Tag Archives: Affliction

The Balance between Despair and Hope


In a previous post, we looked at the tendency of believers faced with the circumstances of affliction who despair to the point of asking the familiar questions, “Why this happening?” or “Where is God?”.  There we suggested that although this was the course and pattern of Job’s response to his affliction, perhaps he lamented too far and too long, reaching the point of failing to properly recognize the consistent and righteous character of God in his afflictions.  It was not until God’s extended discourse in reminding Job that it is He who orders His creation as He sees fit, even those things which on the surface might seem contrary to nature and even those things which might seem impossible to the natural mind, that Job’s eyes were opened to properly stop asking why and start asking Who.

Lest we should walk away from that post thinking that our response in the face of affliction and despair should be one of resignation or stoicism, in this post we want to add balance to argument by looking at the much neglected practice of lament.  The Psalms provide for us this balanced approach through its inclusion of numerous laments.  Here we find that pouring out our hearts in agony and anguish before God, may indeed be a proper response to our most difficult circumstances, i.e. afflictions.  It may even be that God is working in our hearts to draw out the marrow of lamentation.  However, we must be reminded not to linger here, lest despair overtake us and doubt of God’s goodness begin to enter our minds.

Psalm 13 provides a typical pattern of a lament, maintaining the balance between despair and hope.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The breaks above, provided by the ESV translators, highlight the transitions of the Psalm.  In vs. 1-3, we hear the words of the lament through a series of questions, much like the aforementioned, Why is this happening? and Where is God?  In vs. 4-6, there is a shift towards an appeal by the Psalmist to God for a response to his situation.  Then, in the last two verses we see the psalmist rest in the character of God, namely His goodness.

Entering into a lament shows a dissatisfaction with our circumstances; a recognition that things are not supposed to be this way.  Ultimately it is a desire for God to reconcile all that has been corrupted by sin.  It is toward this hope of reconciliation that our minds must then turn if we are to undergo lamentation properly.  If we linger in our despair, if we allow our minds to sink with the waves of doubt and depression, we show evidence of lacking faith as Peter did when walking on the water to our Lord.

The duration for how long we allow ourselves to lament over our afflictions, in order to maintain this proper balance, cannot be answered with any certainty, as it depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the person and circumstance.  Nevertheless, universally, we must continually give ourselves over to prayer and continually fix our minds on the hope that is set before us knowing that our circumstances are only temporary and one day Christ will return to establish an eternity in which there will no longer be any crying; one in which He will wipe away all tears.

In closing, we need only to look at the life of our Lord to realize that lament has a proper place in the life of a believer.  Turning to the Scriptures, we find that Christ lamented over the death of Lazarus.  He lamented over the hardheartedness of Israel.  He lamented over the the pressing reality of experiencing the cup of God’s wrath.  And He lamented with outpouring  cries at the temporary abandonment from the Father as He bore the sins of many.  Yet all the while, He knew a better day was coming when sin would no longer exist, darkness would be engulfed by the light, and death would no longer reign over man.

When the time comes that we must navigate the darkness of despair, let us follow this pattern of our Lord by shining the light upon the hope of glory.

12 Purposes for Affliction


Throughout the course of the monologues and dialogues in the book of Job there are at times points of wisdom and clarity and at other times less than helpful opinions and poorly applied theology.  Utilizing one of our interpretive keys of holding onto the good and leaving bad, as it pertains to the speeches, allows the reader to comb through them gleaning truths that are rightly applied in the case of Job’s affliction and similarly may be applied to situations of affliction in our lives.

One such example are the references to God’s purposes in bringing about affliction.  Sometimes these occur as a passing reference intermingled in the midst of rambling speeches, which may be largely unhelpful, while other times they are the focal point as part of a larger discourse on God’s good designs.  Below is a list of these occurrences with a brief discussion providing context of the speaker and their implied purpose

1.Job 5:17-18.

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.  For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”

Ironically, the first clear explanation of God’s designs in affliction comes from the mouth of Eliphaz, Job 5:8-16, in the first response to Job.  Here, Eliphaz offers advice for Job to seek the face of God, which is followed by an excellent discourse on the wisdom and supremacy of God.  In verses 17-18, cited above, the direction shifts towards the circumstances of the afflicted as a result of the discipline of God.

Here, as in Proverbs 3:11-12 as well as Hebrews 12:5, God has designed affliction to serve as a disciplinary action for His children.  Remember that this discipline is not punitive, but corrective.

2. Job 17:9

Yet the righteous holds to his way,
    and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger.

Though perhaps more obscure than the previous purpose, we find in the midst of Job’s lament from Chapter 17 that his affliction is being observed by others, the righteous, who see him as an encouraging example of perseverance in the midst of affliction.  God’s design for affliction among His children is to be exemplary, either as a model for how to suffer or to serve as a warning to others.

3. Job 23:10

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”

Here we see the refining purpose for affliction, to purify the child of God, burning off the dross of sin resulting in a purer gold.

4.  Job 30:11

Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me,
    they have cast off restraint in my presence.”

In this next example, we find the words of Job concluding that his case of affliction has served to humble him.

5.  Job 33:17-18

17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
    and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
    his life from perishing by the sword.

In this passage, God’s mouthpiece for declaring His purposes in affliction shifts from those brief mentions in the speeches of Job and Eliphaz to Elihu.  This begins a string of declarative purposes for affliction by him, perhaps providing us another clue as to the helpfulness of his speeches.

In this first purpose for affliction from Elihu we find that it serves as a corrective to turn a child of God from wickedness, pride, and ultimately death (as a result of sin).

6. Job 33:27-30

29Behold, God does all these things,
    twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
    that he may be lighted with the light of life.

Again, a word from Elihu, he now states the purpose of God in affliction is preventative, specifically from total destruction of the soul.  Not only that, but to set the soul on the path of life.

7. Job 34:26-27.

He strikes them for their wickedness
    in a place for all to see,

because they turned aside from following him
    and had no regard for any of his ways

Our third purpose from the mouth of Elihu provides for us, in context, a focus now upon the wicked, or more clearly, the apostate whom God afflicts because they have turned aside from following Him.  As we know, affliction is not limited to the righteous, nor is it exclusive of the wicked, but God applies it to both according to His own plan and purpose.

8. Job 36:10-11 

10He opens their ears to instruction
    and commands that they return from iniquity.
11 If they listen and serve him,
    they complete their days in prosperity,
    and their years in pleasantness.
12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword
    and die without knowledge.

Here our context, again in a speech from Elihu, shows God’s purpose in elevating the righteous to the status of kings, yet then by necessity afflicting them to expose pride.  In essence, when God pours out blessings on the righteous and they in turn become arrogant and prideful, God is pleased to afflict them in order to instruct them and turn them from their sins.  Interestingly, with this particular application of affliction we find that it has a tendency to bring one to a crossroad.  On the left, the response of the righteous to God’s affliction by listening and serving Him resulting in a complete, full life.  On the right, the response of ignoring God, resulting in death (here by the sword) and dying without knowledge, perhaps affirming their false confession of faith.

9. Job 36:15-16

15He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
    and opens their ear by adversity.
16 He also allured you out of distress
    into a broad place where there was no cramping,
    and what was set on your table was full of fatness.”

Again we read the words of Elihu and find now God’s purposes in affliction described as discipline and educative.

10. Job 36:22

21Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
    for this you have chosen rather than affliction.
22 Behold, God is exalted in his power;
    who is a teacher like him?

As this speech from Elihu concludes, we enter into three less direct descriptions of God’s purposes in affliction beginning here with its use as a teaching tool.  In our cases of affliction, as with Job, God uses it to teach us about Himself first, and then subsequently about ourselves.

11. Job 37:7

He seals up the hand of every man,
    that all men whom he made may know it.

The second implied purpose from Elihu’s latter speech is to hedge in man.  Sometimes God may use affliction as a form of restraint, in a sense to protect us from ourselves.

12. Job 37:13

Whether for correction or for his land
    or for love, he causes it to happen.

Finally, the context for this last purpose places us in the midst of a section describing God’s superintendence of nature.  We find here the whirlwind, cold, ice, clouds with moisture, and lightning.  God’s usage of these may be for correction, for (maintenance) of the land, or simply for love.  In short, nature is at his beckoning call to do His will as He sees fit.

Certainly we may search the Scriptures and find further examples of God’s purposes in afflicting either His saints or the wicked.  But suffice to say, those who have walked away from Job unsatisfied with answers to why God afflicts the righteous, have simply not seen clearly both the explicit and implicit purposes described throughout the book.  Drawing our minds to these will provide comfort and wisdom for those occasions when we are faced with our own afflictions.

Preparing for Affliction


In his treatise exhorting believers to the duty of meditation, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) sets forth the following proposition on the benefit of meditating on eternity,

“There is nothing more necessary unto believers at this season than to have their minds furnished with provision of such things as may prepare them for the cross and sufferings.  Various intimations of the mind of God, circumstances of providence, the present state of things in the world, with the instant peril of the latter days, do all call them hereunto.  If it be otherwise with them, they will at one time or another be woefully surprised, and think strange of their trials, as if some strange thing did befall them.  Nothing is more useful unto this end than constant thoughts and contemplations of eternal things and future glory.”

What he is saying here, in a way that only Owen does, is that for believers, key to preparing for the coming sufferings, afflictions, and trials of this world is continual meditations on eternity.

Similarly, note the words of God through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Here we see the relationship between affliction and eternity, namely that the former is preparatory for the latter.  How so?

  1. Affliction is preparatory because, as we have seen with Job, it is a refining, purifying act of God to further cleanse the believer of defilement, strengthen faith, and develop perseverance (see Romans 5:1-5).
  2. Affliction is preparatory because due to its temporary nature, we anticipate its conclusion, knowing that it will not last forever.  Therefore by their very nature afflictions cause us to look forward to a day when they will end and eternity will begin.  This is sometimes called having an eternal perspective.

Similarly, in this passage we see that our focus should not be on the temporary, earthly, and visible things of this world, instead our focus should be on the eternal, heavenly, and invisible (at present) things of the world to come.  Having this focus constantly and consistently, as Owen states, prepares us for the arrival of affliction. It therefore does not take us by surprise, nor does it sink us into depths of despair, though we certainly may have “fear of and aversation* from great, distressing sufferings, that are above the power of nature to bear.” Nevertheless we persevere knowing that the suffering and sorrow is only temporary.

Finally, moving from a general statement on the positive benefits of meditating on eternity to a more specific look at what exactly that entails, we may note at least three objects upon which to set our minds

  1. The Restoration of All Things
  2. The Renewal of our Earthly Bodies
  3. The Christ of Eternity

For our first point we note that we must allow our minds to fix upon the restoration of all things, namely that this world, which is fading away, will one day be restored such that it will no longer be subject to the fall.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:21-22 

Second, we must allow our minds to fix upon the renewal of our earthly bodies.  “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”” 1 Cor. 15:50-55

Finally, and most importantly, we must allow our minds to fix upon the Christ of eternity, for we shall finally see Him as He is.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

Our best preparation for affliction is to meditate on our eternal state in glory, as such it is also the best object of our meditations during affliction. Turning to Owen for the final word, we read,

“Eternal glory is set before us also; it is the design of God’s wisdom and grace that by the contemplation of it we should relieve ourselves in all our sufferings, yea, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”


*turning away in dislike

For additional study and meditation, read Revelation 21.