Learning from Affliction

Just over two weeks ago I had the sad privilege of conducting the memorial service for Matthew Burton, aged 5. Matthew was born profoundly disabled and, in the end, his little body could do no more. His entire life was one of suffering, although, he had no way of comparing his life to any like what was normal. His faithful parents suffered, too. Their’s was a very tough and demanding journey for the last five years. Matthew’s affliction became the whole family’s burden. But he was loved amazingly despite all that. In Matthew, God sent a messenger with a silent, but emphatic message – ask me for the message notes.

Many I spoke to along the way have asked why did God allow this affliction, this suffering? Some expressed how unfair it was and, so on. I’m sure you can think of a few questions like that yourself. They are difficult questions and then answers are not simple, either.

I did my level best to speak into these questions with my memorial message. I hope it helped some, at least.

Affliction. Why does God allow it to happen to “good” people? Even righteous people? Well, as I pointed out at the memorial service, there are potentially many answers …

The psalmist offers us another view altogether – very different to Matthew’s experience …

This is a word about affliction and the purpose of affliction and why affliction comes in our lives and how we should respond to affliction. After all, there’s nobody who won’t encounter affliction at some time or another in his/her life. Look at what the psalmist says about affliction and what he learned from it:

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” (NIV) – Psalm 119:67, 71, 75

We can clearly see, that the psalmist didn’t view affliction as an unmitigated disaster. He saw it as a kind of corrective medicine. It was something that he needed to adjust his life. He says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray and I paid for it, but now,” he said, “I obey Your word. I’ve learned my lesson. It pays to obey.”

And then he says at the end, “O Lord . . . in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” You didn’t do it because You were cruel or because You were angry with me. You did it to straighten me out, to bring me back from my own evil way into Your way, to find the way of peace.

Are you in the midst of affliction? Don’t fight. Don’t argue with God, or plead the blood and so on. Ask him the reason. It may be that God has allowed the affliction to come upon you in his faithfulness. Yes, in his faithfulness. He has a reason. He’s trying to turn you back from something, to bring you out of the wrong and bring you into the right – a life of obedience to his statutes and precepts.

The Lord is good and just and holy and true. And he disciplines his children because he loves them. Sometimes he achieves this when he allows affliction to visit us.

Hoping you are the same.

Ps Milton