In this Psalm, the Psalmist says something a bit odd, odd that is if one has a worldly mindset.
Psalm 119:65-72 (ESV) You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Did you catch what the Psalmist said? – “It is good for me that I was afflicted…” Another translation renders the first part of verse 71 as, “My suffering was good for me, …” I’ll tell you, folks, that’s NOT how most people in America, or anywhere else I’ve traveled in the world thinks about afflictions.
How in this world can physical, emotional, or spiritual affliction ever be good for us?
First, let us clarify a couple of things. One, the word “afflicted” here is used twice within the passage and is the Hebrew word “ʿānâ” and it literally means to be “oppressed.” It’s a word we hear used a lot today in our culture, and just a thought here, it is a word that's overused in my opinion. Yet, I digress. The word “afflicted” in the passage is used in the sense of being humbled, i.e., a state of oppression that humbles one.
Second, our afflictions (sufferings) are often self-inflicted, but they can also as we read earlier be SENT by God, and most definitely USED by Him. In verse 67 of this Psalm, the Psalmist wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” Our afflictions, that is our struggles and sufferings have a way of either drawing us close to God or pushing us farther away from Him. They also have the ability to bring joy or bitterness. The Scriptures contain a plethora of examples for us to see how this plays out. Think for a moment about those in the Old Testament like Joseph who the more he suffered the more he trusted God. And then we see individuals such as Cain who is just angry and bitter. His supposed suffering was mild in comparison to Joseph, yet his anger and bitterness lead to the killing of his brother.
We also have examples in the New Testament. Take Paul and Steven, these servants of Christ suffered greatly but maintained a sense of great joy in their troubles. On the other side, we have those who ran from Christ and His Gospel when tough times came. Men like Demas and Alexander, two men whom you’ve probably never heard of because most preachers tend not to focus on them, why should we?
The point? You are not alone in your affliction and sufferings, even though it may often feel that way. Let’s go back to the Psalmist’s statement of being afflicted by God and that it was good. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. Pain is often one of the best teachers in life, it is in our pain that we turn to find relief, and for many of us, we turned to Christ to aid us in our afflictions. Also, it is Christ Jesus Who truly understands afflictions better than anyone to ever walk the face of this earth, He was destined to suffer on the believer’s behalf (Isaiah 53:5-10). It is the writer of Hebrews who tells us that Christ Jesus understands our afflictions because He took them upon himself when He came in His first advent.
One last thought. Our afflictions can be good for others. It is in times of suffering that the heart of a believer can be softened, and it is in that tenderness that others are benefited. Suffering helps us as human beings to identify with those who are currently living through trials and heartache. Hear this and know that the believer is to comfort others just as he/she has been comforted.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.