We are in the midst of affliction. The introduction of the novel coronavirus, designated COVID-19, has at this point eliminated 79,381 image-bearers of God. It has wreaked havoc to many nations, particularly Spain and Italy. There are many who have endured great physical affliction, spending days and even weeks suffering through and recovering from COVID-19. In addition to the physical loss and detriments to health, we have witnessed an economic shift unlike any other in history. According to the International Monetary Fund “In the last two weeks in March almost 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits.” Furthermore, the psychological, educational, and social effects of the novel coronavirus will not be realized for years to come. We are, as I mentioned in the first sentence, in the midst of affliction.
How do we handle this? How does the Christian, the believer in the God of heaven, respond to such affliction? We have been studying this word affliction in Psalm 119. It is a soul-nourishing study, and today’s verse is no different.
Psalm 119:107 states, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” (ESV)
Like David, we are severely afflicted. We are overwhelmed, like the shore of the beach breaking under the crushing power of a massive wave. What is David’s response? What does affliction do in the Shepherd of Israel’s life?
Affliction, severe and life-altering affliction, points us to God.
The truth is that affliction points us to God. We are reminded of several truths in the midst of such affliction. First, we are reminded that we are not God. This unseen virus has practically shut the entire world down. COVID-19 is killing people, overwhelming hospitals, destroying economies, etc. We are powerless to stop this virus. We are not God. Secondly, we are reminded of how fragile life is. In my context, Americans enjoy a plethora of pleasures, enjoyments in life, and physical wellness. We have access to healthy food, clean water, and excellent facilities for care. In fact, my wife went to the doctor today to check on our unborn son. Yet, with all of this, we are fragile, Individuals who were otherwise healthy have succumbed to the virus. The lungs of survivors are weak. Large numbers of people are dying. We are fragile. Third, we are reminded of how quickly life can change. At the beginning of the year, I was planning out my preaching and teaching schedule. I had made plans for a conference in the fall, and yet this all came crashing to a sudden halt. Everything changed in a short period of time. What do all of these reminders provide for us? They point us to the One who is God, the One who is not fragile, and the One who is in complete control.
David, in the midst of his severe affliction, says, “Give me life, O LORD, according to your word!”
Affliction drives us to the All-Sufficient One. We turn to God in these afflictions. When faced with physical death, we remember the One who gives eternal life. When faced with the fragility of life, we are reminded of the Rock of our salvation. When faced with economic downfall, we are reminded of the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. When faced with overwhelming, severe affliction, we are reminded of the One who gives life!
There is one more phrase David mentions, following his practice in almost every verse of Psalm 119: the Word of God. David requests life “according to [God’s] Word.” It is God’s Word, David recognizes, that gives life.
We have the most wonderful gift in the sacred Scriptures. But how do they give us life? How, in the midst of severe affliction, do we get life?
- God’s Word provides the proper lens by which we view all of life, including severe affliction.
David recognizes how God’s Word gives us the right (i.e., biblical) lens from which to view life. Difficulties, rather than unfair instances, are tools in the hands of a sovereign and good God. When in the midst of financial ruin, God’s Word reorients our focus from self-sufficiency to God-sufficiency. The list could go on, but let it be said that God’s Word helps us view life with a God-focused lens.
- God’s Word provides the encouragement that Christians are becoming more like Jesus with everything, especially with severe affliction.
We are reminded in Romans 8:28-29 that God is chipping away everything in our lives (as believers) that are not like Jesus Christ. Paul says, “All things work together for good” (Romans 8:28, ESV), and this includes severe affliction. What a comfort that brings, brothers and sisters, that even in the midst of severe affliction, God is fulfilling His promise to make you be more like His Son, Jesus Christ! (Phil. 1:6) God’s Word gives life!
- God’s Word provides the avenue of dealing with the hardships of life, particularly during severe affliction.
Think about Job, the “man [who] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). This man endured severe affliction, losing all ten of his children, most of his wealth, and his physical health in a short period of time (Job 1:6-19; 2:1-8). In a back-and-forth debate between Job and his three friends, God appears on the scene and begins questioning Job (see chapters 38-41). Every question reminds Job that He is not God and that even in the midst of severe affliction Job can (and should) trust God. Without demeaning Job’s pain, or doubting the difficulties he is experiencing, God reorients Job’s focus from his problems to Himself.
This is extremely practical. We have the means to deal with the difficulties of life in God’s Word. This is why I call it a priceless treasure!
We are in the midst of affliction. To what do you turn? Or, more biblically, to Whom do you turn? Brothers and sisters, let us not turn to individuals, governments, scientists, and doctors (though all of those certainly have a part to play!), let us turn to God, and pray that He will give us life through His Word, for His glory!
 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html, accessed 7 April 2020.
 For Spain, see: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/spain/; for Italy, see: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/italy/ (both accessed 7 April 2020).
 Here are a few perspectives: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/01/covid-19-recoveries-it-was-the-most-terrifying-experience-of-my-life, accessed 7 April 2020.
 John Bluedorn, Gita Gopinath, and Damiano Sandri, “An Early View of the Economic Impact of the Pandemic in 5 Charts,” International Monetary Fund blog, 6 April 2020, https://blogs.imf.org/2020/04/06/an-early-view-of-the-economic-impact-of-the-pandemic-in-5-charts/, accessed 7 April 2020.