One thing in life is certain – we will all face adversity and affliction. It’s not the events in and of themselves that define us, it’s how we choose to respond. Do we let the trials and tribulations of life move us away from God? Or, do we allow adversity and affliction to move us closer to God; taking comfort in His love, and in His guidance – knowing that we will come out of whatever situation we find ourselves in stronger – perhaps more loving, a little kinder, or a little more forgiving?
“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
- Hebrew – grief, pain, sorrow, calamity
- Greek – suffer torment
- Hebrew, several words – grief, sorry, pain, bruise, destruction, hurt
- Greek – hardship, suffering pain
On the face of it, Adversity and Affliction seem to be interchangeable. However, they do have slightly different meanings. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Adversity as, “a difficult situation or condition, misfortune or tragedy; a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune. Affliction is defined as, “something, such as disease, that causes pain or suffering; the state of being affected by something that causes suffering.”
Think of Job and all he went through. He lost all his property and wealth, and all of his children…Adversity. He also suffered boils from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head – Affliction.
We all face affliction and adversity at some time or another. Sometimes, it seems like they just keep piling up, one on top of the other. Job loss or reduced hours, financial difficulties, car repairs, damaged or broken relationships, medical issues, the death of a loved one – the list is endless. Living a mortal, human life, we can’t escape affliction and adversity. In John 16:33, Jesus reminds us of this fact when He said, “…In this world you will have trouble…” And Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…”
The question isn’t whether bad things will happen. The question is, will we allow the bad things to move us away from God, or closer to Him? How will we choose to respond?
I have a dear friend who is living with terminal cancer. I say living with instead of dealing with on purpose. He could sit and wallow in self pity. He could complain about how unfair it all is. Like Job, he’s led a good life; he’s an honest man who has dedicated his life to his family and to helping others. He could easily sit and ask, “why is God doing this (or allowing this)?” Instead, he thanks God for the wonderful life he has experienced. Though he’s had this horrible diagnosis and prognosis, he has chosen to live. He wakes every morning thankful that he has another day to spend with his wife, children, and grandchildren. As his health allows, he still attends meetings and events with a local service organization devoted to helping children in our community. His faith has made it possible to face what we all must eventually face – our own mortality. Rather than allowing his affliction to move him away from God, it has moved him closer – and he’s living his life fully.
Conversely, my former mother-in-law, my first husband’s mother, remains mired in grief. She professes to be a devout Christian; and I have no doubt that she is a believer. But her faith brings her no comfort. She cries and mourns the losses of her husband and her son every day. Rather than going through the grief process, being thankful for the time they shared, and moving on and living life, she merely exists. She finds no joy in living. It’s been over 20 years since her husband passed away, and 19 years since her son, my husband, passed, she lives her life mired in the pain and grief of loss.
There’s a passage in Romans that, when taken in the right context, can bring us comfort in times of adversity and affliction. Unfortunately, it can also be overused and can become simply a cliche. Romans 8:28 tells us, “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good…” This doesn’t for one moment mean that tragedies are good. It simply means that with God, if we stay close to Him through whatever situation we might be facing or experiencing, something good can come as a result. If we face and overcome addiction – perhaps we’re more compassionate to, or we find ways to help, those still struggling. If we’ve experienced homelessness, perhaps we find ways to help the homeless. Maybe we’ve experienced the loss of someone dear whose life was touched by hospice, and that experience instills a desire in us to volunteer with hospice. Or, like my friend living with cancer, significant health issues create the desire to live our lives as fully and as completely as we possibly can, despite the challenges.
Many years ago a little girl was totally blind. She was blinded as an infant as the result of an accident. She lived to be over 90 years old. She became well-known in the American church. She wrote many popular Christian songs and choruses. Her name was Fanny Crosby. When she was only eight years old, she wrote:
Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see.
I am resolved that in this world, contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind–I cannot and I won’t.
When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. At 37, on his third try he was elected to Congress, but two years later, he failed to be reelected. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and lost. At 47, he failed as the vice-presidential candidate. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader the country ever had. Some people get all the breaks.
What’s the point? We will all experience adversity and affliction. Life isn’t necessarily fair. Yet, we always have a choice. We can wallow in self pity, looking back at what we’ve lost; or we can look forward, with faith, and anticipate God blessing us in new and wonderful ways.
A wonderful example of this type of faith is found in Genesis 26:12-28. In this set of passages, we read about Issac – a man of God who was promised the blessings of God. Verse 1 tells us there was a famine in the land, the land of Gerar, which is located outside of the Promised Land. Yet, despite the famine, in verses 12-14 we read that God blessed Isaac with a bountiful harvest, possessions, flocks, herds, and a great number of servants. Of course, the Philistines were extremely envious. In their jealousy, they stopped up all the wells and filled them with dirt; and the king, Abimelech, told Isaac to go away because he was mightier than they (vs 15-16).
Now, Isaac could have gone off in any direction. He could have wallowed in the misery of having his wells destroyed and having to move. He could have allowed the situation to move him away from God. Who could blame him? They didn’t have air conditioned moving vans. They didn’t have well-drilling equipment and machinery. Isaac certainly wouldn’t look forward to having to move and having to dig new wells with nothing but primitive shovels. But, go he must – the king had commanded it.
And where does Isaac go? Verses 17-23 tell us he went a ways, settled and dug a well. But the herdsman claimed the well. Isaac went further, dug another well, and again, a quarrel ensued, and he was forced to move on once again. Finally, he settled and dug a well, and no quarrel arose. He goes from there to Beersheba which, coincidentally, is located in the Promised Land. It is here that God appears to him and promises to bless him in fulfillment of His promise to Isaac’s father, Abraham (vs. 24). Metaphorically, the Promised Land represents the place where God’s chosen would live in a close relationship with Him. So, figuratively speaking, through the adversity, Isaac into a closer relationship with God. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy, but Isaac maintained his faith, knowing that God had blessed him once, and would do so again. And his faith, and his blessings, were clearly seen by others. Verses 25-28 tell of Isaac pitching his tent (settling down) and digging another well in Beersheba. Abimelech, along with one of his friends, Ahuzzath, and the commander of his army, Phichol, came to Isaac asking for a truce because they had certainly seen that the Lord was with him.
The same hold true for us. If we hold on to our faith and persevere through adversity and affliction, we will be a living example to others of God working in and through our lives. In that process, not only will we move closer in relationship with God, we might just inspire others to deepen their own relationship with Him as well.
In this human, mortal life we will certainly be confronted with adversity and affliction. The choice will always be ours as to how we respond. Will we respond like my former mother-in-law – wallowing in the mire of grief over what’s been lost? Or, like Isaac and my dear friend living with cancer, will we allow our faith to move us into a closer relationship with God? Will we choose to live our lives to their fullest, seeking opportunities to learn and to grow, and to experience all of the wonderful blessings God has in store for us? Will we allow the adversity and affliction to weaken us, turning us into sad, depressed, hopeless, broken people – existing but not really living? Or, like Nietzsche says, will we allow the adversity and affliction to strengthen us?
One of the comforts we find through the Christian faith, and having a deep relationship with Jesus, is the fact that we don’t have to face our adversity and affliction alone. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus assures us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” When adversity and affliction occur, instead of cursing God, as Job’s wife advised, we should turn to Him in prayer. Not simply asking for whatever the situation is to magically disappear. Rather, asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit to show us the way – to guide us in our thoughts, words, and actions. Let Jesus and the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the possibilites and the opportunities that lay before us, and give us the strength to persevere.
- John 16:33
- Ecclesiastes 3
- Romans 8:28
- Genesis 26:12-28
- Matthew 28:20
- Philippians 4:13
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