Reflections – 2023.08

All Things for Good: Afflictions

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

As the hard frosts in winter bring on the flowers of spring; as the night ushers in the morning star: so the evils of affliction produce much good to those who love God.
– Thomas Watson

In Thomas Watson’s book, All Things for Good, he discusses how the best things work for good for the godly.  These “best things” have been the source of my reflections over the past year in these Seedling articles.  Watson eventually turns his attention to the “worst things” and so I thought it would be good to follow his lead and write about these as well.  He begins with affliction.

I have never met a Christian who likes affliction.  Not one.  No one wants to feel depressed or anxious, suffer relational strain, receive a cancer diagnosis, or grieve the death of a loved one.   At the same time, I have met many people who have seen how the Lord worked good through their affliction.   I imagine each of you can think of a time of affliction in your life (personal, relational, physical) and see (if it is now behind you) how the Lord’s hand was at work in the context of that difficult situation.

We see this in the Old Testament in the story of Joseph.  Thrown into a pit by his own brothers, sold into slavery, thrown into prison … and yet by the end of the story, he is responsible for the salvation of his family and the preservation of Egypt’s people from the consequences of a lengthy famine.  With the power in his hands to destroy the brothers who threw him in the pit and sold him into slavery, Joseph chose the path of grace.  In reflecting on his affliction and the LORD’s work of salvation, Joseph proclaims to his brothers “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

The greatest example of this principle of affliction working for good for those who love God is seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The Son of God deserved worship, he received the cross at the hands of wicked men.  He was afflicted – beaten, spat upon, mocked, hung on a cross to die.  And yet, His affliction not only was the way to resurrection and ultimately taking up His Kingly rule, but also it was the means of the salvation of many, including most, if not all, of you who are reading this article.  “For Christ suffered once for sins [dying on the cross], the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” (I Peter 3:18)

What we see in Jesus, we can expect in our own lives.  If Jesus suffered, we can expect to suffer.  If He was afflicted, we can expect affliction.  If Jesus died and rose again, we can expect the same.  And of course we can expect the principle – that all things (including affliction) work together for good for the godly – to apply to us, even as it applied to our Lord.  Are you in the midst of difficulty right now?  Would you describe yourself as afflicted?  May your hearts be comforted by this truth – that all affliction works for good for the Christian … expect nothing less, and trust the Lord.