The Purpose of Suffering
Today’s Bible Reading: 1 Kings 13-14, Psalm 119:65-72, Luke 3:1-20, Ephesians 4:25-32
The problem of suffering is one of the great perennial questions posed to Christians. How can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people? Asked like that, the question appears to be unsolvable. Either God is not really God (omnipotent), or he is not really good, or both. Which is it? But the problem of suffering needs to be asked in the correct form. Namely: how is it that a good God does not immediately send to hell his sinful creation? The answer is that he has found a way to redeem them through the sacrifice of his own Son at the cross.
All this is theological and apologetic background to the particular aspect of this section of Psalm 119 that we have before us today. The psalmist has been “afflicted.” In layman’s terms, that means he had suffered. Significantly. Seriously. At some length, it appears. And yet, at the start of the psalm, to summarize his attitude at this point, he says: “You have dealt well with your servant” (119:65). Why does the psalmist think like that about his own suffering?
The answer is that he can discern how God has used his suffering to cause the psalmist to give due attention to God’s Word.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (119:67).
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (119:71).
Indeed, now he can say—presumably because of what he learned through his afflictions or his sufferings—that “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (119:72). Perhaps his “affliction” was a financial downturn, and as a consequence, he now realizes that his relationship with God is far more important the number of zeroes he has in his bank account.
Indeed, in that summary statement at the start of this section, when he says that God has “dealt well with your servant,” it is all, he now realizes, “according to your word” (119:65).
Would you, then, today take time to look at the things that trouble you—suffering, affliction, annoyances, hassles, serious evil—and not first of all ask “why,” but first of all ask “for what purpose.” What is it that God is doing—even through this affliction, even through this evil—in such a way that he will teach me more about himself and show me the truth of his Word?