Monday, August 3, 2009

Affliction Anyone?

2 Corinthians 1:6 (NRSV), “If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.”

What an unpopular way to start off the week!

I am the variety of Christian who believes that affliction is purposeful. I know from my own experience that there is no other way to know God the Rescuer, and God the Consoler, and the role of the Holy Spirit as immediately as through the state of affliction. I could say that although I do not enjoy affliction, I look forward to the refinement that it brings.

Paul is explaining his affliction throughout 2 Corinthians. In chapter one, he is talking specifically about Asia. It is funny that with all of the bad things that happened to Paul, there could be a worst affliction. Some academics think that he is talking about Ephesus and the constant trouble that existed with the idol makers and that whole thing about fighting wild beasts, yikes!

Some now think that it is what he talks about in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul received 39 lashes, five times. He, also, got very sick and almost died. Like I said, take your pick, Paul knew affliction.

I know a woman who never complains. She has a wonderful perspective on affliction. Even her lumps and bumps are just something that happens with age. She is probably the only person that I know like that. She has been widowed, but just celebrates that season of marriage, instead of concentrating on the loss. Everyone loves her, and we all want to be like her.

Most of us have circumstantial affliction. Most of our “afflictions” are actually brought on by our perceived schedules, temperaments, or spending habits. Generally, we do not suffer under true persecution-level affliction, like Paul. Unhappily, some live in a state of circumstantial affliction. They just liked it so much that they set up a tent there. How to describe it? Hmmm, let’s put it this way, who do you dodge in a room full of people?

I was in a class one day and my professor asked if there were any prayer needs. A student raised his hand and said how tired he and his wife were. They were weary and busy, and needed rest. My professor just asked them what day they were planning on taking off. See, we have more control than we let on. If we can solve it on our own, then it isn’t affliction.

There are some of us that are afflicted, however. Some of us have real loss and estrangement. Some of us have physical afflictions that are debilitating, like abuse or health issues. These afflictions, these life markers serve to teach us consolation and make us more like Christ.

So, we know that affliction is purposeful…it has an end goal of consolation and salvation, whenever it may be. We are defined by the way that we go through it. We can make affliction worse, can’t we? The choices that we make during these times are crucial. To experience the refinement of affliction, we have to be willing to endure it, patiently.

When affliction comes we can do two things, tread water or float. When we tread water, we stay in one place and kick and kick and kick. Eventually we are tired, as we prove that this type of endurance is built on self-reliance. Our affliction can take us under when we fight against it. We are not made to withstand the battles of the unseen, alone.

When we float we entrust ourselves to the laws of things that we cannot see, in order to patiently endure our current situation. When we float we do not stay in one place. When we float, we have to relax a little, we have to breathe in and out, and we are subject to the currents under us. God’s hand is under the currents, gently gliding us through the chaos and into salvation, not only eternal but salvation from our affliction.

Before you hurry to the affliction sign-up sheet, let’s look at the biggest question that always comes up. Why me, why affliction? I can only turn, again, to Paul for his explanation for his affliction. 2 Corinthians 1:9, NRSV, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

So, if I am experiencing affliction, am I treading water or am I coming closer to the understanding that I cannot rely on myself but the One who was the power to defeat death itself?

Am I floating, understanding that I am subject to the unseen forces around me and yet I will stay in His hand?

Is the evidence of the power of God unmistakable in the midst of my affliction?

These questions are just some that can refocus us in the middle of affliction. In order to follow Paul’s example, we have to get the focus off of us and on to the one who can lead us the water’s edge.

Father, thank you for the trials that we face as Christians. Show us how to travel through them only to know you more on the other side. Let us be refined to look more like you through all of the afflictions that come our way.

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