Friday, 27 May 2011

The Blessings of Affliction

BY nature we are those who love the good things that God gives instead of the God who gives them, loving the gifts over the giver. Our hearts naturally turn to worship and serve created things, instead of worshipping and serving the Creator. This is idolatry.

As Christians we have a loving Heavenly Father who has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), these are blessings that we shall only enjoy in their fullness when Christ returns and brings about the new creation, where we shall be with Him forever enjoying the fullness of joy in His prescence. However, so often we do not long for that day as we should. This is because we are tempted to love the good things that God gives in this present world over the Giver.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good gifts of His creation that God has given us. These are good things that He has made for us to enjoy. The problem comes when we start loving these things instead of Him. When we do this we no longer long for the new creation, where we, as His people, shall enjoy being eternally in His prescence in a fully restored and renewed creation. Instead we settle for much less, by seeking the fullness of our joy in this present world, instead of in Christ.

This is why there is great blessing for the Christian in suffering and affliction. Our suffering and afflictions remind us of the imperfections of this fallen world. They wean us from love for this world that we might have a deeper love for God. They remind us not to get comfortable in this present world but to long for the perfect and renewed world to come, where we shall have the fullness of joy in the prescence of our King.

The puritan minister John Flavel recognised this. He speaks of the blessings of afflictions in this way:
“Is it indeed for the saints’ advantage, to be weaned from love of and delight in ensnaring earthly vanities; to be quickened and urged forward with more haste to heaven; to have clearer discoveries of their own hearts; to be taught to pray more fervently, frequently, spiritually; to look and long for the rest to come, more ardently? If these be for their advantage, experience teaches us that no condition is ordinarily blessed with such fruits as these, like an afflicted condition. Is it well then to repine and droop because your Father consults the advantage of your soul rather than the gratification of your humors? Because he will bring you to heaven by a nearer way than you are willing to go? Is this a due requital of his love, who is pleased so much to concern himself in your welfare? Who does more for you than he will do for thousands in the world upon whom he will not lay a rod or dispense an affliction to them for their good? (Hosea 4:17). But alas! We judge by sense and reckon things good or evil according to our present taste. Take heed that you overlook not the many precious mercies which the people of God enjoy amidst all their trouble. It is a pity that our tears on account of our troubles, should so blind our eyes, that we should not see our mercies. I will not insist upon the mercy of having your life given you “for a prey,” (Jeremiah 39:18); nor upon the many outward comforts which you enjoy, even above what were enjoyed by Christ and his precious servants, of whom the world was not worthy. But what say you to pardon of sin; interest in Christ; the covenant of promise; and an eternity of happiness in the presence of God, after a few days are over?”