Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
Psalm 119:67 ESV
A painful reality is expressed by the psalmist in this verse. God afflicts His people for their own good. A strain of hedonistic thought has wormed its way into the church that if God is truly good then He will never cause us any harm. It also expresses the converse: if God were to ever cause us harm, He could not be good. How foolish that we who are fortunate to live seventy or eighty years would presume to judge the everlasting Creator! How absurd that we who cannot keep from sinning against even our own consciences would claim to have moral authority over God!
No, the uncomfortable reality is that God does cause harm, that God does afflict even those in whom He delights. Job’s affliction was certainly the direct result of Satan, yet God was also clearly orchestrating the whole matter. After all, it was God who asked Satan to consider Job rather than the reverse.
Or should we consider God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Of course, he stopped Abraham from actually slaughtering his son, yet would any parent not call Abraham’s three-day journey to Moriah a time of affliction?
It was God design for Joseph to be taken down to Egypt. It was God’s design for all of Israel to dwell in Egypt and to become slaves. There is no shortage of examples, if only we have the honesty to face them head-on.
Should we then doubt God’s goodness since He so frequently afflicts His people? By no means! Whenever God’s afflicts his people, He does so to discipline them, to correct them of their errors and to set them upon the proper path. Both Proverbs 3 and Hebrews 12 affirm this fact by relating God’s discipline to parental discipline of children. When administered properly, parental discipline is a mighty expression of love toward children, for it expresses concern not merely for the child’s immediate happiness but for his or her overall character and behavior. Indeed, it is unloving to leave children to their own devices. Proverbs 13:24 even calls it hatred: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” The child has less understanding and less wisdom than the parent, and imparting both through discipline is ultimately an act of love.
So it is with the disciplining afflictions that God brings upon us. They are meant to bring us back to God’s good path whenever we go astray. They bring us back into obedience to God’s Word whenever we have begun to do whatever is right in our own eyes. Painful though it may be, all God’s people can rightly pray alongside the psalmist: Before I was afflict I went astray, but now I keep your word.