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One of the most common questions a Christian will ask concerns affliction: “Why me?” There is much more to the problem than that; We shall study it in this lesson as the beginning of our study in the Book of Ruth.

(Ruth 1 NIV) In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. {2} The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. {3} Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. {4} They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, {5} both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. {6} When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. {7} With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. {8} Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. {9} May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." Then she kissed them and they wept aloud {10} and said to her, "We will go back with you to your people." {11} But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? {12} Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me--even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons-- {13} would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord's hand has gone out against me!" {14} At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. {15} "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her." {16} But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. {17} Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." {18} When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. {19} So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?" {20} "Don't call me Naomi, " she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. {21} I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." {22} So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.

Affliction due to sin

It is an old story: affliction comes from sin. This is not always the cause, but it is often enough that we must examine it first. We can see it in the background of the story – indeed, our Lord has provided us with some meaning even in the names of our characters.

Elimelech – the name means “My God is King.”

Naomi – means “pleasure”

Mahlon – means “sick”

Kilion – means “pining away”

Orpah – means “fawn”

Ruth – means “beauty”

Listen then to the story. “My God is King” marries “Pleasure.” Is that a mistake? Yes indeed! We don’t know that it happened as such, but marrying for pleasure alone is a major mistake. It brings down this Godly man, and he dies for it. We know this man strayed, for he took his wife out of the Promised Land and married his sons to Moabites – which the Israelites were forbidden to do. He does this for the sake of his belly. It is no surprise then when his children are sickly (look at those names again). They marry these girls, and die.

One quick warning must be brought forward here. Affliction often comes as the result of our own sin – but we must not presume that to be the case. How often have we seen the suffering told that they must have done something very wicked to deserve this? It is not always so; ask Job. (His friends didn’t believe it either).

The sin of others

Often our affliction is due to the sin of others.

·         Sometimes it’s a family member. The husband who commits adultery; the abusive parent; the wayward child. All these cause affliction to those who love them. To love is to risk being hurt by sin. Jesus would know.

·         Sometimes it’s a complete stranger – the drunk on the highway, the thief, or even the callous indifference of those in authority.

The existence of sin in general

Often, affliction cannot be traced to any one person at all! Why is there disease and illness in the world? It is a fallen world, that we know, but tracing the responsibility can indeed be difficult.

Perhaps it does not matter. Just because you know the cause doesn’t mean you know the cure; just because you don’t know the cause doesn’t mean you don’t know what to do about it. Sin happens.

Affliction in Persecution

For the Christian, it must be acknowledged that there is affliction specifically because we are Christians. It is called persecution.

The Nature of Persecution
  • First, we should expect it! Our Lord told us this; the Apostles repeated it and (it’s only been two millennia, so let’s not be too hasty) so far history has borne them out completely.
  • These afflictions, however, are relatively mild – compared to the glory we are to receive for them.[1] Relatively mild – which is often not so much comfort.
  • These afflictions are temporary. How often we presume to the contrary! But the Lord hears the call of his people.
  • Afflictions like this end in blessing and joy.[2]
What we should do in persecution

Our Lord permits us to flee persecution – indeed, it is one of the chief means of spreading the Gospel. He also gives us much other encouragement and direction:

  • First, we are to consider such persecution a sign of blessing.[3] Satan does not assault those he already has captured.
  • Our reaction to this sign of blessing should be joy.[4]
  • When faced with such persecution, we must react in the way God would intend. We are not to strike back; rather, we are to strengthen and encourage each other.[5]
  • Always, in the face of persecution, remember that God cares for us. He has not forgotten nor will He.[6]

Affliction for God’s purpose

“Why?” That’s the question everyone really wants an answer to. With God’s help we can endure the affliction – but we just want to know what happened to cause this – especially, “Why me?”

Affliction for correction and discipline

Sometimes God uses affliction to discipline his children. It’s his way of saying, “Pay attention!”

  • When this happens, we are to consider it a blessing.[7] God disciplines those He loves.
  • One primary purpose of such discipline is to force you to return to Him, just as Naomi was obliged to return to Bethlehem.
  • As Naomi announced her bitterness, we too can serve as examples to others – if the others will open their eyes.
  • Surprisingly to a lot of Christians, one reason is that God uses this to oblige us to seek his consolation – so that we might be closer to Him.[8]
  • Ultimately, those who are disciplined by the Lord – and accept it as such, and act on it as such – are those who escape condemnation at Judgment Day.
To produce character

Often, affliction is designed to produce character, particularly for a specific purpose. If you have suffered in a particular way, you can bring the love of Christ to those who are suffering in the same way.

  • This is a process which develops character.[9] We need to remember that a day of suffering is not likely to do this. It takes time.
  • Such character needs to be developed to completion.[10] We need to see God molding us to his ends, even if we don’t know what those ends are.
  • For those who make it, there is a crown of life promised upon the return of our Lord.[11]
For the glory of God

Remember the man born blind?[12] The disciples were so sure that this man, or his parents, must have done something sinful to cause so great an affliction. Jesus tells them simply that this was done so that they might see the glory of God. How is it that we suffer affliction, then, for the glory of God?

  • First, we know that if we share in Christ’s sufferings, we shall share in his glory.[13]
  • Sometimes, we suffer so that the kingdom itself may be blessed. God works all things together for good for those (note the plural) who love Him.[14]
  • Often – as in the case of martyrs – such suffering advances the kingdom of God.[15] What is your suffering if another man gains heaven because of it?
  • For those who suffer for Christ, they will share in his glory when He returns.[16]

Affliction is not something we desire; it is something which is a consistent element of our lives. Some have more, some have less. Some earn it by their sins, some from the sins of others or simply the purposes of God. But know this: there is no evil so great that God cannot bring from it a greater good. The Crucifixion of the innocent Lamb of God was a terrible injustice; from it came our salvation. Trust God in this; bear your afflictions patiently and in company with the church, and look to his return for your reward.

[1] Romans 8:18

[2] Psalm 126:5; see also the Beatitudes.

[3] 1 Peter 4:14

[4] James 1:2

[5] 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

[6] Luke 12:6-7

[7] Psalm 94:12

[8] See Psalm 62

[9] Romans 5:3-5

[10] James 1:3-4

[11] James 1:12

[12] John 9:2-3

[13] Romans 8:17

[14] Romans 8:28

[15] Philippians 1:12-14

[16] 1 Peter 1:6-7

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