Scripture and most of church history give us a much different story. Both not only speak to this all the time, but affliction was even welcomed and seen as coming from the good and wise hand of God. Sure, you do not go out of your way looking for suffering, but when it comes, you should try to see just how much God is involved in it, and why he is allowing it.
All of us can tend to be all rather quiet about certain issues. For example, we fully expect the world to remain silent about various things – especially things the militants and radicals have told us we are not allowed to talk about. You can get away with murder – quite literally – when you push this sort of out of sight out of mind campaign.
Thus we are not supposed to talk about the sanctity of life for the unborn – resulting in millions of them being slaughtered each year. We are certainly not allowed to speak about ex-homosexuals: they too are another invisible group of people.
But sadly Christians can be like this as well. Some things you seem to hear about very rarely in contemporary Western Christianity. Things like sin and judgment to come are obvious examples. But here I wish to speak about the dreaded ‘S’ and ‘A’ words: suffering and affliction.
It is quite odd that we hear so little about these matters. After all, we all suffer. Sure, we don’t want to suffer – I certainly don’t. But such a universal experience is often swept under the carpet in too many churches and Christian circles.
But that goes against Scripture and church history where these matters have always been discussed. The Bible even has entire books devoted to these issues. Think of Job and Lamentations for example. There would be many hundreds of passages that speak to this. If God takes it so seriously, why don’t we?
And most Christians throughout church history have spoken and written on this topic extensively. So why do we not do the same today? Part of the problem is a fake gospel being pushed in the West. The idea that Christians should always be healthy and wealthy and happy and have their best life now will certainly fill churches, sell books, and make the false prophets pushing this baloney celebrity pastors and teachers.
But as I say, Scripture and most of church history give us a much different story. Both not only speak to this all the time, but affliction was even welcomed and seen as coming from the good and wise hand of God. Sure, you do not go out of your way looking for suffering, but when it comes, you should try to see just how much God is involved in it, and why he is allowing it.
The psalmist constantly spoke to this, especially emphasising the educative and remedial aspects of suffering. Just three verses from Psalm 119 can be mentioned here:
Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.
Psalm 119:71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
Psalm 119:75 I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
And the great majority of Christians over the centuries have also echoed these themes. The Puritans certainly did. I have written before about some of them in this regard. One of the classic Puritan works for example is The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. I discussed that amazing book here: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/03/11/a-bruised-reed/
Another Puritan classic worth being aware of is the 1652 A Treatise on Affliction by the English clergyman and member of the Westminster Assembly Thomas Case (1598–1682). A smaller edited version of it called When Christians Suffer was put out by Banner of Truth in 2009.