Just the other day as I was reading Psalm 119, I was struck by fear. It wasn’t the global fear of God caused by his greatness, holiness, and power but the sort of fear that is followed by the words: “oh, my…did I just read that?” Have you ever had moments like this? It was a moment of revelation.
It was late and I was reading in bed with a small flashlight. My book light is broken and I was trying not to bother Maria as she slept, so I fumbled around awkwardly while trying to read the small words on the page. That night, by accident, I found that reading the Bible at night in the dark with a flashlight is a fantastic way to read the word of God. Something about the darkness and spot light adds a unique quiet focus. I had been reading Psalm 119 during the week before, but this particular time I was hit straight in the head when I reached verse 67:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”
The word afflicted jumped off the page at me. So, I read it again. Before I was afflicted I went astray. Yikes, before I was afflicted? But now I keep your word. I know that as a Christian we should expect affliction, but this was like a neon sign saying, “You will be afflicted.” God wants me to keep his word and commandments, but the author made it clear that he could not keep them until after he was afflicted. He learned something during his affliction that changed him. This is not comforting in a worldly sense. Who would want to learn this lesson? My mind immediately shot to Hebrews chapter 12 and the description of how a father will chastise and discipline his son if he loves him. Better yet, the father disciplines his son because it is the best thing for him and seems painful but later yields good fruit. (Hebrews 12:3-11) I think of my own pitiful weak parenting and see this truth materialize everyday.
The thought of affliction is a very scary thought for me. When I read affliction I see visions of death, pain, loss, misery, and physical and emotional struggles. My wife and I recently went through a bout of affliction at the beginning of 2009 and my heart is still recovering from the wounds. Several tragic things happened in a span of a few weeks. First, my father-in-law passed away and although it was not a surprise, due to his health, it has been terribly sad. Then a major part of our business started to crumble beneath us, which led to me parting ways with a business partner and dear friend of mine of many years. Finally, to top off the challenging period, our brand new puppy, who was merely twelve weeks old and we brought him home the week following my father-in-laws memorial, suddenly developed a health condition that caused several strokes, blindness, and toxins in his brain. Within forty-eight hours he went from being an adorable puppy that brought great joy into our life to a horribly sick and miserable creature. We had to put him down and face death again eye-to-eye and our frailty face-to-face.
During these days when sadness dominated, I kept remembering a single verse that others I know spoke to themselves during struggles and pain: “You are good and you do good.” I knew this verse was from a Psalm, but I couldn’t remember which one. The truth behind the verse gave me great strength. In a simple sentence, I knew God was good and no matter what happened to me it was good because God was in complete control and it would ultimately work out for my good, as stated in Romans 8:28-30. Regardless of how bad or painful it was at that moment, it was working for the greater good in God’s plan for my life and those around me. I knew this and my entire understanding of who God is, what his character is, and what plans he has for me were all incorporated within this simple disambiguated verse: “you are good and you do good.”
I sat on Psalm 119:67 for several minutes as the last few months flashed before my eyes. I saw the days pass by and even relived many of those feelings in that moment. I read on to gain more understanding of this affliction and the results that came from it. The next verse can be classified under supernatural happenings or as a providential God appointed meeting. I read verse 68:
“You are good and you do good; teach me your statues.”
What! Are you kidding me? This is no exaggeration. I wish I was clever enough to create something like this. The disconnected verse that helped me get through my time of struggle, loss, and sadness mysteriously appears immediately following a verse describing affliction and spiritual growth. This is phenomenal. God is very mysterious, but oh so glorious! I continued to read and found the conclusion to these verses in verse 71:
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues.”
At this point the verses on discipline come together with Psalm 119. You are good, you do good, and it is good for me. Do I know that these sad events in my life were caused by God as a personal affliction to move me to a new spiritual place? No, I have no idea. I may never know. Do these verses make it any easier to deal with? Yes, it is comforting to hang on to. However, these sad times did move me to a new place and in the end, it was good for me. The view I have of God is a tiny bit clearer now than it was before…before I was afflicted. I’m not sure that am keeping His word or statues any better, but I do have a continually growing affection and desire for God. According to Mark 12:29-30, the scribes ask Jesus what was the most important commandment of all? His answer: “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
I find great strength and joy in interpreting Psalm 119:71 like this: It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might love you will all my, heart, soul, mind, and strength. I don’t want to be afflicted again, obviously, but somehow I just know in my heart that my spiritual maturity is depending on it.
by Keller Hackbusch