When I got thrown out of my house after my wife discovered evidence of one more affair I did not see this as mercy. Becoming homeless, jobless, careening towards divorce and being estranged from my family was hardly the way I envisioned grace. Having to endure humiliation and complete powerlessness and hopelessness in the face of insurmountable obstacles and even being cut off from my parents was not how I pictured love.
But all of it was exactly that: God’s Mercy. God’s Grace. God’s Love. Every moment of it, every second. Had it not been for my many afflictions, I would still be blindly marching on, having all the form of religion in my life yet none of the power of godliness (2 Tim. 3:5). It was the upheaval in my life that got my attention and led me to repentance. The chaos God allowed to consume my life is what woke me up, humbling me, breaking my hard heart to realize my need for His word and His truth.
And so it is that I can relate well to the Psalmist who writes,
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes (Psalm 119:67,71)
And so it is that I can better understand why Jesus would say,
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34).
Jesus and the Psalmist knew that the best way to save a person is to upend them. When I was in the Navy I learned that good sailors are not made on calm seas. It takes a storm to make a sailor of any salt.
It is perhaps only in hindsight that we can discern God’s hand in the midst of our afflictions, but I don’t think that always needs to be the case. Our Scriptures are full of stories about people, both individuals and entire nations, who went through many trials and tribulations as a means to refine them, test them, and yes, even judge them. Don’t despise the discipline of the Lord, we are taught, for without it we are not children of God (Heb. 12:5-8). Our Father through His inspired Word cries out to us repeatedly, “Have faith! Trust Me!” But like Peter, we far too often look at the waves around us rather than to Jesus, and sink.
As a United Methodist these days it is easy to get swept up in the storm and focus only on the waves, seeing nothing but chaos which leads to despair. I wonder, though, what would happen if we looked at our present afflictions as God’s mercy, grace, and love? What if we saw it as our Father’s faithful, parental hand, teaching His bride the importance of keeping His word? What if we saw it as an opportunity to be judged (what a gift!), and to repent, turn again, so that our sins may be blotted out and times of refreshing might come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19)?
Will we as a Church see our current crisis as God’s discipline or as something else?
Of course, these lessons are not true for us only as a denomination but as individual pilgrims sojourning through this land awaiting our inheritance in the next. Every moment of every day we are faced with various afflictions and trials by which our faith is tested and refined.
As for my personal faith and my marriage and family and ministry, God used all of that to resurrect something far more wonderful than anything I could have thought or imagined at the time. Being brought low was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I, and my wife, thank God for our many afflictions, for by them we learned to trust in God. These days when I encounter something which brings me discomfort at best or chaos at worst, I pray, “Lord, teach me everything I need to learn in this mess because I don’t want to have to learn it a second time.” Or as James put it,
Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Let this have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).