Thursday, February 17, 2011

The bad stuff

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:65-80

TO CHEW ON: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted.
That I may learn Your statues." Psalm 119:71

Three times in today's reading the psalmist refers to affliction as a positive thing.

Afflicted / affliction is not a word we use commonly these days. I'm not sure why as it does a good job of describing bad stuff. In English it means to distress with continued suffering, trouble greatly, cast down, and overthrow. It is sore distress of body or mind.

The Hebrew word for affliction (anah) is also translated force, disturb, do violence to, humble, oppress, mistreat, ravish, silence, treat harshly, violate, weaken.

The existence and continuation of affliction in a world created and sustained by a sovereign and loving God has taunted the intellect and faith of thinkers forever. Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts faces this problem head on. He presents various popular views held by people in the light of this seeming contradiction about God (for example, God is good, but not all-powerful, or God is powerful but distant and not involved in the day-to-day events of His creation) then takes the entire book to explore how God can be both good and sovereign even in the face of bad stuff continuing.

The psalmist, here at least, doesn't wrestle with that problem. He is quick to name three benefits of his afflictions:

1. They drive him to God and right living:
"Before I was afflicted I went astray
But now I keep Your word" - Psalm 119:67.

2. They help him focus on and learn God's ways:
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted
That I may learn Your statues" - Psalm 119:71.

3. They test and in the end strengthen his faith in God's love:
"I know O Lord, that Your judgments re right
And than in faithfulness You have afflicted me" - Psalm 119:75.

In his book, Bridges names more benefits:

4. They help conform us to Jesus' likeness:
"God has an over-arching purpose for all believers to conform us to the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). He also has a specific purpose for each of us that is His unique tailor-made plan for our individual life (Ephesians 2:10) - Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, Kindle location 392.

5. They advance God's glory:
"As we watch tragic events unfolding...we often are prone to ask God why. The reason we ask is because we do not see any possible good to us or glory to God that can come from the particular adverse circumstances that have come upon us or our loved ones. But is not the wisdom of God — thus the glory of God — more eminently displayed in bringing good out of calamity than out of blessing?" - Trusting God, KL 1160.

"... God's infinite wisdom then is displayed in bringing good out of evil, beauty out of ashes. It is displayed in turning all the forces of evil that rage against His children into good for them. But the good that He brings about is often different from the good we envision" - Trusting God, KL 1171.

What great facts to know in our heads. Oh to know them in our experience and hearts, to the extent that we can say with the psalmist: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted."

PRAYER: Dear God, affliction hurts - me, my family members and friends. Help me to live with You so closely and trust You so implicitly that affliction doesn't threaten my faith in You, but only makes it stronger. Amen.

MORE: More on affliction

All quotes are from Trusting God by Jerry Bridges:

"God knows exactly what He intends we become and He knows exactly what circumstances, both good and bad, are necessary to produce that result in our lives" - KL 1180.

"He is the perfect teacher or coach. His discipline is always exactly suited for our needs. He never over-trains us by allowing too much adversity in our lives" - KL 1197.

"Just as we must learn to obey God one choice at a time, we must learn to trust God one circumstance at a time" - KL 461.

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