Jonah is an excellent example of the faithfulness of God exhibited through times of affliction. Jonah was on the run because he did not want to preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah knew that God was merciful and gracious, and if the people of Nineveh turned from their sin, God would forgive them. Therefore, Jonah sought to run as far from Nineveh as he could.
He boarded a ship that set sail across the Mediterranean Sea in the opposite direction of Nineveh. He was headed toward Joppa, which was virtually as far from Nineveh as he could have gone. However, God’s purpose for Jonah was not necessarily dependent upon Jonah’s full submission. God would have His way whether or not His prophet humbly submitted.
Jonah ran from God, but God caused a storm to disrupt Jonah’s plan. Jonah was thrown into the raging sea, likely choosing death over the will of God. However, the Bible tells us, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (KJV, Jon. 1:17). Jonah was a believer who had sought to run from the will of God. But when God has a plan, it will come to pass. God told Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, and we see that God would have His way one way or another. As a result, God appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah instead of letting Jonah die in the sea.
Being in the belly of the fish was a time of affliction and discipline for Jonah. But why does God ordain affliction in the life of the Christian? Why does God ordain times of darkness? The Bible has much to say about affliction.
Affliction brings repentance
First, the Bible makes it clear that affliction brings about repentance. Scripture says, “When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God” (Ps. 78:34). While the language is strong, it must be reckoned with. God will sometimes “slay” the Christian for the Christian to turn from sin in repentance and restore the relationship.
Thus, we see God as a faithful God during His activity. God does not ordain affliction to turn the Christian’s heart in the opposite direction. Instead, the one trained by the Lord’s discipline will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Affliction brings prayer
Not only does affliction bring repentance, but it also causes prayer. Scripture says, “And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel” (Judg. 4:3). Here we see that the people of Israel prayed to God amid their affliction. However, Judges 4:1-2 tells us that the children of Israel did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. As a result, God sold them over to the hand of Jabin.
The people of Israel rebelled against the Lord, and as a result, God afflicted the people. The people turned to the Lord and cried out in prayer. God heard their plea, and the relationship was restored.
It is important to note that affliction is not only for disciplinary matters. At the beginning of the book of Exodus, we are told that Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites. The Bible tells us that the oppression did not come from the Israelite’s sin. Instead, the Israelites were oppressed because Joseph had died and the Egyptians no longer remembered the good Joseph had done. Thus, when the new Pharaoh reached the throne and saw many Israelites, he afflicted them with hard labor to keep them under his control.
Two more prominent examples are Job and Paul. These men were afflicted while living in the will of God, but there was always a purpose. At the end of Job’s affliction, he declared that he gained a newfound relationship with God that was more remarkable than the one he had before. Likewise, Paul said that his affliction taught him to rely on God rather than himself.
Affliction brings God’s display of power
Herein we see another example of the righteous being afflicted. Scripture says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). The words of the present verse must be pondered. God tells the Christian that the righteous will experience many afflictions. The Bible does not say that the righteous will experience “some” afflictions or a “small number” of afflictions. Instead, God makes it clear that the righteous will experience many afflictions.
There is no greater place to look at this point than Jesus. Jesus is the example. He is the One to Whom the Christian must look. When the Christian’s life looks like Jesus’, all is well. Jesus was a man of sorrows Who was acquainted with grief and One to Whom men hide their faces. He was persecuted, mocked, and tempted by the devil. But God’s power was displayed in His life, and Jesus was delivered from all His affliction.
Affliction brings faithfulness
Faithfulness must be at the top of the Christian’s list concerning his relationship with God. To be faithful is to be loyal and devoted to God in all things. But the problem arises that the heart of the Christian is fickle and grows weak. Yet again, times of affliction can help to strengthen the Christian’s resolve. Scripture says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” (Ps. 119:67). The Psalmist noted what took place in his life after he was met with affliction.
Affliction helped him to grow in faithfulness and deepened his resolve to keep the commands of God. James tells us that the Christian is to count it joy when he is met with trials and afflictions because the trials of life develop steadfastness which leads to maturity.
Affliction brings conviction
When someone is stuck in sin, it is a sign of grace for God to point out the sin in his life. Jonah was living in unrepentant sin and needed to be afflicted to see clearly. There will be times in the life of the Christian when he will need to be afflicted as well. Scripture says, “And if they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction: Then he sheweth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded” (Job 36:9-10). Here we see Elihu telling us that God meets with the one who is being afflicted. As God meets with the afflicted, God reveals sin to him amid his affliction.
To be convicted of sin is to have the Holy Spirit present in one’s life. Therefore, it is the grace of God to afflict with the intent to convict. Here we see the overall picture is that of restoration, not judgment.
Affliction brings confession
The Christian must see his sin. However, it is just as necessary for the Christian to confess his sin. Affliction brings both conviction and confession. Scripture says, “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid, I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5). The Psalm gives us a picture of David, who the Lord had afflicted.
David tells us that there was a period in his life in which he had kept silent before the Lord. As a result, his bones were wasted away, and extreme anguish came upon him. God’s hand lay heavy on David, and He could not escape the consequences of his actions. However, God desired David to turn to Him in repentance and confession. Verse five tells us that when David confessed his sin before the Lord, it brought relief, and God removed His hand.
Father, I pray that You would help me to view times of affliction through a biblical lens. Jesus endured many afflictions. Let me never believe that I will escape affliction in this life. Your Word tells me that affliction will help me to pray, repent, grow in faithfulness, confess sin, and bring about conviction. Help me to submit to Your plan for my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.