Recently I was talking with a woman who was truly troubled over the state of her soul, wondering whether she had strayed so far from the Lord that He was now afflicting her physically, even wondering whether she was truly saved or not. Not everyone reveals inner struggles so freely as this woman did. It is a rare find, and I treasured it. Her thoughts were honest and real, and in some ways similar to ones that I myself had faced ten years ago pertaining to my own salvation. Since these doubts are so common, yet so uncommonly voiced, I thought you also would benefit from the answers that I gave her personally.
First, there is no necessary connection between personal sin and personal affliction. In other words, being afflicted does not necessarily mean that we have done anything specific to cause it. We know this, but do we believe it? For some of us, outer pain seems to translate automatically into feelings of inner guilt. If that were always so, what about the book of Job? That’s the whole point of his life. He had done nothing wrong in particular to reap what he had not sown. Even Jesus Himself, the Bible says, “learned…obedience by the things which he suffered.” He learned, not because He was sinful and needed correction, for He truly was and ever is “holy, harmless, undefiled,” but because He was immature in human development and needed to become mature (Hebrews 5:9; 7:26; 5:10). At the very least, we can say that affliction brings the opportunity to learn. Moreover, if we have been straying, then we may also suspect that God is not only teaching us, but correcting us, so that we would come back to Him.
Listen to clear voice given in Psalm 119 to the benefit of affliction:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept Your word” (verse 67).
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes” (verse 71).
“I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, and that You in faithfulness have afflicted me” (verse 75).
My second point comes from the second verse: The key to thankfulness is to find something truly good. Notice that I said truly good. This is not an exercise in self-delusion. God is not asking you to act as if bitter is sweet and then give thanks. His Son Jesus is the Truth, and He does not teach us to lie to ourselves in order for us to feel better. Therefore, if we are to be thankful “in everything” and “for all things,” as the Bible commands (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20), then there must be something truly good in what we are experiencing. Amazingly, the psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”
Can you say that? If you are a genuine Christian, you not only have every right to say that, you must say that. God has promised to work “all things together” for your good (Romans 8:28). He really does love you. The cross was not a lie. Therefore, reckon it so by faith; believe that the sour will mingle with the sweet into something grander than bland candy. God is wiser than that, and loves you more than that. The moment you finally see your affliction as “good” is the moment you can finally give thanks without self-delusion.
Finally, you must be your own preacher. The psalms are such a treasure-chest of wisdom on soul-care! Listen to the way another psalm addresses perpetually down feelings:
“Why are cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 43:5).
Please note: Who must take your soul to task for feeling blue? You must. This point was made long ago by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his famous series of sermons on spiritual depression, but it bears repeating here: Quit listening to yourself, and start preaching to yourself. It will be very hard at first. Your emotions will be pulling the other way, and may take a long time to turn around, but do not give up. Rejoice in hope. Stick to the truth, and let the truth set you free. It always will. God bless you, and may you be feeling better soon as you begin to think better now!
If I can be of any assistance to you, please contact me on the comment line below. I desire to help.
Pastor, Open Door Bible Church