Affliction is good.
You may read those words and, like me, say “What?” The concept of affliction is one that immediately brings forth feelings of discomfort and dread. We are creatures that love our comfort.
We love for the comforts of a fire on a cold and wet day. We long for the warmth of our beds. We leap with joy when we can shed our work clothes and don our sweats. But affliction? It is the troll under the bridge, baring our way on the road to comfort and ease. It is the dragon guarding the gold of comfort hidden in the cave. We dislike comfort in the most intense way imaginable.
So how in the world can affliction be good?
David pens this conundrum,
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71, NASB)
There are a few things that are important to note at the outset. These thoughts will then, I hope, help to provide an explanation of how affliction can be good.
IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS A PASSIVE EXPERIENCE
David states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted.” That is, he experienced affliction. He received it. He endured it. People and circumstances afflicted David. He was the receiver, not the instigator.
In our own lives, we do not willingly set out seeking affliction (those who do usually have other issues). It is thrust upon us, like the breaking waves crashing on the seashore. We receive the bad report from the doctor. Our employer gives us the pink slip. That one person continues to drive us crazy.
Our afflictions usually come to us, not the other way around. Why is this important? First, we must remember that God is sovereign. He is in control, and regardless of how deep the affliction may be, it comes from God’s hand. The unimaginable comfort brought by the truths of Romans 8:28-29 provide wells of encouragement. Secondly, it also helps us realize that there are times when we can do everything right and still experience affliction. It is a theological error to think right behavior will bring blessings (read through the book of Job to have this view corrected). However, when we experience trials, we can take comfort that it may not be from our own fault.
IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION INCREASED LEARNING
I remember hearing in chapel this same thought. One of my professors would say, “You’ll learn more about God through conflict than you will from a systematic theology book!” I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “This guy is insane. There is no way that would happen.” Enter life and ministry, and the lesson holds true.
David realized that affliction brought a deeper intuition to God’s truth. The affliction David experienced enhanced his learning of God’s Word. He learned God’s statutes. Learning requires repetition and interaction. David’s love for God’s Word provided a rich environment in which affliction could yield positive fruits. But it was only enhanced by affliction.
This can help us endure affliction. Rather than dreading it, we can learn from it. We can grow through it. But only as we seek God’s Word. That is the key difference of Christian suffering. God’s Word is a unique tool, inspired by God, to provide growth toward Christlikeness. Affliction is an enhancer of growth. It is a growth activator, if you will.
IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS TEMPERED BY GOD’S WORD
The last point that stands out in this verse is the fact that God’s Word tempers our affliction. It is only by God’s Word that we understand that all things, including affliction and suffering, are used for good in the Christian’s life (Romans 8:28-29). Affliction turns us away from ourselves, our own accomplishments and abilities, toward God and His truth.