Some of these ways come from John Murray’s helpful article, “Behind a Frowning Providence,” so I want to give credit where credit is due. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of reasons, for God’s ways are past finding out, but I think these reasons sufficiently demonstrate God’s good and holy purposes in our afflictions.
1) Through afflictions God tests, tries, and purifies our faith.
1 Peter 1:6-7: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Daniel 11:33-35: And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.
God the great Refiner tests us by sending fiery afflictions to purify our faith and consume the dross of sin still remaining in us. All of us need to be refined. The greatest saints on earth are still full of many impurities and evils that need to be purged from within them. So, God sends the fire, not to destroy the good He is working in us but rather to further refine and purify and add to it.
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE FIERY FURNACE THAT PURIFIES OUR FAITH
2) God brings these afflictions on us to expose our sins and drive us to Christ for forgiveness and grace to obey God’s commandments.
Through afflictions, God shows us the hidden evils of our hearts. We often think too highly of ourselves and have too low a view of our sin, especially in times of prosperity and ease. When we are fat and happy, we may foolishly think we are the most holy Christians in all the world. When we are on top of the world, it is easy to think we are perfect and make no mistakes and are free to do whatever we want. But times of leanness and barrenness and suffering and trial have a way of stopping us in our tracks and shutting our mouths and causing us to ponder and consider our ways.
Afflictions are a mighty call to self-examination. Troubles don’t always come to us because we sinned, but that may be the case. David was afflicted with the death of his newborn for his sins of adultery and murder. The returned exiles were afflicted with drought and leanness because they neglected to build up the second temple. The Corinthian Christians were afflicted with sickness and even death for their sin of taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.
Usually, it is only when we are thrown down to the ash heap and sit there awhile do we see all our flaws: we see how ignorant, how impatient, how selfish, how idolatrous, how faithless, and even how atheistic we truly are and how much we need Christ to cleanse us with His precious blood and to send us His Spirit to help us to trust God in any and all circumstances.
Illustration: Immediately after my son Luther’s surgery, he wasn’t feeling well and was crying and kicking and for a short period of time was somewhat uncontrollable. While I watched him suffer, instead of showing him compassion and pity all kinds of sinful things began to rise up in my heart. Things like anger, frustration, hate, a lack of self-control, unbelief, and trusting in the arm of my flesh took over. In the short and momentary suffering of another, God showed me what a sinner I am and how much I need the blood and righteousness of Christ!
Praise God that afflictions drive us to the cross and give us a renewed spirit of trust and obedience to our God.
In essence, this is what the psalmist confesses:
Psalm 119:67: Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
Psalm 119:71: It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.
And in a way, even the sinless incarnate Son of God learned to trust and obey His Heavenly Father through sufferings:
Hebrews 5:8: Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE ROD THAT DRIVES US FROM SIN TO CHRIST
3) God brings these afflictions on us to shape and fashion our character.
Romans 5:3-4 states, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,”.
The character spoken of here, conformed in us through overcoming adversities, is the very character of Jesus Christ.
John Murray said, “The trials of life can be God’s tool for engraving the image of his Son on our character.” We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). God as the Potter shapes and molds and fashions us into the image and character of His Son. And every piece of clay that doesn’t fit into the mold of Christ God will scrap and throw away. He will trash everything that is unChristlike in our lives.
This means that when we endure hardship by trusting and obeying God, we come out the other side looking more like Christ. The process is often complex and difficult and confusing, but the finished product is well worth it!
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE WORKMAN’S TOOL THAT CONSTRUCTS OUR CHARACTER
4) God afflicts us in order to produce fruit in our lives and prepare us for greater usefulness in His kingdom.
Jesus said in John 15:1-2, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Pruning involves cutting off barren or diseased or dying branches in order to promote the growth of healthy, new ones. If trees could talk, they would tell you that pruning hurts! But if done correctly, pruning yields a great amount of fruit. In the same way, afflictions can feel like God is lopping off parts of our hearts and souls, that He is cutting us down and destroying us, but this divine procedure results in what the book of Hebrews calls “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Discipline/pruning/afflictions from God will lead to a harvest of innumerable good works in your life if you are willing to be trained by them.
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE PRUNING SHEARS THAT PRODUCE GOOD WORKS IN OUR LIVES
5.) God afflicts us in order to make us a blessing to other suffering believers.
2 Corinthians 3:3-4 says: 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, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
God comforts us in our affliction so we can properly comfort those who are going through afflictions themselves. Afflictions, then, become a means of discipling and encouraging other Christians to follow Christ through dark and difficult times.
How many deep and lasting friendships have been made simply because two believers experienced the same kind of affliction while trusting in Christ?
When God afflicts you and then saves you from that affliction, you can now enter into someone else’s troubles in a way that others can’t. You know their pain. You know their heartache. You know their temptations to distrust God and turn away. But you also know God’s faithfulness and love to get you through that grave difficulty and make you a better Christian for it. You have experienced the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in a very unique way. You have known Christ as your Good Shepherd in a very hard trial. You have trodden the dangerous paths where others are now treading, and you have made it safely to the other side.
Illustration: There is a perfect illustration of this going on in when Christian travels through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in The Pilgrim’s Progress:
This is one of the most difficult parts of his journey. He is all alone in complete darkness with dangers on every side of him and demons surrounding him.
When Christian had traveled in this depressed condition for some considerable time, he then thought he heard the voice of a man on pilgrimage ahead of him, saying, “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” As a result he felt very glad, and that for the following reasons: First, because he gathered from what he heard that some who feared God were in this Valley as well as himself. Second, since he understood that God was with them, even in such a dark and dismal place, then he reasoned that this invisible presence ought also to be with him, in spite of the hindrances of such a region. Third, for the hope that he entertained of eventually having fellowship, should he be able to overtake those ahead of him. So he went on and called out to the man who was ahead, though he did not know what to say in reply since he also had thought himself to be alone. Eventually the light of the morning dawned; at this Christian exclaimed, “He has turned the shadow of death into the morning.”
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE BOND THAT UNITES CHRISTIANS TOGETHER IN LOVE AND ENCOURAGES THEM TO NOT LOSE HOPE
6.) God afflicts us in order to display the worthiness of Christ to a watching world.
Christians are to respond differently than the world when trouble comes our way. When God brings difficulties our way, when He sends a wasting sickness, when He takes away a loved one, when our bank accounts suddenly dry up, when all that we highly prize in this world disappears, Christians should react in such a way that the doctrine of God our Savior is adorned and magnified. In our afflictions, sinners see that in the darkest of days, hope and comfort and satisfaction can be found in Christ. Christ is worthy of our praise, even when He has taken away everything from us. Even if He slays us, we can trust Him and hope in Him. This is inexplicable in the world’s eyes because they are taught life is about the accumulation of the world’s goods. When things are taken from them, they don’t know how to react except to get angry, become frustrated, and shake their fist at God. But in the eyes of Christians, life is about drawing closer to Christ and being totally satisfied with His goodness and lovingkindness. So when trials come and the people of the world tell us to curse God, we don’t. Instead, we bless Him and tell others to bless Him as well. We say, as Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
What a remarkable impact it makes on those watching us when we justify God in our afflictions! It shuts the mouths of the enemies of Christ from blaspheming Him and even converts some of them to the true faith! Maybe some of you here tonight have been led to trust in Christ through witnessing a believer suffer in a godly way.
My brother and sister, don’t underestimate what God can do with your afflictions. Don’t throw them off as unworthy to bear, as something that has no value to yourself or others. Your honorable conduct in the midst of suffering may be the very means of bringing sinners to Christ. Don’t forget that. You show sinners a hope that is UNHEARD OF and UNKNOWN in the world. It only comes from the gospel which tells us that God is in control and God knows what He is doing and God will take care of us, no matter what happens to us in this fallen world. He is our Good Shepherd, we shall not lack anything, even when we have nothing to our names! That’s utterly foreign to this world. And that’s attractive. That’s compelling. That’s what makes a permanent imprint upon someone’s mind and heart.
I think this is what God is telling us through the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:12 when he states, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Affliction comes through the malicious talk of unbelievers, but instead of reviling when reviled, we perform good deeds and bless those who persecute us and the end result is twofold: doing good in the midst of affliction can shut our oppressors’ mouths when they realize how wrong they are about us, and they can lead them to open their mouths to glorify God when He visits them with gospel blessings.
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE MEGAPHONE THAT ANNOUNCES TO THE WORLD THE GREATNESS OF OUR GOD AND THE WORTHINESS OF OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
7.) God afflicts us in order to cause us to know Him better.
Martin Luther once said, “Affliction is the Christian’s theologian.” He was not denying that the Word of God is the Christian’s theologian. The Bible certainly teaches us the knowledge of God and the way we ought to live before Him. What he meant was, we come to know God in a more intimate, personal, and deeper way in the fiery furnace of affliction than in textbooks, classroom lectures, and even sermons. When we suffer, we aren’t just given theoretical knowledge of God and His promises to us. We are not just told who God is and what He can do for those who trust Him. In our afflictions, God draws near to us and we actually learn firsthand who He is and experience what He can do. What we have learned of God in the ivory tower of theological studies becomes real for us when we walk with Him through the fires and floods of this life. We become like Job who said, “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You;” (Job 42:5) or the believing Samaritans who said to the women at the well, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
Most of all, sufferings should open our eyes to see the promises of God at work in our midst. We should see that God is faithful to save us from all our troubles, that God is with us and for us and will not allow the trials of this life to shipwreck our faith and throw us overboard into the sea of despair, that God will not break us or stomp us out but He is our God forever and ever and will guide us even unto death (Psalm 48:14).
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE TEACHER THAT INSTRUCTS US IN THE PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
8.) God afflicts us in order to cause us to trust Him more.
By nature we are so full of pride and self-sufficiency. We think we are superheroes who can defeat all our foes in our own wisdom and strength. But then a terrible affliction comes along and zaps us of our strength and shows us how weak and helpless we really are.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle?” The apostle Paul was certainly given more than he could handle or bear!
2 Corinthians 1:8-9: For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.
God often gives us much more than we can handle and crushes us under heavy burdens and causes us to despair in ourselves so we stop leaning on the arm of the flesh and start leaning on Him. Afflictions come so that we would stop flexing our own muscles and start falling to our knees and crying out to God for help! Afflictions should cause us to say, “I can’t get through this trial on my own. It’s too big, too mighty, too overwhelming, too debilitating. I need the power and strength of God! I need God to lift this immovable, unbearable boulder off of me. I need deliverance from the Lord!”
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE CRUSHING ROCK THAT CAUSES US TO CRY OUT TO GOD FOR DELIVERANCE
9.) God afflicts us in order to cause us to love Him more.
The wounds we receive from afflictions usually come to the most sensitive and tender parts of our souls, to places which are the most difficult to carry burdens. This is because these things are what most rival God and compete with our allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is so easy to make idols out of God’s good creation and worship the creature rather than the Creator. But earthly comforts don’t ultimately last and therefore can’t bring true satisfaction to the soul. What we need most is God. He is our life and the length of our days. He is what all earthly enjoyments point to. And through afflictions, God is teaching us to draw near to Him and see Him as our all in all. He loosens our grip from the things of this world and weans us from finding our ultimate happiness and joy in them so we would seek God, the Greatest Good, and delight in Him with our whole hearts.
In one of the verses of the hymn “More Love to Thee, O Christ”, it reads: “Let sorrow do its work, Send grief and pain; Sweet are thy messengers, Sweet their refrain, When they can sing with me, More love, O Christ, to thee, More love to thee, More love to thee.”
AFFLICTIONS ARE CUPID’S ARROWS THAT DRAW US TO LOVE AND ADORE CHRIST
10.) God afflicts us to prepare us and lead us to glory, the place where afflictions are no more.
Every saint must walk down the road of tribulation in order to get to the place of glory. This was true for Christ, the founder of our salvation. He was made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10). His suffering led Him to glory (Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 1:11). If it was true for our Savior, why would it be any different for His people?
Jesus teaches His disciples this very truth in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:13-14 He says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard [literally, has been tribulated or pressed down] that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Jesus is talking about the way of salvation. He is saying that there are two paths in this life: the easy, comfortable way which many take and the hard, oppressed way that few find. The first leads to eternal destruction and the second leads to eternal life.
Every follower of Christ, then, must walk down the road of tribulation and affliction if he wants to end up in a place full of life and glory. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself made it this way in order to teach us that before we receive the shining crown of glory we must wear the bloody cross of self-denial, pain, agony, and death. The kingdom of heaven is for the poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:3, 10). But, in the midst of all the trial and suffering and loss, we are to set our sights on the eternal riches God has stored up for us in Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Romans 8:16-18: “16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. 18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
James 1:12: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.
We must come to realize that we are in the great tribulation. It is not something reserved for unbelievers in the far distant future. The great storm is here, and it is over our heads as the people of God. We do not live in a time of ease and comfort. The period we live in is characterized by deception and persecution. The mystery of lawlessness is here; sinners hate Christians and the Christ they serve; and Satan is bound but still at work trying to stop the gospel of Christ from reaching the nations and trying to stop Christians from reaching the Celestial City. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But praise God that He also said, “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Looking unto Jesus and following in His footsteps will lead to suffering, pain, and death, but it will also lead to peace, happiness, life, and ultimately, glory.
AFFLICTIONS ARE THE ROAD THAT LEADS US TO HEAVEN OR THE KEY THAT OPENS THE DOOR TO GLORY
Afflictions are 1.) THE FIERY FURNACE THAT PURIFIES OUR FAITH; 2.) THE ROD THAT DRIVES US FROM SIN TO CHRIST; 3.) THE WORKMAN’S TOOL THAT CONSTRUCTS OUR CHARACTER; 4.) THE PRUNING SHEARS THAT PRODUCE GOOD WORKS IN OUR LIVES; 5.) THE BOND THAT UNITES CHRISTIANS TOGETHER IN LOVE AND ENCOURAGES THEM TO NOT LOSE HOPE; 6.) THE MEGAPHONE THAT ANNOUNCES TO THE WORLD THE GREATNESS OF OUR GOD AND THE WORTHINESS OF OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST; 7.) THE TEACHER THAT INSTRUCTS US IN THE PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE OF GOD; 8.) THE CRUSHING ROCK THAT CAUSES US TO CRY OUT TO GOD FOR DELIVERANCE; 9.) CUPID’S ARROWS THAT DRAW US TO LOVE AND ADORE CHRIST; and 10.) THE ROAD THAT LEADS US TO HEAVEN OR THE KEY THAY OPENS THE DOOR TO GLORY.
For those who believe in Christ, in the midst of all the storms you will ever face in this life, God is in control and is teaching you precious truths that will do your soul eternal good. In this life you will have tribulation, but learn the hard lessons God is wanting to teach you and look forward to the life to come where you will have nothing but blessedness!
But if you are an unbeliever, none of these reasons apply to you. The things you are afflicted with are poisonous darts and deadly arrows that will lead to your eternal destruction. God is working all things together not for your good but for your harm. The fire of afflictions will consume you, the rod will break you, the shears will cut you down, the rock will crush you, and the road will lead to your death. The sword of the LORD is sharpened and polished and ready to slaughter you for your sins (Ezekiel 21:9-10)!
Instead of shrugging off your afflictions or acting like they are a normal part of life, see them as God’s wake-up call for you. He is calling you to repent and believe in Christ to escape the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, and the everlasting wrath to come. Please heed the call and find refuge and safety in Jesus Christ!