It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
– Psalm 119:71, ESV
This is not an oft-heard sentiment. Rather, our response to any sort of affliction is typically intonings of depression, complaint, or simple whining. I don’t know that I have ever heard (outside of this psalm) an individual express gratitude for affliction. Oh, we may acknowledge that good can/will come from it, or that it builds character, but expressions of gratitude? Not likely.
Less blunt than the quotation above, the psalmist says this just four verses prior, seeming to draw a connection between affliction and obedience.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
– Psalm 119:67, ESV
And again, but an expression of comfort stemming from hope based on God’s word.
Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.
– Psalm 119:49-50, ESV
During times of misery and difficulty, godly men and women almost instinctively seek out the Lord, drawing comfort from him through his Word. But it’s not just godly men and women. Even non-believers will do this.
I cannot count the number of times men and women, who generally would not give God a second thought, came to me asking for intercession, advice, and comfort because some adversity had entered their lives. Having exhausted their own resources and abilities to the point of desperation, they became the embodiment of Psalm 18:6, “In my distress, I cried out to the LORD.”
Where this becomes fascinating is when we note that the affliction can result in what scripture calls, “godly sorrow.” This phrase involves the preposition κατά which cand be phrased “sorrow by way of God,” or “sorrow down from God.” So, the sorrow is “godly,” not so much in its character, but rather in its source.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
– 2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV-1978
Here we see that even the unbeliever can experience “godly sorrow” amid affliction, and that sorrow leads them to repentence and salvation. That is a beautiful truth!
Another aspect of affliction that is rarely acknowledged is the affect it has on God himself. Many a parent has uttered the phrase that no child ever believed, “This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you.” But scripture addresses this very concept with reference to God.
In all their distress, He too was afflicted,
and the Angel of His Presence saved them.
In His love and compassion He redeemed them;
He lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.
– Isaiah 63:9, BSB
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline) then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
– Hebrews 12:7-11, NIV-1978