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
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. 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.
As you might expect, if suffering and affliction are the
result sin in the world, sometimes affliction is used to correct the sinners. 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.
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.
He does, however, sometimes specify how long this affliction
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.
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.
It may surprise you, but one of the things God does in
afflicting the wicked is to bring glory to himself. 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.
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?
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.
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.
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
We'd like to think that such suffering and affliction, applied to the wicked,
would result in their conversion. It usually doesn't. But it does
do one thing: it sets an example for those around them. 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.
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.
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.
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
Our suffering is light compared to the glory that will be ours at
the return of Christ.
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.
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
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. 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