a-flik’-shun: Represents no fewer than 11 Hebrew words in the, and 3 Greek words in the , of which the most common are (oni), (thlipsis). It is used
(1) actively = that which causes or tends to cause bodily pain or mental distress, as "the bread of affliction" (
(2) passively = the state of being in pain or trouble, as "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" (
The following are the chief forms of affliction referred to:
(1) Individual affliction, especially sickness, poverty, the oppression of the weak by the strong and rich, perverted justice.
(2) National. A great place is given in the Old Testament to affliction as a national experience, due to calamities, such as war, invasion, conquest by foreign peoples, exile. These form the background of much of the prophetic writings, and largely determine their tone and character.
(3) In the New Testament the chief form of affliction is that due to the fierce antagonism manifested to the religion of Jesus, resulting in persecution.
I. The Source of Affliction. 1. God:
The Hebrew mind did not dwell on secondary causes, but attributed everything, even afflictions, directly to the great First Cause and Author of all things: "Shall evil befall a city, and Yahweh hath not done it?" (
2. Evil Agents:
II. Meaning and Purpose of Affliction. Why did God afflict men? How is suffering to be explained consistently with the goodness and justice of God? This was an acute problem which weighed heavily upon the Hebrew mind, especially in the later, more reflective, period. We can only briefly indicate the chief factors which the Scriptures contribute to the solution of the problem. We begin with the Old Testament.
1. Punitive or Retributive:
The traditional view in early Hebrew theology was that afflictions were the result of the Divine law of retribution, by which sin was invariably followed by adequate punishment. Every misfortune was a proof of sin on the part of the sufferer. Thus Job’s "friends" sought to convince him that his great sufferings were due to his sinfulness. This is generally the standpoint of the historians of Israel, who regarded national calamities as a mark of the Divine displeasure on account of the people’s sins. But this naive belief, though it contains an important element of truth, could not pass uncontested. The logic of facts would suffice to prove that it was inadequate to cover all cases; eg. Jeremiah’s sufferings were due, not to sin, but to his faithfulness to his prophetic vocation. So the "suffering servant" in Isa. Job, too, in spite of his many woes, was firm in the conviction of his own integrity. To prove the inadequacy of the penal view is a main purpose of the
The thought is often expressed that afflictions are meant to test the character or faith of the sufferer. This idea is especially prominent in Job. God allowed the Satan to test the reality of Job’s piety by over-whelming him with disease and misfortunes (2). Throughout the poem Job maintains that he has stood the test (eg.
3. Disciplinary and Purificatory:
For those who are able to stand the test, suffering has a purificatory or disciplinary value.
(1) The thought of affliction as a discipline or form of Divine teaching is found in Job, especially in the speeches of Elihu, who insists that tribulation is intended as a method of instruction to save man from the pride and presumption that issue in destruction (
(2) The purificatory function of trials is taught in such passages as
4. Vicarious and Redemptive:
The above are not fully adequate to explain the mystery of the afflictions of the godly. The profoundest contribution in the Old Testament to a solution of the problem is the idea of the vicarious and redemptive significance of pain and sorrow. The author of Job did not touch this rich vein of thought in dealing with the afflictions of his hero. This was done by the author of the Second Isaiah. The classical passage is
5. The New Testament:
So far we have dealt only with Old Testament teaching on the meaning and purpose of affliction. The New Testament makes no new contribution to the solution of the problem, but repeats and greatly deepens the points of view already found in the Old Testament.
(2) They are probational, affording a test by which the spurious may be separated from the genuine members of the Christian church (
(3) a means of discipline, calculated to purify and train the character (
(4) The idea of vicarious and redemptive suffering gets a far deeper significance in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, and finds concrete realization in a historical person,
III. Endurance of Affliction. The Scriptures abound in words of consolation and exhortation adapted to encourage the afflicted. Two main considerations may be mentioned.
(1) The thought of the beneficent sovereignty of God "Yahweh reigneth; let the earth rejoice," even though "clouds and darkness are round about him" (
D. Miall Edwards