No one likes to go through painful things, but it’s almost universally recognized that some of the most important lessons come from the most painful times. Christians understand this not to be some universal principle that just works, but a grace of God in using affliction to bring about good. The Bible confidently boasts, “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This means that, for God’s people, even the most severe afflictions come with gracious purposes. God uses suffering for His peoples’ good.
So how do afflictions work for the good of the godly? In his excellent book, All Things for Good, Thomas Watson gives ten ways that God uses suffering for the good of His people. For the full list, buy the book, but here are five of the reasons with a short description of each :
Affliction is our preacher and teacher – “Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!” (Micah 6:9). Affliction teaches what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning, but we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore God lets loose affliction, and then we feel sin bitter. A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon. We can best see the ugly vision of sin in the glass of affliction. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us know affliction that we may better know ourselves. We see that corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. Water in the glass looks clear, but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. In prosperity a man seems to be humble and thankful, the water looks clear; but set this man a little on the fire of affliction and the scum boils up. (Taken from All Things for Good, p. 26-27).
Afflictions work for good, as they conform us to Christ. God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’ image more lively upon us…Can we be parts of His body and not be like Him? He wept and bled. Was His head crowned with thorns and do we think to be crowned with roses?
Afflictions are good to the godly as they are destructive to sin. Affliction is the medicine God uses to carry off our spiritual diseases. They cure the tumor of pride, the fever of lust, the virus of covetousness.
Afflictions work for good as they are the means of loosening our hearts from the world. When you dig away the dirt from the root of the tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth. So God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the earth.
Afflictions work for good as they make way for glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Not that they merit glory, but they prepare for it. As ploughing prepares the earth for a crop so afflictions prepare and make us ready for glory. The worst that God does to His children is whip them to heaven.
Although the clouds may hide the sun, that doesn’t mean the sun has disappeared. In afflictions, hold fast to the promises of God and know that He will work all things for the good of His people.
I highly recommend the book from which this quote came. For some more excellent reading on how God uses sickness/affliction for our good, check out this little piece from J.C. Ryle or buy Jerry Bridges wonderful book, Trusting God Even When it Hurts.