Suppose a social worker interviews fifty people from a fine apartment building. He asks each person if he or she is dealing with any sort of affliction. We would expect a “yes” from most if not all of them.
The word affliction is defined broadly, for example as “a state of pain, suffering, distress or agony.”
Some might mention a physical affliction: complications of diabetes; macular degeneration; or perhaps arthritis, hearing loss, an autoimmune disorder, gluten intolerance, seizures, cancer.
Others might add a material affliction: a lost job combined with an empty emergency fund, hail damage to a car, or a flooded basement.
Yet another group might contribute examples of psychological affliction: a failed marriage; phone calls ignored by an alienated child who has in effect disappeared; the stress of an abusive or narcissistic boss.
Affliction comes to us all in one way or another over time. Nobody escapes, including those who appear to have it made.
The classic sufferer, Job of the ancient Biblical account, knew about mankind’s pervasive afflictions. Chapter 5, verse 7, asserts: Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. And consider a New Testament sufferer, the Apostle Paul, who shared with the Corinthian church, in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, a catalogue of his many sufferings for the gospel: shipwreck, undeserved whippings, three times beaten by robbers, in peril of being murdered, and on several occasions confinement in jail or under house arrest for months for no good reason.
What enabled Paul to successfully fend off gloom, self-pity, and despair when so many afflictions settled on him? He shares his secret in the same epistle.
Earlier, in chapter 4, verses 16 and 17, he shared the big picture about suffering. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles [afflictions] are achieving for us an eternal glory which outweighs them all.
Note three ways in which Paul reduces fear and supports the certainty of victory whether in life or in death.
First, he sets, side-by-side, two processes that Christians experience at the same time. One is that time is taking its toll on all of us and we are “wasting away.” This sobering reality is visible to each of us as birthdays mount into multiple decades. But Paul adds that, at the same time, inwardly we are being renewed day by day (16). The anniversaries that tick off our years also can deepen our character and our lives in Christ and awaken our awareness of a radiant future.
I heard a former bishop of the Free Methodist Church, Rev. William Pierce, then in his eighties, tell a large congregation at the 1947 General Conference, “Every day I live I am one day nearer to eternal youthfulness.”
In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul gives us a second secret to a life that can triumph in the face of mortality: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. There is so much to be seen (and desired) in our world of material abundance. Fixing our eyes on the unseen — regularly looking “beyond” to the next world — fuels our confidence when serious adversities come calling.
Third, in verse 18 Paul introduces two words to underscore the assurance that we can triumph over our afflictions: current troubles, he says, are “light” when compared to our eternal future, and they are “momentary” by the same comparison.
The Apostle Paul faced his afflictions bravely and with strength — with a transcendent view not only of the current world but also of the world to come. His words and example encourage us to do the same — enabled by the abundant grace of God!
Photo credit: Alon (via flickr.com)