Today I’m Thankful For God’s Affliction

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The Almighty has closed me in to a very small space, probably to limit the damage I can do to myself and others, by completely plugging up my left ear during the course of the night. I mean, I think I have no one to thank but him. This cold must have come to me from his divine and provident hand. That and from the tender affections of the children who so lovingly climbed all over me and coughed in my face. I feel now that I am living in a world apart, floating in a silent and blissful and otherworldly cloud. It’s always very nice to lose one’s voice and not be able to talk (a gentle and restful reprieve from yelling) but I think it will be even nicer not to be able to hear for several days.

This is one of the distinguishing marks of Christianity, and why Christians are such strange people. Whereas the world, when admonished to be thankful, lists many of the obvious blessings of common grace–health, wealth, prosperity, absence from suffering, glittering gold and all manner of temporal, happy peace–you will occasionally hear a Christian express gratitude over affliction.

I found myself doing this several years ago, engrossed one evening in the lurid internet details of a famous pastor’s fall into depraved and notorious sexual adultery. First of all, the pastor and his wife were both, I thought, remarkably beautiful. All the pictures of them were shiny and sparkly. Second of all, they had the dream life of rich elite American evangelicalism–a church much much bigger than 40 people straggling in on a Sunday morning. Third, they had the social media platform we’ve all been told we must surely long for and desire, the one that will make us famous and therefore happy. And all for the glory of God.

I read pages and pages of the devastating decline and fall of this pastor. The misuse and abandonment of his wife. His misuse of other women and the breaking up of their marriages. His propensity to conflate his high pastoral calling with his feelings of lust and then his abuse of his spiritual authority to manipulate and distort the word of God. I read and read and shook my head and then cast my eye over my own life.

And believe me, all I could see was one divine affliction after another. Six children in and I have turned into a shorter, more shriveled and less glorious version of my younger self. And years of ministry have truly not brought the glory of fame. And truly, church is solid and healthy but, well, the way we get people to come on Sunday morning is to lie prostrate on the floor on Saturday night and beg God with tears to bring some of them, to make it rain so that no one can go hiking or in any other way enjoy the weather. Over the years we’ve found that, by suffering, everything falls away except the singular vision of bible exposition. Want people to be spiritually healthy and know God? Preach the Bible. Want to see amendment of life and strong Christians who can weather the impossible storms with which life constantly bashes them? Preach the Bible. No program. No ministry. No clever idea replaces the singular strength born in the hearts of believers when they keep reading the scripture.

And on top of all of that, in poverty (relatively, compared to the glitz of celebrity pastordom) and distress (relatively in a first world sort of way) Matt and I had been too stretched and exhausted to any of the fancy things that could have drawn us away from each other. No gym memberships. No evenings out. No speaking tours. Just each other, day after day, with all of our children.

I sat there, scrolling and scrolling on the internet and found myself overcome with gratitude of relief. I was thankful, deeply so, for the afflictions and easily born deprivations that opened the way to such a rich life. I couldn’t have known before on my own what a mercy God had wrought, and does constantly work out, for those he loves. The stripping away, the sorrow, the temporal lack all continually and mercifully applied so that the riches of heaven can be tasted in abundance and grace even now.

So today, since I guess I’m blogging this week about what I’m thankful for, I’m thankful for my plugged ear, and for all the afflictions of God over the last decade or so, and for a husband and children who I have come to know and behold through the afflicting mercy of God.

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