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Death and Dying


The Affliction of Man

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Affliction, in General

The study of affliction throughout the Scriptures can be rather confusing. In the poetic books of the Bible it is not uncommon to encounter a deliberate contradiction. Many verses in Proverbs are followed by what appears to be an exact opposite. A literal interpretation in this instance is not possible. What the writer is trying to get across is that sometimes it works this way, and sometimes it doesn't. We shall try to sort out affliction today as it applies to men in general, then to the wicked and then to the Saints.

Apologetic Argument

It is well recognized in apologetics that there is one argument which can be used to deny the existence of God. That argument springs from the existence of evil and affliction. The argument goes something like this: you tell me that God is omnipotent. You tell me that he is omniscient; you tell me that he is love. How then, can a loving God allow evil and affliction in this world? If he is loving, he would not want to see his children suffer. If he is omnipotent and omniscient, he would have the power and the wisdom to make this happen.

The answer to this depends upon whether or not you are talking about evil or election. Let's take up evil first. The answer can be put simply: either God is not omnipotent, or he is not love, or he is not finished with us yet. The judgment is yet to come, and this will dispose of evil in a righteous way. Affliction, however, is a bit different: why is it that the innocent (or those that we think are innocent) still suffer? There is a similar answer; when Christ returns, he will wipe away every tear from every eye. This seems somehow less satisfactory; after all, punishing evil after it happens is pretty much the model that we use in this world ourselves. But we try to prevent pain if we can. So the answer must be a bit more complicated than that. In fact, we must examine affliction as it affects all mankind, then those who are wicked, and then the righteous. In each case we shall see the rationale behind affliction — and a good bit else too.


One simple answer is given by Job: we are born to it. It's normal, it's natural, and there is no going beyond that statement. Do not inquire beyond what you can know. It's just natural, he says.[1] We must remember that Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Job did not have the benefit of having read Genesis; Moses evidently comes along quite a bit later. It is a common fact in interpreting the Bible that God reveals these things progressively. He doesn't tell the people everything all at once; indeed, there are things we are still wondering about today that will be clear only when Christ returns. But Moses gives us another answer: affliction as a result of the fall of man.[2]

As you might expect, if suffering and affliction are the result sin in the world, sometimes affliction is used to correct the sinners.[3] But this is not a sure thing; the operative word is "sometimes."

God's Role in Affliction

This does not mean that God is not interested in the affliction of people in this world. Indeed, particularly in regard to affliction of an entire nation, God determines the measure of that affliction — it's not something that just happens.[4] He determines what that suffering and affliction might be. We should not conclude from this that he does this willingly, or as a point of pleasure for himself. I should not have to point this out. But there are several people out there of my acquaintance who feel that the God of the Old Testament is a vindictive so and so, only appeased by the sacrifice of his son. If that's your view, it would make sense to think that God is a great deal of pleasure out of afflicting mankind. He does not[5].

He does, however, sometimes specify how long this affliction will continue[6]. This is particularly true with regard to prophecy; he uses the length of affliction as a prophetic point so that you will know that these matters are in his hands. Those with a long background in the Bible will remember that Daniel prayed for the returned to Jerusalem based upon the prophecy given to Jeremiah.

We should always remember that such affliction is less than what is deserved[7]. If this was strictly a matter of justice, God would give us what we deserve: hell. God is not only awesome, but he is pure. Evil cannot survive in his presence; sin cannot survive his presence. In a sense, God shows his grace to all mankind by not annihilating us and starting all over with, say, a collection of lemurs.

Affliction of the Wicked

We may now consider God's role in the affliction of the wicked, as specifically called out in the Scripture.

God's Role

It may surprise you, but one of the things God does in afflicting the wicked is to bring glory to himself[8]. We are specifically told that he hardens Pharaoh's heart to bring glory to himself. We must not think this is a case of an overstretched ego on God's part. Remember that in this instance he is trying to teach the Jews just how awesome he is. Knowing his glory is to our benefit. There are some other factors at play:

·         God derides the wicked — the usual phrase is "laughs at" – as he afflicts them. You can understand this if you think of the disparity between the power of God and the power of the wicked. Most of the wicked of this world are very much impressed with their own power. They don't think God matters a hill of beans. This is an incredibly wrong perspective, and from God's point of view a laughably wrong perspective.

·         One of the reasons that he does this is because of the wicked persecution of the Saints[9]. It is not surprising that God afflicts those were coming after his people.

·         How does God choose among the wicked? One thing he particularly looks for is for the wicked who are impenitent. If God is afflicting you, in the hopes of correcting your behavior, and you don't respond — do you think He will lighten upon you[10]?

To What Effect?

It doesn't happen as often as we might like, but sometimes the affliction of God produces humbling of the wicked. I suspect this is one reason he does it; while it doesn't work in all cases, nor even most cases, it does work in some[11].

Sometimes all it does is put the fear of God them; referred to as a sudden terror. It's the same sensation you get when you rollover and realize you've been sleeping close to an artillery shell that could go off at any minute. In Psalm 73, the psalmist expresses his frustration with the Fact that the wicked seem to never get anything wrong. But then his perception is enhanced, and he sees this:

Psalms 73:12-19 NASB  Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  (13)  Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence;  (14)  For I have been stricken all day long And chastened every morning.  (15)  If I had said, "I will speak thus," Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.  (16)  When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight  (17)  Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end.  (18)  Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction.  (19)  How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!


The same should not fear such a fate; God does not do such a thing to us[12]. But the truth is that such treatment usually does not produce the desired result; the wicked usually go on being wicked — it's just that they're angrier now[13]. We'd like to think that such suffering and affliction, applied to the wicked, would result in their conversion. It usually doesn't[14]. But it does do one thing: it sets an example for those around them[15]. We don't often think of that. We like to think that the wicked get what they deserve, or that they are converted by their afflictions, but the truth is that God often uses their afflictions as a warning to others. So the next time that you look at someone who is desperately wicked, and getting away with it, remember that that person's afflictions may someday influence someone else to see the truth.

Affliction of the Saints

Of course, we'd like to think that the Saints are never afflicted. Our experience indicates otherwise.

Why Do the Good Guys Suffer?

This is the question we really want answered. If the wicked suffer, that's okay with us. If mankind in general suffers, well, that's life. But if we suffer, we want to know what the problem is. God gives us some insight on this:

·         Remember, this just might be his loving, faithful discipline. That's why Paul tells us to examine ourselves[16]. The idea is to learn from our actions, and correct our behavior. We evidently need to do this quite frequently; that's why were told to do it every week at communion. (Visitors to this site whose particular brotherhood of faith espouses monthly or even yearly communion might want to ponder this.)

·         It is quite clearly stated that affliction may indeed be the result of spreading the gospel[17].

·         But whether or not we are in evangelist, or just an ordinary Christian, it makes no difference: affliction in our lives is to be expected[18].

There is of course consolation in affliction. But we shall examine that at another time.

Does God Favor the Righteous?

We would certainly hope so, right? In the midst of affliction, however, it's hard to recognize that were being favored. But we might look at it from a little bit different perspective as we examine the Scriptures:

·         Our suffering is light compared to the glory that will be ours at the return of Christ[19]. We are just passing through this world; we have all of eternity ahead of us. If we look at our sufferings of afflictions from the perspective of just this world, they may seem overwhelming. They often do. But considered from the perspective of eternity and the rewards promised us, our sufferings and afflictions are minor things indeed.

·         In a very real sense when we suffer for the cause of Christ, it is a proof of our faith[20]. It's something like knowing that you're on the first team because you keep getting hit so hard.

·         We must also remember that our sufferings and afflictions are temporary[21]. This world is not our home. Suffering and affliction can't go on forever.

Right Reaction: Joy

We shall have much more to say on this subject later. But it is important for us to close with the thought that the Christian must not be moping around bemoaning his afflictions. The right reaction to affliction, especially affliction for the sake of the gospel, is joy[22]. God wants us to rejoice in his disciplining of us, and in the fact that we are noted witnesses of the faith. Indeed, as Saint Peter tells us, we are not to be surprised by this:

1 Peter 4:12-14 NASB  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;  (13)  but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.  (14)  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.


We might want to paste this on the wall. So often Christians are completely taken by surprise when they suffer for the faith. The thought is, "I'm such a nice guy, and a Christian. How come you people don't like me?" The answer is simply this: they crucified your Lord and Savior; they're letting you off lightly. Therefore, considering joy that you are suffering as he suffered, and do not be surprised by it. He told you about it long ago.

[1] Job 5:6-7

[2] Genesis 3:16-19

[3] see Acts 13:10-11

[4] See Jeremiah 46:28

[5] Lamentations 3:31-33

[6] Jeremiah 29:10

[7] Psalm 103:10

[8] For example, Exodus 14:4

[9] 2nd Thessalonians 1:6

[10] Proverbs 1:30-31 (wisdom speaking)

[11] See Ahab as portrayed in 1st Kings 21:27

[12] Proverbs 3:25-26

[13] See Jeremiah 5:3

[14] See Haggai 2:17

[15] Psalm 64:7-9

[16] 1st Corinthians 11:31-32. Said in the context of communion.

[17] 2nd Timothy 3:10-12

[18] Acts 14:21-22

[19] Romans 8:18

[20] 1st Peter 1:6-7

[21] Psalm 30:5

[22] James 1:2-4 ("count it all joy.")

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