Do me a favor and please read Psalm 119:65-72
Twice in these verses, the psalmist declares his affliction (whatever that is) and how before they were afflicted (vs 67) they strayed and disregarded the word of God but then now they see that the affliction was a good thing as it brought them to a space and place that was of growth. So before God…not afflicted and they did bad things – now they are followers (or have returned to God)…and they are afflicted. But they’re OK with that because they’ve realized the value of the Law because of their affliction. Wow. They’re happy to be afflicted? What in the world does THAT mean?
We don’t know what the psalmist has been afflicted by, or what they have done, but their understanding is that they have wronged God, wronged his Law, disobeyed Him, and lived a life against his Word. And because of it they have been disciplined. And so it is in this discipline that they recognize not only the wrongs they have committed but the goodness of God’s Law. And they fully recognize that God’s Law and goodness aren’t being handed down as “rewards” but as a way of life. So they see the goodness of the law not out of fear, but out of appreciation, hope, joy, peace, and love. And what’s really interesting is that while they acknowledge their sins they ALSO acknowledge (vs 65) that what they have been given (their affliction/punishment) was the right response by God. Yikes. I’m pretty sure I have ALWAYS felt that the punishment never matched the crime (when I was a kid – not when I was an adult)! But that’s me – and I’m not the psalmist here.
I am fully aware, as a son and a parent, that discipline is not only a learning experience but it is handed down out of love. And I’m fully aware that this isn’t always the case as some people come from broken homes and bad parents but my own parents disciplined me when I did something wrong. Not only wrong but bad. And in the same case my wife and I also discipline our children when they have done something bad. The discipline doesn’t take place because of spite or anger but because actions have consequences. And when you do something bad there is a consequence that is handed down to help teach us, guide us, and help us. THAT’S where we need to understand this “affliction” comment. Does “affliction” sound better now? It does to me. But let’s keep going.
The Law of God is supposed to guide people into a right relationship in all facets of life – and to the psalmist, it was more than that as it was a complete way of life. And so when you break that way of life and you come to your senses, whatever God did BECAUSE of what you did, you took it. You accepted the consequence. Not because you deserved it but because you declare that God loves you and wants you to be set right. You declare that his ways are right and true and what he does, because of what you have done to him and others is also right and true. However, I think there is something else we must recognize. That “affliction” not only is meant to correct – but it’s also meant to encourage and help.
One author writes that this is very much like John 15:2 and Hebrews 12:11 in nature where the intention of God is to help. So not only help by correcting by way of some “affliction” but also “afflicting” by way of help. I think the problem is that we often view “affliction” as a bad thing but we cannot get stuck there. Affliction can also help as seen in the John and Hebrews text. God “afflicts” sometimes by pruning. When you prune a plant, or a tree, what you are doing is encouraging growth. Pruning helps by removing damaged limbs as well as it helps maintain the right structure and shape in a plant. You and I too need to be pruned. We need to be pruned to help us focus. We need to be pruned to help encourage growth – as well as remove those things in our lives that are damaged, sick, and not helpful. So affliction, in this understanding, is exactly what we need. It may hurt but it’s what’s best for us. And ultimately, this is why the psalmist is able to understand that while God has afflicted him, it’s still good.
It’s hard to be in a “good” space when you’re being punished and I’m not sure I ever have but I am fully in agreement with the psalmist that all that God does, even in punishment, is for our good. And while I have had a relatively easy life I know that what God DOES do is for my betterment because all that he has done, will do, and currently does, is for my betterment. That’s why he put the Law in place, that’s why he sent his Son to earth, that’s why his Son took on the Law itself and fulfilled it for us so that we WOULDN’T keep failing to uphold it. And that’s why when Jesus left earth and returned to his throne on high he sent his Holy Spirit to bring us peace, comfort, and direct us towards holy living.
Affliction can be difficult to understand and live into if you believe in an evil, self-serving God who is only out to punish. But thankfully that is not the God we worship and that’s not the God we love. And how do we know this? For the Bible tells me so.
3 QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CHEW-ON:
- What in this psalm speaks to you? Where are you drawn? Why?
- Have you ever thought your punishment fit the crime and that it was for your good?
- What would pruning look like in the lives of God’s people?