Affliction is that which causes pain and suffering through physical infirmity and/or mental distress. Individuals and nations can be afflicted, and that affliction is often attributed to the Lord and His punishment (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). There are at least 14 Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “affliction” in our English Bibles, and that is because affliction can have several causes and applications with subtle differences not reflected by our English vocabulary.
Individuals can be afflicted for a number of reasons:
1. Affliction can be a direct consequence of sin (Galatians 6:8; Proverbs 11:18).
2. Affliction can be a judgment from God (Ezekiel 36:18–19; 39:24; Romans 1:18–32; 2:6; 6:23).
3. Affliction can purify us and help us develop endurance (Daniel 12:10; James 1:3; 1 Peter 4:12–13).
4. Affliction can occur for God’s divine purposes (Job 2:7; Isaiah 53:7; Psalm 119:75).
5. Affliction is part of living in a fallen world (Psalm 25:16; 1 Peter 1:6; John 16:33).
6. Affliction can be the result of persecution for Jesus’ sake (2 Timothy 3:11–12; Psalm 69:6–7; 1 John 3:13).
7. Affliction can be the result of a direct attack from Satan (Luke 22:31; Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8).
Nations can experience affliction for many of the same reasons. In the Old Testament, God often afflicted whole nations for their disobedience and wickedness. The plagues in Egypt at the time of the exodus caused great affliction (e.g., Exodus 8:24; 9:10–11). One reason God brought affliction upon the nations was to purge the earth of the contamination of their wickedness. Another reason was to teach Israel the grave necessity of following the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:58–60). God also quickly judged Israelites who defied Him or His appointed leaders (Numbers 12: 1–4, 10; 16:28–33). It was critical that Israel learn to thrive as a community set apart from the world, and insurrection would quickly destroy that unity.
Affliction is part of living in this world. We will all suffer heartaches, injuries, disappointments, lack, rejection, and sickness. We must remember Paul’s encouragement in 2 Corinthians 4:16–17: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Afflictions remind the Christian that this world is not our home. First Corinthians 2:9 reminds us that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” When we keep our focus on that truth, we can endure any affliction.