Does He Afflict?
There's really no getting around it, though I've tried. It's impossibly unpopular. No one can understand it, and it, to many, impeaches the character of God.
It's not that every hurt is caused by his hand. Every bald-headed child in a cancer ward. Every mother holding a limp child in a bomb crater. No, not every affliction is his.
But Israel's desert wandering was.
Job's hell was.
The cross was.
We want to play games to make ourselves feel better, as if it would be comforting if God were like a dad who watched his kid get snatched from a playground. If he didn't personally cause the pain, does that mean he's out of the picture? Did he not see? Does he not care? Is he absent? We cannot act like a sovereign and omnipotent God is surprised by our suffering.
Entitlement and small-mindedness raise their flag. We aren't supposed to hurt, right? It's not fair. All hurting is bad and we are good people, undeserving of struggle.
We aren't even pin dots on the map of the world, and we think this thing turns on its axis for us. We are so unaware of what God is doing that it's not even funny. That's why we simply project our humanity on his divinity, because we don't know what else to do. We categorize struggle according to our life experiences, but he categorizes them according to his eternal experience.
He knows the number of hairs on our heads.
He knits our babies together in the womb.
He feeds us and provides the impossible environmental conditions which sustain life on earth.
And he went to the cross saturated with the entire sins of humanity for our freedom.
While we are microscopic, we are microscopic masterpieces. We are the flock of the Lord. We aren't aimless amoebas or bothersome bugs. We are his, and he's our Dad.
Dads discipline, don't they? Good ones do. Dads will let a child fall so they learn a lesson. In other words, they either inflict discomfort or allow pain. Right? Does that make them a bad father? No. It makes them involved and intentionally loving. God is infinitely more involved and intentionally loving than the best father.
Pain is not arbitrary. Do you see that? Do you understand that your inflamed nerve endings are screaming messages at you?
Stop treating the temple of your body like a dumpster!
Get some sleep!
You won't live forever!
Pain is more than sensory impulses reacting to stimulus - they are broadcasts from heaven. Pain is communication, and sometimes it's the only way we'll listen.
So affliction. It could be punishment or rebuke. it could be the shrapnel from the world we've blown up with sin. Or maybe it's a firm hand on our shoulder, a whisper in our ears. Or a shout.
In any case, we don't have the mental wherewithal or the moral awareness to judge God for what he does or does not do. Sure, we can ask him, and we should. We should never suffer in silence because God is always there with us speaking.
A buddy of mine was in a horrible accident. He is recovering at home now by God's grace, but he's got some lingering issues which remain mysterious to the doctors. His memory comes and goes due to the head trauma. but you know what - his soul is crystal clear. At the hospital he couldn't remember how he got there, but he never forgot to invite nurses to church and ask doctors what he could pray for. He unceasingly asked about his wife and kids. He wept with gratitude when he wasn't vomiting. He's clear on what matters.
Am I suggesting my friend has been afflicted by God? Of course not. That's not my call to make, and I would never speculate. But I know that regardless of God's involvement in the accident, he is clarifying his soul as to what matters and what doesn't. It's a horribly painful process that got him here, and in his pain there's this gift of clarity. And not only that, my friend and his heroic wife have inspired countless others in the process. I don't know how it all works and I'd never wish this on my brother or his family, but I can see God's hand moving mightily.
God is not usually sovereign, or circumstantially powerful. He's a lion, a volcano, a hurricane. he speaks loudly to those he loves. So when he speaks, be it through feast or famine, incline your ear to him and watch him wash you with what you truly need: his presence.