How God Can Be Good When He Allows Trials Back to all sermons

Date: June 19, 2015

Speaker: Pastor Steve Fuller

Category: Suffering

Scripture: Psalm 119:65–119:72

Tags: trials, God's sovereignty, God's Goodness, Allictions, suffering

Why God is Good When He Brings Affliction
Psalm 119:65-72

When everything in your life is good, it’s easy to believe God is good. It’s easy to believe God is good when you get the promotion, when your children are obeying, or when your health is great.

But what about when everything is not so good? What about when you lose your job, or you’ve just had a terrible day with your children, or are diagnosed with cancer? What do we believe about God then?

Some of you are asking that question right now. And every follower of Jesus will ask that question. And this is the question the psalmist answers in Psalm 119:65-72. So let’s turn there together.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible. It has 176 verses, divided into 8-verse sections. And each section teaches a crucial truth for our spiritual lives.

And in vv.65-72 the psalmist helps us understand how God can be good, even when he allows us to experience trials. And in these verses the author talks about what he has experienced. So let’s start by asking -- What trials has the author been facing?

Notice that in v.67 he says he has been afflicted –
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.
And he uses that same word in v.71 --
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
So he has been afflicted. But how has he been afflicted?

He tells us in vv.69-70 --
69 The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
70 their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.
He was being afflicted by some insolent people. “Insolent” means they don’t care about right or wrong, they have no moral sensitivity, they have no conscience. Like he says – their heart is unfeeling like fat.

And these insolent people have smeared him with lies. It’s like he has been standing in public view in clean clothes -- but these people scooped up mud and smeared it all over him – so now everyone sees him as filthy and dirty, because of what they did.

Imagine that happening to you. Maybe at work your team released some software which ended up having a massive bug. And someone on your team spreads the rumor that you wrote the part of software with the bug in it. He’s smeared you with lies – that you wrote bad code, you didn’t check your work, you are incompetent. Can you feel how painful that would be?

Or maybe a mom at your child’s school is jealous of you, so she tells other moms that you are insecure and selfish and that you spoil your child. She’s smeared you with lies. And now you can tell all the moms keep distant from you. Can you feel how painful that would be?

That’s the affliction this author is going through. And he knows that God is sovereign over everything. He knows God could have kept these insolent people from smearing him. And so he knows that ultimately these afflictions were allowed to come to him by God.

So how does he describe God’s action of bringing him these trials? Does he think God has stopped loving him? Does he question whether God is good? Is he angry with God? Does he walk away from God?

No. Look at what he says in v.65 –
65 You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word.
So he says God has dealt well with him. And we can see that he is including his trials in this, from v.71 –
71 it is good for me that I was afflicted…
So the psalmist says that God has been good to him, even in allowing these men to smear him with lies.

And this psalmist is not the only one in the Bible who talks this way.

Think about Joseph. God had allowed Joseph’s brothers to kidnap him and sell him into slavery in Egypt. And years later Joseph told his brothers that what they had done was evil, but that God had meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). So Joseph said God was good in allowing these trials.

Or think about Job. God had allowed Job to lose not just his wealth, but all of his children. And do you remember what Job said to his wife? He said “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 2:21). So Job said that God was good in allowing these trials.

And that’s what the psalmist is saying here as well. The psalmist looks at how these people have smeared him with lies, and he says that even this is part of God’s goodness to him.

So is that how you see your trials? I would guess that many of us think of our lives as including both blessings, and trials. And we would say that the blessings are from God, but the trials are maybe bad luck, or the result of living in a fallen world, or from Satan. But we do not see that the trials are part of God’s goodness to us.

Jan and I first had to wrestle with this when we were not able to get pregnant. This was a struggle for us. But it drove us to study God’s word on the topic of trials. And we were part of a loving church family who prayed with us and loved us and shared God’s word with us.

And through this season we learned that every trial is under God’s complete control and is part of his goodness to us. One blessing that came out of this was that he allowed us to adopt two wonderful children. But the point is that every trial is part of God’s goodness to us. But how can that be?

So how can afflictions be part of God’s goodness? The Bible gives many answers to that question. And the author gives two of those answers in this passage.

One answer is because God uses afflictions to bring us back to the word. You can see that in v.67 --
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.

We don’t know how the author had gone astray. But there was some area in his life in which he had turned from God’s Word. So God allowed this affliction to come upon him, to bring him back from going astray. God allowed these insolent men to smear him with lies, and this humbled him before God, and softened his heart before God, so he saw that he had been turning astray from God’s Word, and he turned back.

So one way that afflictions are part of God’s goodness is because they can bring us back to the word.

William Carey was a missionary to India in the early 1800’s. He had worked for years translating the Bible into the local languages. He also had completed a dictionary which gave the equivalent of each Sanskrit word in every language in Asia. And he had written the first grammar books for the Sikh and Telugu languages.

But one night when William Carey was away on missionary business, a fire broke out which destroyed the only copies of all of this work. Years of work – gone.

Here’s what he said about this –
In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God! I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him. (Mary Drewery, William Carey: A Biography, p.154)

This does not mean that every trial is because we’ve turned astray. But some trials do come because we have turned astray – and God will make it clear to us when that’s the case.

That’s what the psalmist experienced. He had turned astray from God’s Word – which means he had stopped walking in God’s ways, and so he was no longer experiencing sweet fellowship with God, he was no longer in communion with God. And in great love and goodness God had brought affliction upon him to humble him, to wake him up, to turn his heart back to God.

And the reason this is good of God is because what life is all about is sweet fellowship with God. If you miss sweet fellowship with God, you are missing everything that matters. So because being smeared with lies by insolent men brought him back to sweet fellowship with God – he says God was good in doing this to him.

But like I said, this is not always why God brings trials. The author mentions another reason why God brought him afflictions -- God uses afflictions to teach us God’s Word. You can see that in v.71 --
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

Sometimes afflictions bring us back to God’s Word; other times they teach us God’s Word. So how do afflictions teach us God’s Word? Can’t we just pray, open up God’s Word, and start reading?

Yes, we can. But that’s not enough. To really learn this book we need afflictions, because afflictions make us hungry for God’s Word, they humble our souls to receive God’s Word, they soften our hearts so we experience God’s Word.

This was powerfully experienced by Martin Luther. Martin Luther was one of the main leaders of the Reformation in the 1500’s, which helped the church rediscover the good news that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. And recently I read a book about Martin Luther, which said that he had three principles, or rules, for studying the Bible.

Here’s what he said –
I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself … Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm [119] and run thus: Oratio [Latin for “prayer”], meditatio [Latin for “meditation”], and tentatio [Latin for “tribulation”].

And why are these rules so important? He goes on --
[These rules] teach you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme.

This comes through prayer, and meditation, and tribulation. But Luther said that tribulation was the most important of these principles. And why is tribulation so important? Here’s how he explained it --
As soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real theologian of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself … I owe my Catholic opponents many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached. (John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, pp.103f).

See, trials are hard. Trials are painful. Trials hurt. But they can drive us to the Word with more passion, more desperation, more neediness. And when we open the Word with passion, desperation, and neediness – God will meet us powerfully in his Word, and we will experience the things the Bible talks about, like --
• the peace that surpasses comprehension
• rivers of living water
• the God of all comfort
• the love of God poured into our hearts
• the Spirit bearing witness with our spirits
• and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.

We will experience these things, and that will help us understand them better than if we just read about them.

So that’s how afflictions are part of God’s goodness. It’s because God uses afflictions to bring us back to God’s Word, and to teach us God’s Word.

But we need to raise one last question – is God’s word worth the afflictions? Is being brought back to God’s Word, and learning God’s Word, really worth the afflictions and trials we face?

The psalmist thought so. Look at what he says in v.72 –
72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Really? Thousands of gold and silver pieces? A thousand one-ounce gold pieces would be over a million dollars. So thousands of gold pieces, and thousands of silver pieces would be millions of dollars.

So picture a pile of gold and silver pieces over here – and the Word of God over here. The psalmist would look at the pile of gold and silver, and at the word of God, and say that the word of God is better.

Why? It’s because it’s through God’s Word that we have our closest and sweetest communion with God. It’s through God’s Word that we see and feel the truth of Jesus Christ -- his life, his death, his resurrection, his salvation. And it’s through God’s Word that we learn about and experience God’s grace, love, comfort, peace, strength, hope.

That’s why no matter what affliction God brings us, he is perfectly good. Because God’s purpose is either to bring us back to God’s Word, or teach us more of God’s Word. And when we come back to God’s Word and are taught more of God’s Word – what we get is more of God.

So don’t waste your trials. Let each trial drive you to open up God’s Word and pray, and meditate, and believe and worship. Because as you do so, you will experience more of God in his Word. And he is worth it all.