My child, don't reject the LORD's discipline, and don't be upset when He corrects you. For the LORD corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom He delights.
--Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT
Life presents difficulties. We can see in the Bible that on occasion the Lord sends afflictions to get the attention of the people when they won't listen; mostly, however, He allows and uses difficult situations to challenge us — and grow us.
I have some friends who met years ago on the national cycling team circuit and 40 years on they still enjoy getting out on two wheels. But in their language, a ride that doesn’t have a specific destination or purpose is a ‘training ride’. Cyclists learn to read the route ahead and prepare early for the hill section or sharp bends or rough surface. And some sections will not go as well as they should — hence the thought of a ride for pleasure also being a training session.
Life is a training session — training in holiness for eternal life in glory. And it can deal us some unexpected potholes and challenging inclines.
So does God deal us a difficult section from time to time, to teach us? That doesn’t sound like the heart of He who describes Himself as merciful and compassionate, who the apostle John described with the pure force of plain words: “God is love”.
There are instances in Scripture where God is said to have sent afflictions.
There were times of rebellion in the desert, like Korah’s ‘insolent’ rebellion which costs almost 15,000 lives, Numbers 16, and later when the people derided God’s provision in a blasphemous complaint, and the the the Lord sent venomous snakes among them, Numbers 21:4-8 (but He also sent a sign to help them put their rebellion right and look to Him again). The exile was a national affliction which the prophets had long warned about. After the event, Ezekiel explained that it resulted from God’s wrath following generations of misrule and bloodshed and abandonment of the covenant for idolatry, Ezekiel 36:18-19. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, where the new life of the Spirit was being snuffed out by legalistic, unspiritual teachers trying to turn it back into a religion, warning them of the cause and effect relationship of rejecting what God had given, Galatians 5 and 6:7-8.
Mostly, it is the devil who brings affliction and oppression wherever our sin gives him a way in — and in our fallen world opportunities abound. But God will take these events and use them for good, as a spiritual alert for us to seek Him afresh.
When things seem to be going fine, we get complacent about our relationship with God — but when things get difficult or frightening, as with the present pandemic coming, and receding, and then coming some more, it is a wake-up call for us to seek God.
That’s what Jeremiah was trying to get the people of his time to see when they were in a desperate situation — and the frustration for him was that the right response was as plain as a pikestaff:
in Jeremiah’s words:
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
-- Jeremiah 33:3
God is sovereign over all events, and where there is affliction, He always shows a way out. It’s like the serpent on the pole. What God wants is our hearts, our affection, our response to Him. And that is part of a turning to Him, calling upon Him, and listening for His further answer.
Which will surely come if we seek Him.
O Lord God, thank You for Your merciful love.
When I sense the enemy pressing in,
I know You are there.
It is another training session, to test how I will respond.
Help me to grow in faith and trust,
to hold on to the fact of Your Fatherly goodness,
and to experience Your love even if it comes in a corrective way.
Thank You for Jesus in whom I pray. Amen.