How to Cope with Affliction
Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.Psalm 34:19
God does not distinguish His people from unbelievers by exempting them from affliction. He distinguishes them by causing all things – even their afflictions – to work out for their spiritual good and eternal deliverance. But how should we respond to afflictions in order to best assure that we properly submit to Him in times of affliction? Think of not only persecution, but also grief, an accident, physical sickness, depression, unemployment, a strained family relationship, abuse, or any other hardship. Any of these can trouble our souls and we might ask, “Why?”
God has His sovereign purpose for everything. Whatever God is doing, it is better for us to ask submissively: “Lord, what must I do? How should I respond so that this works for my good and Thy honor?”
The Bible’s answer is not an extensive “how-to” list that taps into man’s inner potential, but simply says, “by faith.” Faith directs us to entrust ourselves to God. Faith is exercised in a variety of ways, but every proper response to affliction is rooted in faith.
This is best illustrated by Hebrews 11. Hebrew Christians faced all kinds of afflictions in a hostile culture. To encourage them to persevere as Christians, the apostle pointed to Old Testament saints as examples. Here we find a wide spectrum of afflictions. We can only list a few samples:
- How could Enoch endure living in such wicked times just before the Flood (Heb. 11:5)? How can you spiritually survive in the wicked culture of our godless society? The same way Enoch did. Faith in God must be a living part of your daily walk. If God is for you, what can man do to you (Rom. 8:31)?
- How could Abram leave his homeland, not knowing where the Lord was leading him (Heb. 11:8)? Is God taking you down an unfamiliar path? How can you avoid anxiety? As Abram did: by faith in the Lord who “leads you in the way you should go” (Isa. 48:17).
- How could Moses’ parents obey God rather than Pharaoh’s wicked command (Heb. 11:23)? How can we stand up against the immoral trends of our infant-killing culture and obey God rather than man? Only by faith in the Lord who is the sovereign King of kings.
- How could Moses choose to “suffer affliction with God’s people” and resist the temptation of Egypt’s treasures and pleasures (Heb. 1:25)? The same way Joseph ran from a seductress. By faith in the LORD, whose name they did not forget in Egypt (cf. Gen. 39:9). By faith they valued the “reproach of Christ” more than Egypt’s treasures and pleasures and saw “him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27).
Hebrews 11 also mentions that believers faced other dangers (cf. Heb. 11:27-30). They “stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire...” (Heb. 11:33ff). How? These believers had no super powers (James 5:17). It was simply by faith. Not that faith itself is a “magical potion” for physical or even psychological strength. While humanly weak, faith connected their soul to Christ (2 Cor. 12:10). For His Son’s sake, God puts all things under Christ’s feet for their good (Eph. 1:22). He also renews and sanctifies believers, preparing and preserving them for glory. Faith unites them to the Victorious One (1 John 5:4-5). Therefore they can endure “all things through Christ” (Phil. 4:13).
Friend, if you are afflicted but still an unbeliever, then you are in great danger. Your temporal affliction is a prelude to eternity. Without faith in Jesus, you will face God’s final judgment and then a horrifying, everlasting affliction. The worst way to cope with your affliction is with an unbelieving heart. Do not ignore the call! Your affliction calls you to repent and believe. Do not reject the Lord’s offer to deliver you from all afflictions through salvation in Christ!
For the believer, affliction is also a call to persevere in faith. Do not stumble in unbelief at your struggle. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray” (James 5:13). Call upon the Lord in the day of your trouble (Ps. 50:15). Believer, remember that Christ also “was oppressed and afflicted” (Isa. 53:7). Continue “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).
Looking unto Him, you too will enter into the joy of the Lord. He will “wipe all tears from your eyes” (Rev. 21:4). Then with joy you will say, “Affliction has been for my profit” (Ps. 119:71, cf. The Psalter 329:4). The best way to cope with affliction is by faith in Christ, who exchanged His cross for a crown.