“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” -Ps. 34.19
It is a “gospel” of naivete which claims that once a man comes to faith in Christ he will never know affliction. To state the Biblical view clearly, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14.22) According to Luke, this was a word of encouragement to the saints.
This Pauline perspective was expressed thusly:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -1 Cor. 12.10
“…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way by great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities…” -2 Cor. 6.4
For Paul, remarkable sufferings did not disqualify him from the blessing of God, but were the commendation of his ministry, that “in every way by great endurance” he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.”
On every front the Biblical writers recognized that suffering was integral to the life of faith. It is on the ground of affliction that our faith is tempered, reinforced, and proven. The modern paradigm has digressed into a tooth-and-nail scrap for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and seldom do the saints operate on the basis of apostolic wisdom, which leads us to becoming “broken bread and poured out wine” for the sake of Christ.
We need to rightly interpret our present affliction and God-orchestrated tensions, for so long as we have as our ambition the circumvention of all hardship, we impede the formation of Christ in our own life and character. To circumvent the cross is to obstruct the flow of resurrection life.
Whenever a thing becomes difficult in personal experience, we are in danger of blaming God, but it is we who are in the wrong, not God; there is some perversity somewhere that we will not let go. Immediately we do, everything becomes as clear as daylight.
….The attitude must be one of complete reliance on God. When once we get there, there is nothing easier than living the saintly life; difficulty comes in when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.
-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Dec. 14th selection
We need to recognize that in large part, difficulties are permitted to come upon us “when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.” Paul himself, in all of his apostolic character and stature, was brought to the view that his “thorn in the flesh” was meant to keep his own soul in check before the Lord, lest he “exalt” himself. Whatever that “thorn” was, he had prayed for a release from it, and finally concluded at the encouragement of the Lord that it was to remain as a life-giving affliction.
We see here the two-fold view of Paul, for he had seen mighty deliverances, and for this reason he pleaded with the Lord for a release. But when the Lord gave word that His grace was “sufficient” to carry Paul through, immediately he interpreted the affliction as a safeguard for his soul. He saw that his own propensity for self-exaltation, which was yet alive in his recesses after years of apostolic labor, needed the release of grace that could only be attained through suffering.
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces. -Ps. 119.71-72
The “law” or wisdom of His “mouth” must become “better” to us “than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” For Paul, the wisdom of God prevailed over his own, and so he recognized the goodness of God, even in the land of affliction. Indeed, he was able to discern the kindness of God, not only in the midst of affliction, but through the affliction itself.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want. (Ps. 34.8-9)
The goodness and fear of the Lord, when rightly apprehended, will shepherd us well in the barren grasslands of trial, and lead us to the waters that “make glad the city of God.”
‘Fear of the Lord’ in Psm. 34 means to recognize YHWH in His actuality, particularly in His reality for salvation, and to behave accordingly.
….He who fears YHWH recognizes and acknowledges His reality.
….The righteous experience the reality and the saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress.
(Hans Joachim Kraus, PSALMS: A Continental Commentary, Fortress Press)
The “saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress,” is the great work of ringing out our propensity for self-exaltation, so that through and through we might be infused with the light of His glorious character and wisdom.
Whether suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake, friction in relationships, or experiencing some other form of affliction, we can be sure that the Lord means to effect His “saving activity” by the very means of that hardship. “Death works in us, so life” does as well, in our own hearts and unto those souls whom the Lord has put us in touch with. This is an apostolic view too infrequently celebrated by the Church, but when we are apprehended by it, we take on a whole new panoramic outlook, and Jesus Christ has the preeminence in our lives.
This is to be supremely desired.