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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

God Afflicts, But Not Willingly

Surgeon from Microsoft Publisher Clipart

My Affliction

I recently had a minor stroke, which affected some of my peripheral vision.

I was encouraged by the story of Job, who blessed the name of the Lord, even though God had taken Job’s donkeys, sheep, camels, and children (Job 1:21-22).

How — after losing all this — could Job bless God?

It’s because Job understood that God only takes things from us (like children or peripheral vision) in order to give us something infinitely more satisfying (a greater experience of God’s glory now and forever).

I see that taught in passages like 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, and that truth has brought me much comfort.

Another Encouraging Verse

Then, as I was going through my stack of encouraging verses, I came upon Lamentations 3:31-33 —

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.

Jeremiah agrees with Job in saying that God does cause grief; God does afflict us with trials.

But Jeremiah sees how that could be misunderstood.  We could wrongly think that God somehow finds pleasure in causing us grief; we could wrongly believe that he enjoys taking things from us.

So, to help us avoid this misunderstanding,  Jeremiah says that God “does not afflict willingly.”

What Does That Mean?

We could think it means someone else has more power than God, and forces God to afflict us even though God doesn’t want to.

But that can’t be right, because no one has more power than God.  That’s why God is called “the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8), and why Psalm 115:3 says God “does all that he pleases.”

No force outside of God can make God do something against his will.

So what does it mean that God does not afflict us willingly?

From The Heart

I checked the Hebrew, and the literal translation is that God does not afflict us “from the heart.”  To do something “from the heart” means you do it with delight, enthusiasm, and passion.

So when God took from Job his oxen, donkeys, camels, sheep, servants, and all his children, God did not delight in the loss he was bringing Job.  Rather, God’s delight was in the great good he was going to give Job through this loss.

Or to use Jeremiah’s words, God does not delight in causing grief; he delights in the compassion and steadfast love that will come to us through that grief.

Think of a surgeon.  He does cut a patient open.  But he does not delight in the cutting.  He does not do this willingly — from the heart.

The only reason he cuts someone is because this will bring them healing.  What the surgeon is passionate about is the healing, not the cutting.

Same with God.  He does not afflict us willingly, from the heart.  The only reason he afflicts us is because this will bring us even more joy in Christ.  It’s not our loss that God passionately pursues; it’s our everlasting, all-satisfying joy in Christ.

See God Accurately

So if you are going through trials, be sure you see God accurately.

Yes, God brings trials.  Yes, God takes from us.  But that does not mean he is unloving.  That does not mean he delights in causing us pain.

In fact, he weeps with us in our pain, like he wept with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother (John 11:35).

But he does not just weep.  He also rejoices at the great good that will be ours through this pain.  He delights in the increased joy this trial will bring us in Christ — a joy that will satisfy us so deeply that we will bow before him and thank him for every trial.

So share your sorrows with God.  Sanctify your sorrows.  Feel his compassion for you in your grief.

But don’t stop there.  Don’t grieve as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Fight the fight of faith until you see and feel that his purpose in this trial is to bring you even more joy in his holy Son — now and forever.

And then press in to receive even more of that all-satisfying joy.

Questions?  Comments?  Feedback?

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(Picture is from Microsoft Publisher Clipart.)

Category: Problems or Trials

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17 Responses

  1. Eby says:

    Amen and Amen!!!

  2. Jeff says:

    Steve, I really like your surgeon analogy. It gives me another way to put trials and suffering into perspective. The one I usually fall back on is thinking of God as a heavenly parent. Don’t we discipline our children? Do they like it? Not usually. As a kid, I certainly didn’t fully appreciate my parents disciplining me (to put it mildly). However, now I know it was for my own good. It was so I could enjoy greater things later in life. God does the same thing for us. He disciplines us now so we can grow in Christ and experience more joy, peace and fulfillment in the future. Just like a parent’s ways are higher than a child’s. So, are God’s ways higher than ours. God is good!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Well said, Jeff. He does bring us trials, out of great love for us, in order to bring us even more joy in him now and in the future.

      Thanks for sharing.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  3. Susanne Schuberth (Germany) says:

    “He does not afflict us willingly, from the heart. The only reason he afflicts us is because this will bring us even more joy in Christ. It’s not our loss that God passionately pursues; it’s our everlasting, all-satisfying joy in Christ.”

    So let it be written, Steve! 😉

    I recall a day when I was on a prayer walk alongside the Rhine-Main-Danube-Canal. Suddenly Jesus showed up before my inner eyes. He looked rather grieved and told me with a sad voice, “Alas, I cannot spare you what will come soon.”
    I became frightened and asked Him what that could be, yet Jesus didn’t answer.
    It was not before I had a miscarriage shortly afterwards as I understood this announcement.
    The greater joy I experienced afterwards was firstly that I could see our son in Heaven with Jesus (cf. http://theoldadam.com/2014/01/07/our-lutheran-theology/#comments), and secondly a deeper relationship with Jesus Himself. And strangely enough, despite my loss, I learned to trust all the more in His unfathomable guidance which never fails.

    In Christ’s love,
    Susanne

  4. Anonymous says:

    I like the part that God does not delight in bringing us pain.

    Regards,
    Miriam

  5. Anonymous says:

    Your studies have been a blessing to my heart. I’m going through a great trial that I thought I would never go through in my whole life. I’m learning to trust more in Jesus Christ! It’s sad to realize that our trust is in men rather than in Jesus Christ. My prayer is that this trial will bring me greater joy & a closer relationship with my saviour in the end & that I can look back & really rejoice in Christ for answering my prayer!

  6. Esther Lewis says:

    I just sent this to a young couple who just lost their first child by miscarrieage. It touches me each time I read it and view it in terms of my own losses. The surgeon analogy, like parables, is so easy to remember. Thanks.

  7. Priscilla says:

    I love this post. I recently came to this understanding myself. It has given me tremendous peace knowing that God really does plan for my life…not to harm me, but for good. I have had some terribly painful things happen to me and for many years questioned my decisions, etc. Now I know that The Lord actually orchestrated these events. It was all according to his plan.

  8. Erin says:

    You may have just saved my spiritual life altogether! Thank you! I had this in my bookmarks and felt the need to read it again.

  9. Crystal says:

    Hi.

    I came across Lamentations 3:32 in my devotional this morning and I wanted more understanding of it and I came across your post.
    I understand that we need trials to grow but would you say then that God afflicts every bad thing like murder, sex trafficking and abuse?
    It gets confusing because on one hand he afflicts it, which in my mind means causing to happen but then you gotta remember that it’s also a fallen world full of evil and free will. So where is that line drawn?
    What is God afflicting and what is of the devil?
    I just want to get a better grasp of it all.

    Thanks!
    Crystal

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You raise a very important question, Crystal.

      It is true that Satan does terrible things in the world. but I believe even Satan is ultimately under God’s sovereign control.

      I have found in Genesis 50:22 be helpful in understanding how God can be sovereign over evil, and yet not BE evil — “what Joseph’s brothers, or Satan, or anyone else means for evil, God means for good.”

      in Christ,

      Steve Fuller

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