Psalm 51, 69:1-23
2 Corinthians 1:1-7
As a flawed human, a sinner, how can I get the clean heart to be in right relationship with God?
Those of us who live in the south regularly hear about someone who is afflicted with (insert horrific disease). Professional gossips can out-afflict almost anyone. Perhaps it is because Biblical language infuses many regional idioms. Perhaps it is because we are too nice to mention actual problems by name. Today’s scriptures though, take affliction to a level that even the best southern gossip good Christian woman would struggle to rival.
From David’s challenges after meeting Bathsheba, to the fall of Jerusalem, to Paul and other missionaries’ sufferings, to Jesus’s cursing of the fig tree, affliction plays a major role in God’s demonstrated love for his people throughout the Bible. The frenetic pace of Holy Week sometimes distracts us from the ultimate affliction Christ endures for our salvation. Our own perceived (and real) afflictions also distract us from the work before us.
In the passages, some of the afflictions come because of failures of righteous people in following God. The afflictions of David in Psalms and the Hebrew people in Lamentations come directly from God because of the shortcomings of the people. They sinned against him and the pain and separation they felt came as a means of correction to move them from the ways of sin toward a more holy way of life. God’s punishment rarely permanently disables us because he desires us to be strong and well-grounded to do his work under his command. Even in the suffering God inflicts on his own people as punishment, the ultimate goal is to build faith and confidence in service.
In the 2 Corinthians passage, Paul and the others suffered from the actions of people opposed to them because to their faithfulness, and God provided the consolation (perseverance) to continue doing those things he had asked. While the affliction sometimes leads to death, God’s consolation is ever present to see us through.
Jesus’s cursing of the fig tree – admittedly out of season – brings us the greatest challenge when it comes to the idea of affliction. I have a fig tree in my yard; at this time of year, it is a large, lush, green mass charging up for its mid-summer productive streak. The tree Jesus encountered was in the same stage – a picture of life and health. When the disciples and Jesus next passed, it had “withered away to its roots.” The Jesus gives a lesson of faith. The fig tree paid the price of Jesus’s depth of faith. Days later Jesus paid the price of our lack of faith.
The southern gossips may employ the term affliction with impunity because of its frequency in Scripture; however, most of the afflictions burning up the phone lines or email prayer chains, while uncomfortable to those suffering them, do not rise to the occasion of a Biblical affliction. Those recounted across the span of Bible times served some purpose to further God’s kingdom. Certainly we are called to love our neighbors and have compassion on them: God demands it. Responding to our neighbors with faith that withers fig trees and casts mountains into the ocean helps us to reach that pure heart, flawed as we are, and overcome our real affliction, separation from God by sin.
Let us escape us and consider others in ways that allow your will to be done in their lives.