Being Positive About What Is Painful
The man who wrote the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm was as human as you and me. Consequently, affliction for him was no different from what it is for any of us: painful. Yet he speaks so positively about it. He says in fact that it was good for him to be afflicted (verse 71). And here is why. He was spiritually the better for it (verse 67). God’s design in it was his benefit and blessing (verses 71 & 75), and that design was achieved (verse 67).
Let’s think about the details.
The reason for it
We appreciate the Psalmist’s openness with us. He admits that prior to his affliction he had gone astray (verse 67). He had not been walking as a man of God ought. His great need was to begin again to live in obedience to God (verse 67). Or as he puts it in verse 71, to learn God’s decrees i.e. to understand more fully the things God required of him and conform to them more fully. And God’s reason for sending suffering into his life was to secure those important ends. Hence the declaration of verse 75, ‘I know, O Lord, that . . . in faithfulness you have afflicted me’. It was nothing less than the Lord’s commitment to his soul that dictated hardship for him.
It would of course be quite wrong to say that recovery from sin is always God’s reason for ordaining suffering. In the case of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, for instance, the design of God was to keep him from sin: ‘lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations’ (2 Cor. 12:4). Far more clearly than we ourselves do, perhaps, God sees that we are in danger and for our spiritual safety permits trouble to enter our lives. At other times his aim is the testing and strengthening of our faith. Sometimes, too, it is primarily for the sake of others. That is certainly how it was with Joseph.
The common denominator in all these examples (and they could easily be added to) is our benefit. God’s intention is not to harm but to bless. He wishes to make us holier, happier, stronger, more useful believers, believers whose lives are a blessing to others and most glorifying to himself. And that is why – like the Psalmist – we can be positive about what is painful.
The verdict on it
Looking back on his experience, the Psalmist not surprisingly declares that it was good for him to be afflicted (verse 71). It had doubtless been unpleasant. Affliction is never nice. But it had its designed effect. God sent it to bring about his recovery and that was precisely the fruit of it: ‘Now’, he says, ‘I obey your word’ (verse 71). Wasn’t he justified therefore in passing on it the verdict that he did?
And if affliction brings the blessing of God into our own lives we can speak no less positively. We do not deny the pain of it for an instant. Suffering is suffering. But if it has had the effect of drawing us nearer to God, or of strengthening our faith, or of keeping us from sin, or of recovering us from backsliding, or of giving to us a greater understanding of the truth, or of deepening our longing for heaven, our verdict ought surely to be the same: for us too it was good to be afflicted.
David Campbell is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
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