Learning From Affliction – Part 1

“You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word. Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes. The arrogant have forged a lie against me; with all my heart I will observe Your precepts. Their heart is covered with fat, but I delight in Your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” – Psalms 119:65‭-‬72 NASB

In last week’s message, I addressed, among other verses, Psalm 119:61. This is where David said that although the cords of the wicked had encircled him, he had not forgotten God’s law. 

The main point was that even as covenant people, there are no guarantees that we will be kept from difficulty in this life. No matter what the storybook preachers say, Scripture expressly teaches the exact opposite. We will face tribulation and trial. But, it also says that when this happens, we are to look to King Jesus, who promised us peace amid the storm.

Trouble & Tribulation

To support this point, I shared two passages. The first was 2 Kings 6:15-17, and the second was 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. In the case of Elisha and his servant, the lesson learned is that even though our enemy may be encircling us, we can—and should—rest in the truth that God is unfailingly working all things for our good. We may need spiritual eyes to see this, but it is true nonetheless. 

On the other hand, when we’re afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or even struck down (like the Apostle Paul was when he wrote to Corinth), we can rest assured that God will never allow us to be crushed, filled with despair, forsaken, or destroyed. (That is under a correct understanding of those words.)

When we’re afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or even struck down (like Paul when he wrote to Corinth), we can rest assured that God will never allow us to be crushed, filled with despair, forsaken, or destroyed. Click To Tweet

This thought fills me with courage. The overall idea I want us to grasp here is that affliction and pain are very real, very tangible parts of our present life—but so is God’s promise to sustain us through each hardship.

Sustaining through Hardship

I want to expand this idea by showing:

  1. where affliction comes from, and 
  2. that in affliction, God’s desire is to train us in righteousness. 

I also argue that affliction is a necessary instrument in our training. So again, God will sustain us, but He also desires to train us. This is why our attempts to short-circuit pain through believing a false gospel is actually bad news…but we can deal with that later.

Verses 65-67

“You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word. Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” – Psalms‬ ‭119:65-67‬ ‭NASB‬‬

The first thing we notice here is David’s shift from petition to praise. David said that God had dealt “well” with him. Up to this point, David had asked (many times and in many ways) for God to deal well with him, but here it seems as though God had finally answered his petitions. How God answered, David, will become evident to us as we read the verses in context. 

David followed his praise with a request. He asked God to teach him. Do we ask God to teach us? When we do, do we allow for the idea that our learning might come through difficulty and pain and trial? This is an important idea because whether we see the context as a whole or not, God dealing well with us is never the end in itself. Our training in righteousness has always been God’s mission. 

Another way of looking at this would be to think about Jesus’s death on the cross. Jesus’s substitutionary death was God dealing well with us. But, that was only the beginning of the journey (and that’s not to downplay our Lord’s work in any way). 

We were given new life through Jesus’s sacrifice, but that new life only grows through the process of sanctification. In other words, God dealt well with us on the cross (by dealing harshly with Christ), but our training was—and still is—the aim. Why? Because, through this training, we are molded and shaped into the imagers we are.

We were given new life through Jesus’s sacrifice, but that new life only grows through the process of sanctification. Click To Tweet

Here’s where we begin to dive a bit deeper, though. Do you notice what David said? “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” What we are seeing here is the right result of affliction—course correction. 

What David was not saying is that he had once obeyed, became afflicted, and then kept God’s word again as if affliction had pushed him off course somehow. That’s not how this works. Affliction isn’t what stops us from obeying. No, it is we ourselves who stop us from obeying. 

The line might be read with more clarity if we restate it in this way, “I went astray, then I was afflicted, and through that affliction, I learned to keep your word again.” This helps us understand that affliction, in some way, brought David back to God’s path.

Today’s Church has a deep aversion to the idea of purpose in affliction. To a large degree, this is because we’ve bought into the lie that an all-knowing, all-good God would never allow people to suffer, especially His own people. Not to mention, according to this modern view, God Himself would never use bad or evil things to bring about good. 

Today’s Church has a deep aversion to the idea of purpose in affliction. We’ve bought into the lie that an all-knowing, all-good God would never allow people to suffer. Click To Tweet

When Scripture says that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, the modern church puts their own sanitized spin on it, reading instead that God works all good things together for our good. This is simply not what the text says—it’s not what experience shows either. 

God works ALL things means exactly what it says—that God works ALL things together for our good. He works the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, it just so happens that one of those “all” things is affliction.

God works ALL things means exactly what it says—that God works ALL things together for our good. He works the good, the bad, and the ugly. Click To Tweet

Let’s Talk

Tomorrow, we will begin looking at how affliction comes into our lives and the different avenues God uses to refine us. Until then, I’d like to hear if you’ve believed that God didn’t want you to experience suffering? How did that affect your faith, your prayers, your relationships? Comment below or email me at nathan@nathanfranckhauser.com.

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