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Don’t squander affliction

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 medie…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
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.
*John 15
**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.

Comments (8)

  • A dangerous question, but a worthwhile one. “Lord, what do You want to say or do in my life in this?” He’s never failed to answer me that one, but sometimes His answer has been quite a shock! I’d say with David “before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey Your word. You are good and what You do is good; teach me Your decrees.” (Psa 119:67-68) And I need to keep on coming back to that because I forget!

    I like the electric fence/cliff imagery. It’s often not until that wonderful gift of retrospect arrives that realised what God has saved you from by being kind enough to check you, to discipline you, to block your pathway in a direction you wanted to go. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however…….” (Heb 12:11)

    Good stuff, Seth. Thanks.

  • I was just talking with my 10th grade Sunday school guys about God’s discipline. We talked about how this often, but not always, involves pain. More importantly, we talked about how our reaction to God’s discipline is vitally important.

    The irony is that yesterday and today, I believe I have been and am being afflicted. My perception of the unfairness of it isn’t important. It’s how I react to it.

    Seth, through my thinking/agonizing/praying, my Bible study this morning, and now your blog, God has shown me that sometimes I just need to bear the weight.

  • I am a big wimp when it comes to affliction! This is a such a great, biblical perspective! Great truth from Hebrews!

  • Great post … I’ve been reading and discovering great treasures in Song of Solomon that I missed for too long… One of them is your theme here: that there is a level of intimacy and love with Christ that can only be gained by going through suffering or affliction – be it discipline for our own sins or testing that comes from the Lord to refine and prove the authenticity of our love. Perhaps too many of us are content to know God only when He blesses us and is our lover singing love songs to us at the banquet table … that’s nice and wonderful, but if we haven’t found out how to love and obey Jesus through the suffering, our love is still immature. In that sense, affliction really is a gift as we get to know how much God loves us and grow in our love for Him.

  • Seth,

    You are such a blessing to me at this in my life. The last 4 1/2 years has been so unbearable for me. I get hurt in April of 2008 working as an Aircraft & Engine mechanic (something I believe I should never have gotten into) I was married to a drunk, gambler, drug addict and a womanizer. I was so ready to leave because at the time I had my fill after 10 years of pure HELL. He had started drinking and driving with our 6 year old daughter. I thought I would die of all the stress because of what I was going through. He had all the reasons for dying early because of his vices. I believe he was deaths door many times because of his vices however, I thought if I stayed any longer I would leave my daughter motherless. After driving drunk the 2nd time I had to testify against him just to rid him out of our lives. He as sent to prison for 16 months only to get caught drunk 8 days after getting released. I divorced him while he was in prison. I had started going on into Aircraft Mechanic School before all this because I had to be able to support my daughter somehow when I was out on my own with her. I did finish only to be hurt on the job 6 years later and they forced me into retirement or get fired legally because I was unable to do the job I was hired to do. I took the retirement which they lowering my retirement at. As the result of my 2 injuries I have since been diagnosed with Fibromyalia and have had both my shoulders worked on which eventually turned into arthritis an because of the injuries in my back and hips, I have gotten arthritis there also. I have been under stress along with a lot of pain and also worrying about my daughter (she 11 years old now and I see that Jesus is not the main focus in her life). All she cares about are her looks and how many friends she can get. I understand that’s important in a girls life however, it seems like that she doesn’t really have a care. For him. I have since been diagnosed with Shingles and that only adds to more pain. My 3rd wants a divorce and has since moved out of the house. He couldn’t take my mood swings or my deep depression any longer. I never seem to do the right thing concerning The Lord. I stay confused and full of FEAR a lot. I have read this entry and I know God has Allowed this sickness to come on me I believe and I’m trying to do the right thing but, how do I know if I am doing the thing at the time. I am 55 years old, have been through 3 marriages, and my oldest daughter has blamed me for the way she was raised (a child raising a child). She has taken my Grandchildren to where I am never allowed to see them again. It has been already a year and a half. My son has forgiven me. Now I have Melinda to raised and I don’t want. To do a repeat. I have been in psyche Hospitals so many times I can’t remember how many times. I am seeing one now. How do I get out of the rut I am in. How do I stay in touch without going on my own. I need healing and I want my health back. Linda Russell

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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