Linford Detweiler, the male half of the duo Over the Rhine, said that one of his life’s ambitions is: “Don’t squander affliction.” I like that. It presupposes that affliction is some kind of gift. But then you have to ask – who wants a gift like that?
Affliction is kind of a medieval word that makes me think of damp dungeons. It’s more than just pain, it’s a kind of exquisite agony – pain that didn’t just happen, but got inflicted, maybe on purpose. The King James talks about rising from a “bed of affliction” – somehow that seems more noble than just being sick.
Jesus says that he prunes us so we’ll bear more fruit.* Elsewhere we’re told that God disciplines those he loves – “for our good” is how Hebrews puts it.** Another way of looking at it is to say that he is trusting us with pain.
To trust is to take a kind of a risk; what is it that God risks when he gives us the gift of pain?
For one thing, we humans are forever missing the forest for the trees. We’re forever banging up against some electric fence that he put around a dangerous cliff and then shaking our fists at him when we get zapped. “Why does God hate me?” We cry out in our pain, totally missing the point that it would have been much worse to go over the cliff. God is setting himself up to be a jilted lover when he lets us suffer in order to help us.
I remember when I was a young boy and I was caught playing with gasoline, I was disciplined by being confined to my room for a long time. It seemed horribly unfair. No one had explained to me either the dangers of gasoline or the consequences for playing with it. Discipline may have been beneficial, but with the blinders of youth on, it seemed like all pain and no gain – wasted affliction.
Thomas Hobbes said, life is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Things have gotten better since his day. People live twice as long now. Yet, peel the surface back on the average life and you’ll find plenty of pain. Every one of us has got it in our lives, but we keep it locked away out of sight, wasting away. Or, maybe worse, we invert it and parade it around as a sign of our victimization – a mournful “somebody done somebody wrong” song where that somebody is us.
Both miss God’s point. He set up checks and balances in the universe so that we’re not at the center of it. When you get checked in hockey, it hurts, and when God checks you, it can feel like you’ve been hit with a hockey stick. But we need to consider that maybe, just maybe, there’s actually a redemptive reason behind it.
We can curse or we can mope, but we’d be better off asking him a question as a kind of a prayer: “God, I know you say all things work together for good – nothing is wasted in your economy. Can you show me what you’re doing here so I don’t squander this gift of pain?”
His answer may surprise you.
**Read and meditate on all of Hebrews 12 on this subject an I guarantee God will speak to you through it.
Incredible picture of Cambodian girl by Natalie Montgomery. Her pictures and services are for sale now that she is ending the World Race in a month.