Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow:
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Twentieth century poet, Thomas Chisolm, who penned these beloved words, reminds us of just a handful of the blessings believers enjoy because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. He admits that there are ten thousand more we could add to the list. The Word of God, perhaps? Provision of food and shelter? A local church that loves the Gospel? A dear friend who patterns Christ for you? Affliction?
No, I didn’t throw that last one in there just to see if you were paying attention. While it seems out of place, affliction is actually a mark of God’s faithfulness, according to Psalm 119:75.
“I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”
The past several months have brought more than their fair share of affliction for many of us, the end of which we would gladly welcome, I’m sure. That affliction may have taken the form of loneliness, depression, sickness, financial downturn, loss of a family member, loss of a job, or a fractured relationship. I don’t intend to downplay any of that; 2020 brought its share of grief to my family as well. However, as difficult, raw, and painful as your suffering may be, consider with me a few verses from Psalm 119 as we consider how suffering is a mark of God’s faithfulness.
God afflicts us to lead us to truth (v 67).
The “Jewel of the Psalter,” Psalm 119 is known for its masterful poetry and acclaim of God’s Word. While we don’t know the name of the speaker, we do know quite a bit about him. For instance, we know that he is occasionally in the company of kings (v. 46) and that he is experiencing some significant persecution (most likely the affliction to which v. 75 refers). We also learn that while he is now a man of integrity who delights to keep God’s law, that has not always been the case. He admits that before being afflicted he went astray. We’ll use some imagination to fill in what exactly that looked like.
Maybe the psalmist was led astray from the truth of God’s Word and did “what was right in his own eyes” as did the people in the days of the judges. It’s not difficult to do, just ask Eve. Or Abraham. Or David. Or Peter.
Maybe he went astray by getting in with the wrong group of friends and indulging the desires of his flesh.
Maybe he gave in to the “lust of the eyes” when he saw a beautiful young woman he just had to have.
Exactly how he went astray isn’t the point. These possibilities just help prime the pump for looking for areas of wandering in our own lives. But the psalmist doesn’t want us to focus on his backstory; he wants to give hope.
God faithfully used affliction to turn his heart to the Word.
“Before I was afflicted, I went astray,
But now I keep Your word.”
Though the details of how this worked are sparse, God’s faithfulness is undeniable. Whatever God chooses to use to bring us to our senses is always an act of grace. Blindness and a terrifying vision for Paul. Being thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish for Jonah. Famine for the prodigal son. Sometimes what it takes to get our attention is severe—like a worldwide pandemic. But we must not let it go to waste. God has not arbitrarily or capriciously brought affliction into your life. He has done so with a purpose.
Did you know that the sales of Bibles soared in the spring of 2020? Could it be that the affliction of pandemic-related shutdowns led more people to discover the riches of God’s Word? I hope so. God knows that in the midst of our pain, we need hope. Hope He has provided in His Word. We often look for it in food or money or social media or television, but none of that will provide the hope we crave. That hope is found in God and His Word. Perhaps you’ve been reminded of that in the past year. If so, praise God, for His faithfulness!
God afflicts us to realign our priorities (vv. 71-72).
The psalmist makes a pretty bold statement in v. 71: “It was good for me that I was afflicted.”
Really? And why is that? Well, he goes on to tell us: “That I may learn your statutes.”
Does that answer disappoint you? If you know anything about Psalm 119 and its frequent mention of God’s Word, I’m sure it didn’t surprise you, but did it disappoint you? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like for the second half of that verse to say something like, “Because now I’m free from temptation” or “Because now I won’t have to endure hard suffering again.” Somehow “That I may learn your statutes” just doesn’t have the same ring.
Maybe the next verse can shed just a little bit of light on this for us. “The law Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” Perhaps the reason I’m a bit disenchanted with the psalmist’s answer for why his affliction from God was good is that I don’t love the Word like the psalmist. That probably means God isn’t done with His faithful afflictions just yet.
Suffering has a way of making us remember what is really important. It points us to eternity and reminds us that only three things will remain forever: God, the Word of God, and the souls of men. Money, power, prestige, beauty, family, friends, possessions, and talents all eventually slip into oblivion. But God and His Word remain. In seasons of suffering, God often loosens our grip on the temporal to tighten it on the eternal.
God afflicts us to help us find true comfort (vv. 75-77).
The stanza containing our main verse (v. 75) finds the psalmist crying out to God with passion and fervor: “May Your lovingkindness comfort me”; “May Your compassion come to me that I may live!” In the middle of affliction, the speaker relies on two things: his theology and his Bible.
Our theology, what we know and believe about God, always takes a hit when trials come. As a result, it either topples or rebounds. By that I mean, we either chuck our faith and assume that God is absent, weak, or uncaring; or our faith in and knowledge of Him soars to new heights. As the psalmist poetically informs us, for the latter to happen, we must also be driven to His Word, for that’s where His character is revealed.
God demonstrates faithfulness even in affliction by using our suffering as a tool to help us know Him more deeply and more intimately. For He knows that the greatest joy we could possibly know is found in knowing Him. Therefore, anything that reveals His character to us is not a curse but a gift.
I’m sure you can testify to the faithfulness of God throughout the difficulties of the past 11 months. But can you say that God was faithful in afflicting you?
Have you allowed your affliction to drive you to the Word?
Has it realigned your priorities and helped you fall more in love with the Word?
Do you know God better now than you did a year ago?
I hope so, and I believe so. Because God is faithful.