Why do the godly suffer? Or anyone, for that matter. This question
has plagued the human race all through history. The Christian is
especially troubled about it, because of the prevailing idea that
if one obeys the Lord he will have a good life with relatively little
trouble. Everyone expects minor illnesses, but the major ones are
disturbing. To compound the problem, religious racketeers have made
merchandise of people by insisting that God never wants anyone to
be sick; they assert that all sickness is of the devil. The attitude
of Job's three friends is still with us; if there is major trouble,
God must be punishing the suffering one, either for overt sin, or
for skeletons in the closet.
This author has gotten much help from Psalm 119:71, especially during
times of illness. It will be the basis for this chapter:
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn
The study of three great words in this verse yields much help on the
subject. They are "afflicted," "learn," and "statutes."
If the author was King David, then he suffered just about every kind
of affliction known to man. He was afflicted physically; he had known
danger, hunger, and privation, when he was hunted like an animal
by Saul and his army. He had also known sickness, if Psa. 38:5-11
and 77:2 are to be taken literally.
He also knew domestic affliction, being ridiculed by his brother and
rejected by his wife. When David was sent by his father to take supplies
to his brothers who were in Saul's army, his brother greeted him
with the mocking question, "With whom hast thou left those few
sheep in the wilderness?" (1 Sam. 17:28). And that was done
publicly, so that David must have suffered some embarrassment. Much
later, when he was king, David decided to bring the ark of God to
Jerusalem. It was such a joyous occasion, that David danced before
the Lord. When his wife, Michal, saw him doing so, as she looked
out of the window, "she despised him in her heart" (2 Sam.
6:16). David knew something about domestic affliction, that is, trouble
from his own family.
He also suffered emotionally, as few people have. Think of the broken
heart he must have felt when he learned that his son, Amnon, had
raped his daughter, Tamar. Then that was compounded by another son's
murder of that one, when Absalom killed Amnon. He knew the disappointment
of children who commit gross sin, and the heartache of bereavement
when Amnon and Absalom were killed. He must have also been disturbed
when another son, Adonijah, tried to take his throne away from him
as he lay on his death bed. He knew emotional affliction.
In the light of all this suffering, we must stand up and take note
that he said, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted!" Before
we see why it was good, let us remind ourselves that he had suffered
just about every way a person can. All of us should find some comparison
between our troubles and David's.
The affliction was good for him, he said, "that I might learn
thy statutes." But did he know God's word? Quite obviously,
he did; many verses in other Psalms indicate that he knew the Bible
well. Even in this particular Psalm he shows that by saying,
"Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against
thee" (v. 11).
"With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth" (v.
"I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in
all riches" (v. 14).
David certainly knew the Scripture, intellectually. The learning which
he received because of affliction was experiential. When we see references
to knowledge and learning in Scripture, we should remember that
knowledge may be either intellectual, or experiential, or both, and
it is imperative for us to determine which kind is meant if we would
understand the particular verse.
For instance, we know about the coming of the Lord intellectually
because we have read it in the Bible, but we will not know it experientially
until He comes again and takes us up to be with Him in the air. Knowledge,
therefore, may be intellectual or experiential.
He obviously meant the experiential kind in verse 73, when he asked, "...give
me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments."
Learning the Bible intellectually is almost always necessary before
we would know it by experience; therefore, we should pay heed to
all the teaching and preaching of God's Word that we possibly can.
We must store it up in our minds, if we would have it to use in daily
experience. The trouble is that many of us Christians put so very
little into practice, that most of our knowledge is intellectual,
while almost none is experiential.
Another way to consider the same distinction is by using two words:
interpretation and application. A given verse will have only one
correct interpretation, while it may have several applications. Many
of God's people learn the proper interpretation of Scripture, but
do not apply it to every day living. To help us understand the distinction
between interpretation and application, we will consider 1 Cor. 9:9
which is a quotation of Deut. 25:4.
"For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle
the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn."
The interpretation is that the Israelites were not to put a muzzle
on the ox that they used in their farming; in other words, if the
animal worked, he should be allowed to eat. The application is that
all who work should be able to be supported from their work. The
verse is used in 1 Corinthians 9 in the midst of a discussion where
Paul was asserting that he and Barnabas had the authority to be supported
by their converts, because the Scripture gave such, in this place.
The Old Testament Scriptures would "come alive" to us today,
if we would study them in this way: looking for the applications
to our experiences.
Of course, we are not required to offer the animal sacrifices, or
obey various other laws which were given only to Israel and only
for that dispensation, but we may learn great principles from God's
instructions to them and make applications to our everyday living.
The secret of victorious living is learning to apply the Scripture.
All of us have known people who were quite well-versed in Scripture,
but who lived in sin. What was their trouble? Was it that their learning
of the Bible did them no good? Is it a waste of time to study Scripture?
Certainly not! Their trouble is that they have not applied experientially
what they have learned intellectually.
Application of Scripture to everyday living is what James 1:22 means
when it says, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers
only, deceiving your own selves."
Affliction comes to our lives so that we will learn to apply Scripture,
or so that we will learn to experience what we already know intellectually.
Often, one does not learn a new verse that he had never seen before;
what he does learn is the actual experience of that particular truth.
When we have affliction, most of us want to know why it came; we want
to know the cause of our troubles. However, that is not the main
thing that we need. In many cases, we never learn exactly why it
came; God has something much better. He wants us to learn to experience
something from His Word, during the affliction.
The classic example of suffering is Job. When we read the first two
chapters, we learn that it was God who initiated Job's trouble! God
challenged Satan to consider Job, then Satan suggested the affliction.
The rest of the book is the outgrowth of that. When we come to the
last chapter, we note that, as far as the Biblical record goes, Job
never learned of that conversation between God and Satan. So, he
never learned the cause of his affliction. But something more important
than the cause is the cure. Job did not know the cause, but he learned
the cure, and that was exactly what God wanted in the first place.
Job 42:7-8 records God's direction to Eliphaz, that he and his two
friends should bring a sacrifice to Job so that he could offer it
to the Lord and pray for them. In other words, Job was to be their
priest. Verse 9 tells of their obedience, then v. 10 states the great
experience that Job had:
"And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for
Surely, before this, Job knew that he should pray for others. That
is, he certainly knew it intellectually. The great lesson he learned
by experience was to pray for his friends even when they were his
worst critics. How difficult that is! How few of God's people ever
actually experience it! Learning this great experience was worth
much more to Job than learning about the conversation between God
and Satan. He could have known about that conversation and not been
any better for it; consider the fact that many Christians have read
Job 1 & 2, but have not become more spiritual as a result. But
learning to pray for his critics was certainly a great leap forward
in spiritual progress.
This shows us that God wants us to learn to experience some great
Bible truth, when we are afflicted. The particular truth may or may
not be related to our affliction, but it will surely make us better
servants of the Lord.
To show that this works in our day, the rest of this chapter will
be in the first person.
Several years ago it was necessary for me to interrupt a Bible conference
in which I was preaching to have emergency surgery for a ruptured
appendix. This caused me to cancel several weeks of meetings while
I recuperated. Why did that happen? Does God want us to quit serving
Him and lie around a hospital? Can that really be the will of God?
During that experience, I learned several of God's statutes, which
I will briefly mention.
The first is found in v. 75 of this same Psalm, "I know, O LORD,
that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast
afflicted me." It is good to learn that affliction comes from
God! Have you ever wondered whether something came from God or the
devil? We really need to get that settled, for more reasons than
one. For instance, if your perception of life is that of a struggle
between God and the devil, you might think that their power is equal
and might wonder who is going to win. In order to have victory, we
need to see from Scripture that God is in control of things, at all
times. Nothing can happen without His authority. Eph. 1:11 says that
he "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." Remember,
Satan could not afflict Job without the Lord's permission. So, it
really does not matter whether we say that God sent the affliction,
or that He permitted it; the end result is the same, and the authority
remains with Him. It is good to know that! If God sent the affliction,
then it is for His glory and for our good.
I also learned, by experience, something about faith. I had often
preached on great verses of faith, such as Mark 11:22 ("Have
faith in God") and 11:24 ("Therefore I say unto you, What
things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them,
and ye shall have them."). However, I had never been forced
to believe God for everyday financial needs without doing something
myself. In other times, when money was needed, I had always found
a second job and earned the extra funds, a practice which is spiritual
(see Eph. 4:28, for example). If a person can work, he should.
There is nothing spiritual about laziness, or about "mooching" off
Of course, when this happened, I was unable to work at any kind of
job, not even at the one to which God had called me. As I lay on
the hospital bed and realized that there would be no offerings coming
in (since several weeks of meetings were canceled), I wondered where
we would get the money for the house payment, food, tuition, and
other everyday expenses. The Lord reminded me of Mark 11:22, "Have
faith in God!" I knew that I needed it, but had to admit that
I did not have it. I had never been forced to depend on God, and
God alone, for daily needs. Now that it was necessary to do so, I
had to be honest and confess that I did not have such faith.
Then the Lord reminded me of another verse which I had often preached
and taught, Rom. 10:17, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing
by the word of God." I had often told people that they could
get faith from the Bible, and, of course, had experienced that, myself,
when I believed on the Lord Jesus for salvation from sin. I realized
that now I must go back to the Bible to get that faith which I needed
immediately. I was led by the Lord, I believe, to the Psalms, a precious
portion of God's Word which I had often read, and from which I had
preached many times. As a matter of fact, I had preached through
all 150 Psalms on Wednesday nights, when I was pastor of the Lakewood
Baptist Church, Harrison, Tennessee. Naturally, I thought I knew
much about the Psalms, but this time, as I read them, I learned something
new, because I was looking for something different. I experienced
the creation of faith in my heart, just as Rom. 10:17 promises! As
I began to trust the Lord for the necessary money, it started coming
in. One friend in the ministry brought a cash gift when he visited
me in the hospital. Others sent checks in the mail. Some came from
people that I did not even know; no solicitation had been made from
me to them.
The only explanation for such is: God!
God kept His promise to answer the prayers which come from a believing
heart (Mark 11:24). Every single need was met during that time of
recuperation. We paid every obligation on time, some ahead of time!
All of this is said to the glory of God; no attempt is made to boast
about my personal faith. If the same were to happen today, I would
have to go back to the Bible and get more faith, for my heart is
fearful today of insecurity. I am not naturally strong in faith,
but I can testify that God's Word will do what He promised!
The greatest blessing was not all the money that was given, but the
experience of receiving faith from the Bible, then exercising that
faith in the living God and seeing Him prove His promises!
It was good for me to be afflicted and learn that! Without the affliction,
I probably would never have experienced Mark 11:24 in financial matters.
Another great experience out of it all was the winning of one of my
roommates in the hospital to Christ. A man came to my room on the
day I came out of surgery. We briefly met, but not much conversation
took place because I was not feeling very well.
Later, the Lord moved my heart to witness to him about the Saviour.
Even though I did not really want to, because I felt sorry for myself,
I obeyed the Lord and learned that the man had never been born again.
He told about the offices in church which he had held, but admitted
that he did not know what it meant to be born again. I took my New
Testament and showed him the way of salvation, with the result that
he received Christ as his personal Saviour and was born again that
Later, when both of us were released from the hospital, I sent him
some helps for a new convert. It was a great joy to get a letter
from him some time later, telling me of his continued faith and desire
to go on for Christ.
The interesting thing about this man was that his surgery was rather
minor, the kind that could have been performed in a doctor's office.
Why did he come to the hospital for it? I have no doubt whatever
that the Lord sent his affliction and guided him to my very room,
so that I could tell him of the Saviour and he could be born again.
Would God do that? Would He actually make a person sick? There is
no problem with that, when we consider how much more important it
is to be saved, than merely to be healthy!
Also, I am confident that one of the reasons God ruptured my appendix
was so that man could be saved. Would God do that? Would He put me
to all that pain and expense, just for that? We should remember that
He put His only-begotten Son to infinitely more pain, so that the
world could be saved. God is interested in saving sinners!
It was good for me to be afflicted; I rejoiced in the great verses
from Scripture which I experienced, and would not go back to change
any of it.
How tragic it is that many of God's people go through some kind of
suffering without learning anything. Probably, the reason is that
we are so occupied with self-pity that we do not seek what God has
for us. May He give us the grace to repent, and seek the great truths
of His Word which He has for us to experience when affliction comes!