The Grace of Affliction

A couple weeks ago my eyes became noticiby red. People made jokes about the bloodshot when I would walk into meetings, and while I knew something was up, I wasn't concerned. I then became very sensitive to light, so much so that I had to wear sunglasses in the evening to endure the glare of headlights from oncoming cars. Eventually my wife persuaded me to see the doctor. I was diagnosed with conjunctivitis, given some drops, and sent on my way. After this my eyes got worse and I was in constant pain. I posted this pic online as a goof to show people how scary I'd look preaching on Sunday. But, it still got worse. I will spare you those photos. I stayed with the drops, but yesterday the pain grew intense enough I went to see an optometrist. He said this wasn't conjunctivitis, but something more serious and sent me to a specialist in town. The specialist explained I have acute iritis. A pretty severe case. He said if I do not follow his instructions I will go blind in my right eye. There's a good chance for full recovery, but there's also a good chance this will come back.

Once I was aware that things were more serious than I thought I asked for prayer from my church and friends, but from the beginning of this experience I have been meditating on a few things that I wanted to share. But, before I do that I want to encourage others to see their afflictions as a the purposeful instrument in the hand of God to teach us. The small pains and life-changing disasters are opportunities to reflect on the dangers of sin, our sin, the fragility of life, and the hope of the gospel. This is not morose introspection, nor pseudo-spiritual naval gazing. I'm talking about Scriptural self-examination and divine exultation.

Over the past couple weeks I have been viewing the affliction of my eyes as God's good doing, and it has led me to meditate on the following truths. Here are a few notes from my journal.

1. My eyes must be turned from evil.

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. (Ps. 101:3)

This, of course, is easier said than done. You cannot live in the world without seeing evil. But the caution here is not so much against what one might see, but what one sets their attention and interests on.

2. My eyes should be set on the God who saves.

My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. (Psalm 25:15)

There is hope in the one who knows the Lord as a saving God. To know that he is good, sovereign, and my God, means that my eyes can find no greater point of focus in the midst of difficulty or danger. He will rescue me.

3. My eyes should be set on God's steadfast love.

For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Psalm 26:3)

The confidence that I have before God is neither my character, nor my conduct. I can lift my head toward God in heaven because he loves me. The Worthy, unfailingly loves the unworthy. And this love is steadfast and eternal. I must fix my eyes on this truth that I might walk in his faithfulness, and not in my own perceived strengths.

4. My eyes should be set on his word.

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

Both the world and my own understanding can easily lead me away from what is true. To see life as it really is, myself as I really am, and God as is always is, I must look intently at his word. And not only must I look to his divine revelation, but I must also ask God for the grace to truly comprehend, embrace, and experience the truths he has made known. I am this weak. Without God's word and Spirit I am an ignorant fool. But God is that gracious and merciful, that he condescends to give us what we need, yet do not deserve.

5. My eyes should be fixed on fixed on Christ.

...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1, 2)

To "run with endurance" is to continue living by faith in passion and power that can only be found in Christ. He is the beginning and the end of our faith. He is the assurance that I will endure. He is the assurance that I will win. To fix my eyes on Jesus means that I must dwell on his life, death, resurrection, and future return as the hope of sinners--especially me. He walked through shame on my behalf. He endured suffering and death for my sins. He rose in triumph over death. Through all of his afflictions his eyes were set on the joy and glory set before him. I can do no better than look to Him for everything I need in the midst of any difficulty.

6. God sees.

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 ESV)

We all know that God "sees" all. But God not only sees, he "searches" and "knows" his people. He knows me, my afflictions, my weaknesses, and my needs. And his grace abounds in those of faith. The more I depend on him the more strength I will find to do what he has called me to do.

My eye problem is relatively minor. But I see it as a painful providence that God will use for my sanctification. Through our afflictions we should always be brought to hate sin (especially our sin) and its effects, while looking to Christ, delighting in his ways, and maintaining confidence that he sees and supports those who are his own.

Afflictions are as needful as ordinances (1 Peter 1:6). No vessel can be made of gold without fire; so it is impossible that we should be made vessels of honour, unless we are melted and refined in the furnace of affliction. ‘All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth’ (Psalm 25:10). As the painter intermixes bright colours with dark shadows; so the wise God mixes mercy with judgment. Those afflictive providences which seem to be prejudicial, are beneficial.

- Thomas Watson, All Things for Good