Psalm 119: Being Positive about what is Painful
The man who wrote the 119th Psalm was as human as you and me. Consequently, affliction for him was no different from what it is for any of us–painful. Yet he speaks so positively about it. He says, in fact, that it was good for him. It was good for him to be afflicted (vs. 71). And here is why. He was spiritually the better for it (vs. 67). God’s design in it was his benefit and blessing (vss. 71 and 75), and that design was achieved (vs. 67).
The Reason for Affliction
We appreciate the Psalmist’s openness with us. He admits that prior to his affliction, he had gone astray (vs. 67). He had not been walking as a man of God should. His great need was to begin again to live in obedience to God (vs. 67). Or as he puts it in vs. 71, to learn God’s decrees in order to understand more fully the things God required of him and conform to them more fully. And God’s reason for sending suffering into his life was to secure those important ends. Hence the declaration of vs. 75, “I know, O Lord, that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” It was nothing less than the Lord’s commitment to his soul that dictated hardships for him.
It would, of course, be quite wrong to say that recovery from sin is always God’s reason for ordaining suffering. In the case of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, for instance, the design of God was to keep him from sin–“lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations” (2 Cor. 12:4). Far more clearly that we ourselves do, God sees that we are in danger spiritually and for our safety permits trouble to enter our lives. At other times, His aim is the testing and strengthening of our faith. Sometimes, too, it is primarily for the sake of others. That is certainly how it was with Joseph.
The common denominator in all these examples is our benefit. God’s intention is not to harm but to bless us. He wishes to make us holier, happier, stronger, more useful, more of a blessing to others and most glorifying to Himself. And that is why, like the Psalmist, we can be positive about what is painful.
The Verdict on Affliction
Looking back on his experience, the Psalmist not surprisingly declares that it was good for him to be afflicted (vs. 71). It had doubtless been unpleasant. Affliction is never nice. But it had its designed effect. God sent it to bring about his recovery and that was precisely the fruit of it: “Now”, he says, “I obey your word” (vs. 71). Wasn’t he justified therefore in passing on it the verdict that he did–“It was good that I was afflicted?”
And if affliction brings the blessing of God into our lives, we can speak no less positively. We do not deny the pain of it for an instant. Suffering is suffering. But if it has the effects of drawing us nearer to God, strengthening our faith, keeping us from sin, recovering us from backsliding, giving us a greater understanding of truth and deepening our longing for heaven, then our verdict surely ought to be the same–for us too it is good to be afflicted.
– David Campbell