cares most, not about making you and me comfortable, but about teaching us to hate our transgression and to grow up spiritually to love Him.The simple formula is described in 1 John chapter 2, where it says, “If anyone obeys His Word, God’s love is truly made complete in him” (verse 5). This is how we know we are in Christ, and the good news is, God is the master jeweler.He rules. He orders. He commands. He knows exactly how to handle that hammer, and He is happy to do good toward you. Just remember that His idea of good is to make you more like Jesus, and if our Savior learned obedience through the things He suffered, should the Master expect less from You and me?
That's what we're learning - obedience! God is at work, moulding and fashioning His children, conforming them to the image of Christ, making them LIKE HIM!
So, do not lose heart. Don't be discouraged if your car breaks down and your husband is out of work. Don't despair if you just found out that your baby, growing under your heart, has a serious heart defect. Do not fear if you are dying of cancer or suffering with Crohn's Disease or Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson's. God is using this suffering, too!
Do not lose heart if your children have rebelled. Do not lose heart if you just found out your husband has cheated on you, or embezzled a fortune, or walked out on you and the children. God will work all things for His glory, and your good.
2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
God will comfort you in all your affliction - no matter what form it takes. Health issues, financial trials, relationship difficulties; rape, murder, betrayal... God will comfort His people. He promised. His word is true.
2 Corinthians 1:4
who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
So don't be surprised by your pain and your sorrow. Don't ever start thinking, "I've suffered so much - so now God's going to give me an easy path for a while." Joni says, "Hey, God, it's quadriplegia!" Hasn't she suffered enough?
Well, no. Not until she's run her race and finished her course. Until then, she will continue to have pain and trials. She will continue to feel frustrated and lash out in anger from time to time. She will continue to be claustrophobic at times, and it's because God loves her very much.
From Streams in the Desert:
God takes the most eminent and choicest of His servants for the choicest and most eminent afflictions. They who have received most grace from God are able to bear most afflictions from God. Affliction does not hit the saint by chance, but by direction. God does not draw His bow at a venture. Every one of His arrows goes upon a special errand and touches no breast but his against whom it is sent. It is not only the grace, but the glory of a believer when he can stand and take affliction quietly. --Joseph Caryl
Can you stand and take affliction quietly?