What Can We Learn about Affliction from Job, Paul and The West Wing?

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The Apostle Paul’s metaphorical “thorn in the flesh”, spoken of in 2 Corinthians 12:7 could have many meanings – the only consensus being that there is no consensus on what that thorn was.

Although it was not a literal thorn he was referring to, it nonetheless was the source of considerable pain in his life.  It could have been a disease process, the itch of temptation, or even a person.

In the same manner God allowed Satan to afflict Job, Paul also suspected that his affliction was sent by a “messenger of Satan”.

Paul concluded that his thorn was placed there to keep him from becoming too haughty or conceited.    He pleaded with God three times to take it away, and God responded by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul responds by saying, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Remember that Christ himself was no stranger to sorrow and grief – an empathy manifested as grace to those coping with an affliction.

Job suspected that his afflictions were the result of God’s anger with him, and were allowed to befall him as punishment for something.

When you’re in the midst of affliction, such as that experienced by Job and Paul, it is hard to see beyond what may appear an obvious reason at first – that you’re being punished for something wrong in your life.  You see no good that could possibly come from it.

You may plead with God to be freed from the walls of pain and torment that imprison you, offering to correct the wrong that put you there, if he’d just tell you what it is.

What we fail to consider at first, is the possibility that those walls, as with Paul, could be for the good of the soul – keeping us from becoming or doing what we should not?

Count it pure joy?

Pain itself is the result of sin, but its presence in one’s life may or may not be in response to sin, as we learned from Job.   Its purpose could be far greater.  However, when you’re in its grip, it can be difficult to see any good in it or experience joy or delight from it.

As I write this, I am in the throes of a disease process that has eroded my joy and that of those around me – but is it the disease, or my response to it, that’s causing the actual erosion?

I must admit that my eyes are fixed on “what is seen“, when 2 Corinthians 4:18 tells me to fix my eyes on “what is unseen“, or what is eternal.  Doing so may be the key to unlocking the door to what lies outside the walls of your pain and suffering.

Lean not on your own understanding – or someone elses.

Unfortunately, the affliction of another, seems to be a cut and dry issue with some in the Christian community (and I’m sure you know some), who postulate that sickness in one’s life indicates sin or lack of faith,  For those bearing the weight of affliction. this assertion offers nothing but pious condemnation.

They might as well, in one chorus say: “Curse God and die!“.

Believing that fixing our eyes on what is eternal, allows us to see outside the walls of our afflictions, I leave you with this story told by Leo to Josh in an episode of The West Wing:

(As you read the story, consider the “hole” a metaphor for the walls of affliction.)

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on,  Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole.  Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”

If nothing else, maybe your affliction gives you the opportunity to jump down into the hole with someone else, and show them what lies beyond the walls.

Ironically, it could be someone who previously offered you pious condemnation, which prompts the question:

How many holes do you think Job had the opportunity to  jump into?