When affliction comes our way, what is God teaching us? What is the value of affliction? In Psalm 119:71 the Psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” Is this our confession when God sends us afflictions or do we murmur and complain that God does not understand what He is doing? So often the latter response is the case. We think we know better than God because we have not learned the important lessons in afflictions. But there are invaluable lessons that we can learn from afflictions.
One lesson we can learn during our afflictions is that they are not about us, but about God. When God sends us an affliction, it is to get our attention to the fact that God is in control of our lives. Afflictions are meant to draw our attention to God. This fact alone is worth every affliction that God could send our way. So often we go through life without little thought of God. Afflictions have a way of bringing life to a screeching halt and leading us to see that we are finite human beings and God is the infinite, Almighty and all-knowing God. That is why the Psalmist said it was good to have been afflicted. It drove him back to God and His statutes. Similarly, affliction ought to drive us back to God and His Word. As we do so, we will learn that God is not afflicting us arbitrarily, but that He is doing so as our Heavenly Father and that He might do us good at our latter end (Deut. 8:5,16).
Another lesson we can learn during affliction is that God is more concerned about our salvation and sanctification than He is concerned about our usefulness in any particular area of life. That is a staggering thought! When sickness sets in or unemployment hits, or natural disasters strike, our lives can be rendered seemingly useless in a moment. Our first thought is, what am I going to do now? But have you ever considered this thought, “What is God telling me now? How am I going to be changed through this affliction? How will I be more fit for glory?” Such a mindset gives a different perspective in affliction – it gives a certain element of sweetness to know that Christ is being formed in us, rather than our own wretched sinful nature being perpetuated.
Again, afflictions can draw out what is in our own hearts. Samuel Rutherford once wrote to a lady during her affliction in this way, “Your heart has been pierced open by this affliction to show what is really in your heart.” Afflictions are sent to show our true mettle to others around us. We are always giving a witness in the midst of affliction. Afflictions will tell others where our trust is – whether in God or in ourselves. Afflictions will be used or abused. When they are used rightly, we will use them to witness to others about the goodness of God. When we abuse them, we will complain and murmur against God for dealing us another blow. What is in your heart?
Is it good that you have been afflicted because it brought you to reckon with God again? Is it good that you have been afflicted because it brought you to trust in Christ for the first time or afresh? Is it good that you have been afflicted because it taught you to glorify God and be a witness of the goodness of God to others? If so, that is the only way it can be good to have been afflicted.