I find it somewhat poetic that I began to write this entry yesterday morning and, mid-sentence, the power went out. It had been doing that all night long, so it wasn’t really a surprise, but it did highlight the notion of being afflicted. Losing power and becoming frustrated that you cannot finish what you were doing is a minor affliction, but it registers. To add to the mix, my wife woke me at about midnight saying that someone was knocking on the door. Turned out to be police officers responding to a domestic disturbance call in our apartment complex. The caller had not been sure which apartment the noise was coming from, so the officers checked on us. I appreciate their diligence. I wish the caller had been more specific. All of that to say that my thoughts may seem a bit disjoint.
Somewhere along the line, some believers accepted the notion that suffering was not an integral part of being conformed to the image of Christ. I do not know why and I do not know what verse or verses they mangle in order to come to that conclusion, but Jesus said that His disciples would have suffering in this world (John 16:33) and Paul spoke of our light and momentary affliction, a.k.a. “life” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The long and short of it is that every believer will have afflictions.
There are major ones like the persecution being endured by believers in Iraq and Syria and places where ISIS is beheading people for professing faith in Christ or being cut off from our family because we have placed out faith in Christ. Sometimes friends become hostile and people lose jobs and worlds are upended. Years ago, my youngest sister passed away and, a few months later, I realized that the woman I was engaged to and I needed to take a step back and work some things out before we were ready for marriage. She disagreed and the engagement, my friendship with her brother, and a host of other things came crashing down. In the midst of it, I learned the peace of God. I had never experienced anything quite like it. When my sister was called home, I pushed it aside and carried on. When everything came crashing down a few months later, I was ill-equipped to push anything anywhere. There was no work to bury myself in and no glut of activities to move my gaze away from what had happened. In that place where I was forced to face my pain and feelings of betrayal is where I learned God’s peace. He knows pain and betrayal and He gave to me the same peace that He had in the midst of His pain and betrayal. But that conformity, that bone-deep understanding of something God wants to teach does not often come from reading The Bible and praying, it most often comes through affliction. Those affliction, the major ones, I liken to chisels and coarse grain sandpaper. They take off the visible, major chunks that make us look less like our Savior than like a lump of stone. Michelangelo is reputed to have said that he went into the block of marble to free the statue within. God does much the same with His children. He goes into the raw material He created to liberate the image of Himself within us. We are created in His image, He wants to chip and sand away all the things that mar that image.
There are minor ones like cars not starting or power going out or the host of minor nuisances that are like fine grain sandpaper and rub away the tiny, almost unnoticeable imperfections. But God sees those imperfections and uses the fine grain to get at them.He provokes my irritation and impatience and unkindness in order to draw them to where I see them for the problem they are and allow Him to work. That, I think, is how my partnership; my cooperation with God works at the moment. He shows me what is wrong in me and I do my best to sit still while He works on that spot. It is not easy and it is not comfortable, but it is worthwhile.
The greatest sculptures I’ve ever seen are so lifelike; so completely true to what they portray that no burs at all were allowed to remain. God is interested in that level of fidelity in representation in me. He wants me — insignificant, flawed, weak me — to be a perfect representation of Himself. He wants my imperfection to put on perfection. That cannot happen without some affliction; some pain.
The afflictions of the righteous are many because he is righteous. To be right with God entails affliction. Exhibit one is Jesus Christ. The only perfectly righteous human being in human history spent His life being misunderstood, shunned, mocked, and eventually beaten, spit on, mocked some more, and executed for a crime He did not commit. He is my pattern. While I do not seek to be tortured or mocked or beaten or executed, I have to admit that all of these are potential scenarios for me, because they were reality for my Savior. If I am misunderstood, Jesus understands. If I am shunned, Jesus welcomes me. If I am mocked, Jesus praises me (Matthew 5:11-12).
The promise that tags along with the promise of affliction is the promise of deliverance. If I am afflicted, I will also be delivered. God will bring me — not my imperfections and the things that mar my likeness to Him, but me as I was meant to be — out of the afflictions in my life. I will not enjoy it. I will not find it pleasant. But God will complete what He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6) and will bring me spotless before His throne (Jude v.24). It is His to perfect me and deliver me through the afflictions that come. It is mine to endure the light and momentary afflictions in order to allow God to work through them an eternal glory.