When my wife and I exercise in our bonus room we watch some kind of DVD. Today we watched the biography of St. Patrick. Though I was familiar with much of his story, I was intrigued when the video narrated the following from his Confession.
“I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.” Confession of St. Patrick, 12
He saw his enslavement in Ireland as a divine punishment for his own sins and irreligiosity. His enslavement was a humbling which he took to heart and it ultimately changed his life. As a slave he spent hours alone tending the flocks and he used that time to pursue God in quietness and solitude. It had a profound affect on his life. His humbling turned him to God so that God could utilize a useless stone mired in mud (sin) as a building block in his kingdom. His years of meditation, prayer, and service brought him to this conclusion about his own life.
It reminded me of a biblical text from the longest “chapter” in the Bible.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word…It was good for me to be afflicted that I learn your decrees…I know, O Lord, that…in your faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort…Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75, 76a, 90a).
Psalm 119 is one of those Psalms that has, at times, seemed rather monotonous to me. By the time I am through the eigth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Psalmist seems rather repetitive. “Boring” is a word that comes to mind….but that is on my bad days, my distracted days, days of relative spiritual apathy.
But I am always struck by the Teth section (verses 65-72), It contains an astounding, indeed unfathomable, statement.
“It was good for me to be afflicted.”
I admit it. I don’t like that statement. It has, at times, seemed incredulous to me. It is one of those “hard sayings” in the Bible. But there is more! As we continue to read the Psalm, he makes another astounding, indeed for many unfathomable, statement.
“…in your faithfulness you afflicted me.”
God did it! I don’t know specifically what he did to the Psalmist, but the Psalmist believes God afflicted him. Not only that, he believes it was an act of divine faithfulness.
Can affliction be a act of faithful love? It seems so. For this particular Psalmist, he saw the affliction as Yahweh’s loving wake-up call in order to arrest his degeneration, to round up his lost sheep.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now….”
But now…that is the key. Affliction can become an experience of divine grace. It calls us to introspection, to humility, to dependance upon God. And God is present in the midst of that affliction to receive us, love us and renew us.
I’ve been there. I’m there now. Affliction is sometimes a divine act of transformation.
But we must be careful here. We cannot interpret another’s experience, only our own. And we cannot say that all affliction fits the language of Psalm 119. The Psalmist interpreted his own experience as a moment of divine grace, but it does not mean every affliction must conform to his interpretation. Not everyone of mine does. Job’s did not either–Job was not afflicted because he went astray.
But sometimes it does. Sometimes I see a divine hand in my affliction. I see his mercy and his grace. I see his call to holiness. I see an invitation to become like him.
Sometimes affliction is what what I need, what is best for me, and is a pathway to true peace.
God’s mercy is wondrous, his faithfulness sure, and his sovereign power effective.