Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)
This verse shows that God sends affliction to help us learn his word. How does that work? How does affliction help us learn and obey the word of God?
There are innumerable answers, as there are innumerable experiences of this great mercy. But here are five:
Affliction takes away the glibness of life and makes us more serious, so that our mind-set is more in tune with the seriousness of God’s word. And mark this: There is not a single glib page in the book of God.
Affliction knocks worldly props out from under us and forces us to rely more on God, which brings us more in tune with the aim of the word. For the aim of the word is that we hope in God and trust him. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).
Affliction makes us search the Scriptures with greater desperation for help, rather than treating it as marginal to life. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Affliction brings us into the partnership of Christ’s sufferings, so that we fellowship more closely with him and see the world more readily through his eyes. Paul’s great heart longing was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
Affliction mortifies deceitful and distracting fleshly desires, and so brings us into a more spiritual frame and makes us receptive to the spiritual word of God. “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Suffering has a great sin-killing effect. And the more pure we are, the more clearly we see God (Matthew 5:8).
May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God through pain.