You’ve probably been there. Unprecedented affliction enters your life. Along with it, all the new experiences. The anxiousness. The sleeplessness. The darkness, loneliness, anger, sorrow. Things compound.
By God’s grace, you seem to make it through. The storm seems to end. There is that huge relief with the breaking sun. Tears of joy come in humble rejoicing at the storm’s passing.
But then it happens. Another life-storm moves inland to your life. And another behind it. And another. Maybe it’s a reoccurrence of a previous trial. Or a compounding of differing trials; a financial on top of a spiritual. Or a physical trial consequent of a previous physical trial. Or all of the above.
The questions: “Ok, Lord, did I not meet my suffering quota for the year? Is there not some sort of trials-tap that can run dry from time to time?”
The frustration: “This just cannot be happening, again.”
The despair: “How in the world will I be able to keep going and be faithful to all the other stuff in my life with these constant storms?”
These are all normal. Perhaps not all excusable, but normal nevertheless. And there are not pixie-dust solutions to these problems, of course. We’re talking about a crux par excellence of life, after all.
Though not an exhaustive list, here are some possible explanations for the multiple afflictions God allows in our lives:
- Affliction may reoccur when our hope and refuge are misplaced.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
Having made it through previous affliction, we, perhaps, are too glad that it is over. Our comfort could be too much in exiting the valley of the shadow of death rather than the accompanying Shepherd.
But we have not learned to trust God until we trust him both with the type and duration of the trials. Perhaps nothing in the Christian life is more strenuous than that.
- Affliction may reoccur because Satan does not give up easy.
“The Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason’” (Job 2:2-3).
Satan’s response never ceases to strike me: “From going to and fro on the earth, and…walking up and down on it.” He is not saying, “Yep, God, just been strolling around the planet, enjoying the majesty of your creation!” It’s an ominous prowling; an unsolicited, sinister stake-out; an ill-willed invasion on the people of God.
Combine that with the fact that Satan is not weighed down with physical infirmity like we are, and you get stacked affliction in the lives of God’s cherished children.
- Affliction may reoccur because we are often slow to learn from God’s loving discipline.
“Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’” (Heb. 12:5-6).
Suffering may repeat if we have not sufficiently embraced God’s discipline. We may have to run another few laps around the track of affliction if we have not learned the first time. We may need to stay longer in the school of suffering. But it’s not an expression of God’s condemnation of us any more than it is when a loving father allows his toddler son to be admitted for an additional, life-saving surgery. God’s discipline is never about condemnation, but sanctification.
Affliction may reoccur because one chisel of the hammer does not complete the sculpture.
“He who began a good work in you will perfect until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phi. 1:6).
Renown sculptor, Michelangelo, spent several painstaking years with tools like hammers, chisels, and mallets to create his famous marble statue of Moses. More than one blow of the hammer and cut of the chisel was needed to carve out that masterpiece. So it is with our good Master Sculptor. He loves us so much, that he will settle for nothing less than the spiritual Christ chiseled out in us all. But that’s going to mean reoccurring affliction.
- Affliction may reoccur to prepare us for greater usefulness.
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
Cutting and chopping only a few of the branches now and then will be insufficient for the most fruitful of trees. The fruitfulness of greater usefulness blooms out of continued pruning. That means frequent, repeated striking away of dulled and useless branches. And the Pruner knows exactly what he is doing; pruning us for the exalted, sacred privilege of greater usefulness in redemptive purposes.
Spurgeon said similarly, “While the wheat sleeps comfortably in the husk, it is useless to man. It must be threshed out of its resting place before its value can be known.”
- Affliction may reoccur to teach us to walk by faith, not sight.
“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
We may be taken deeper into dark valleys to do us good by weaning us off of our own eyesight. Perhaps we trust our sheepish footing more than the Shepherd’s guiding. Trust is more important than comprehension.
- Affliction may reoccur to shed spiritual laziness.
“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).
Sloth in the means of grace is a far greater hazard than any trial a Christian will face. Trials keep us awake at the helm, instead of asleep in the hull. Our prayer lives get traction. Scripture meditation becomes more of an absolute necessity than a ritualistic duty. Repentance becomes a gentle bump rather than a hard tug. We progress from liking our local church to absolutely needing her. Repeating affliction could be a gift to shed layers of spiritual sloth.
- Affliction may reoccur because our Lord desires prolonged intimacy with us.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
Sunny days do not always motivate us to intimacy with our Lord. Things are less urgent and more relaxed. Repeated journeys through the dark valley pull away the trinkets and props to which we cling. We find that they do little for soul-care. Thus, we’re driven again to the sweetness of brokenness, clinging to our Shepherd. Perhaps the dark valley will be prolonged for that fellowship Christ desires with us.
- Affliction may reoccur to help us value the valuable.
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
After a few trials, it’s possible that we value them mostly for their termination. We may have learned some lessons of faith. But perhaps we yet cling to the world in ways. Our claws may not be de-clinged from the world upon the first tug. They may need to be pried more and even more until we let go.
- Affliction may reoccur to demonstrate the indestructibility of saving faith.
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 5:6-7).
Though fire incinerates things like wood, hay, and stubble, it merely refines and purifies gold. God burns at the gold-like saving faith of his people to encourage them with the indestructability of salvation.
Winds and waves pounding on the rocking shore display something fascinating: the rock is unshakable in comparison to the pounding waves.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Our Lord places so high a value on His people’s faith that, in His infinite wisdom and abounding love, He will not screen them from the trials by which faith is strengthened.”
- Affliction may reoccur for reasons that we just do not know.
While the above explanations may be true in some trials, there may be some where it is not clear. Notwithstanding the humility he learned, Job did not know that chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Job existed until he got to heaven. This did not mean that there was no explanation, but that God in his wisdom had not revealed one.
But, when we find ourselves in any deep, dark valley, we can yet pray one of the greatest prayers a human being can pray. “O our God…we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12). Our crucified Lord and Shepherd will see us through safe passage to a time and place when stacked afflictions will be a distant memory.