When it comes to his children, God’s purposes in our afflictions are always redemptive, since “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The more we see God’s faithfulness in our afflictions, the more meaningful we will find Paul’s exclamation, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
The Bible’s most well-known and beloved declaration of God’s faithfulness might be Lamentations 3:22–23:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
We hear it echoed in many of our hymns and songs, like the refrain from the much-loved hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”:
“Great is thy faithfulness!” “Great is thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided —
“Great is thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me.
We love this text, and the songs it inspires, because we find God’s faithfulness to be one of his most comforting attributes. But one fact we might overlook when we quote or sing these verses is that this great declaration of God’s great faithfulness was made in the context of severe affliction.
The book of Lamentations is one long, tearful lament over profound suffering. At the time, the Jewish people were suffering at the hands of the ferocious Babylonian army. The author of Lamentations recognized that this affliction came directly from the hand of the Lord, who in afflicting his people was being faithful to his word (Lamentations 2:17).
Now, when we endure suffering, we take comfort in God’s faithfulness to keep his promise to ultimately deliver us from our suffering (2 Corinthians 1:10). And that’s right — we should. So did the author of Lamentations (Lamentations 3:21). But can we derive hope, as the author of Lamentations did, not merely from God’s promise to faithfully deliver us from our afflictions, but from what God will faithfully accomplish for us through our afflictions?
The biblical answer to that question is a resounding yes. And for the sake of our encouragement, let’s examine some of God’s redemptive purposes when, in faithfulness, he afflicts us.
Delivered from Wandering
Psalm 119, that long, beautiful, ancient acrostic poem, is precious to many Christians — and for good reason. Because it is, in part, an extended celebration of and appeal to God’s faithfulness to do just what he promises us.
Like the author of Lamentations, what provokes the psalmist to write is a “severe affliction” (Psalm 119:107), a significant aspect of which is unjust persecution at the hands of ungodly, powerful people (verse 161). Yet, as one who believes in God’s sovereignty over all things (verses 89–90) and in God’s goodness in all things (verse 68), the psalmist recognizes his affliction has also come from the hand of his good God:
I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (Psalm 119:75)
The psalmist isn’t hesitant to express to God his sorrow over this affliction (verse 28) and the toll it is taking on his whole being (verse 83). But he also expresses to God the good he discerns the affliction is working in him:
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)
The psalmist is someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, the kind of person whose longings, Jesus later said, would be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). And though he may not have expected, at the outset, that one of God’s chosen means to satisfy his longings would be affliction, it is a discovery he makes during his season of anguished wrestling.