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    Director, Children's Ministry
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Thoughts for the Journey

Q: How can God command believers to “praise the Lord” even in difficult times? Do we just ignore the pain and tears? Is suffering actually good?  This all sounds so unrealistic.

A: Psalm 34 is a great place to look for answers to these baffling questions because it points us to a wonderful and confusing reality.  Affliction for the righteous is not fatal, but rather it can be a means to find deep and satisfying joy.  On the other hand, affliction is devastating for the “wicked.”  How does it work both ways? 

This Psalm calls us to praise the Lord “at all times.”  There is no time when we are not to praise and give thanks to the Lord.  But then in verse 4 and following we are presented with a dilemma. The context of praising Him is sorrow and hardship.  The Psalmist speaks of being heartbroken, of being in fear and trouble, and being afflicted.  And to make matters worse, those troubles are partially self-inflicted.  Then he goes even further.  In that context of affliction we are invited to “taste” the goodness of the Lord. 

Why the invitation to “taste” His goodness?  When we taste it, we experience it.  It becomes a part of us.  To illustrate this, Jonathan Edwards talks about the wonder and glory of honey.  We can be told about it.  We can even study its properties, beholding its golden glow.  Yet, the glory of honey is only experienced fully when we put it on our tongue and savor the delight it gives.  It cannot be described adequately.  It must be tasted.

So how do we “taste and see that the Lord is good” in our place of fear and affliction?  Look at the last verse.  “The Lord redeems the life of His servants.”  Redeeming is buying back.  Redeeming is a renewing act.  Redemption takes something that appears to be awful and disgusting, and turns it into something that is wonderfully “sweet.” 

I experienced a tragedy in my family a few years ago that was not only excruciatingly painful but also had no end in sight.  I was powerless to change it.  This pain would become the “new normal.”  What made it worse was my angry response to the pain.  Yet, as I look back, I can see more of what the Lord had in store for me, and from this angle, I like it.  As a result of that pain, even in what I created, I have tasted a depth His goodness in ways I had not known before.  I would not wish the circumstances on anyone, and would never want to repeat it, but that blackness has been turned into glorious light.

This is what the Lord does with our affliction.  Affliction is not good in itself.  It is a result of sin and the curse.  There was no affliction in Eden, nor will there be in the New Jerusalem.  Yet, the Lord takes what the world defines as tragedy and turns it into something priceless.  We can praise the Lord not because of prosperity in the moment, but we most certainly can in the process of moving towards a greater good.  This means my affliction has meaning and purpose.  It is redemptive.  My loving Father is buying back that pain and using it to transform me from the arrogant self-determining individual that I am into the glorious son He designed and determined me to be.  That is truly sweet.

Sadly, for the wicked it is different.  Affliction offers no sweetness, only devastation.  The wicked have only this life, this world, and whatever happiness they experience is only found here.  Therefore, affliction is the mortal enemy of happiness.  It must either be avoided or ignored. 

Not so for us in Christ.  We now know more fully what the Psalmist only saw from a distance. We know that a Redeemer suffered for us.  “Affliction will slay the wicked” (verse 21), but Christ was afflicted for us!  He suffered that we might know prosperity.  Now, having known affliction, because He was also raised to new life, He is a sure help for us, and He will redeem all of our pain that our joy in Him might be full.  Sweet!