Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. (Psalm 34:19-21)
Affliction strikes both believers and unbelievers. Tsunamis and tornadoes don’t bypass church buildings. Believers aren’t immune from cancer or car wrecks. You can’t point to someone in a wheelchair and assume they’re an unbeliever.
In fact, Christians are promised afflictions, and plenty of them. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” In Isaiah 43:2 God promises, “When (not “If”) you pass through the waters, I will be with you” and “when (not “if”) you walk through the fire you shall not be burned.” Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). We should expect afflictions.
But the outcome of afflictions is different for believers and unbelievers. David tells us in Psalm 34:21 “Affliction will slay the wicked.” Afflictions work no good in the wicked. Afflictions kill them. Kill their joy. Demolish their hopes and dreams and wipe out all they’ve worked for. Afflictions make the wicked bitter. They do nothing to produce godliness or draw them near to God. And eventually the afflictions of the wicked end their lives. ”Afflictions will slay the wicked.”
But afflictions have a different effect on believers. “The Lord delivers him out of them all.” Our afflictions don’t slay us. They don’t kill our souls or our joy or our love for Jesus. They don’t slay our faith. In the past 38 years of being a Christian I’ve seen numerous believers endure horrific trials, yet still proclaim, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” I’ve seen saints consumed by cancer, hobbled by accidents, crippled by Lou Gehrig’s disease, and my own mother debilitated by Alzheimer’s, yet joyfully loving Jesus till their bodies or minds gave out.
Rather than slaying the righteous, our afflictions make us more like Christ, draw us near to him, make us more humble and dependent on him. They produce character and perseverance. Our afflictions don’t slay our love for Jesus but deepen it. They don’t sour us; they make us sweeter.
Afflictions don’t slay a believer’s faith because Jesus “keeps all his bones” – Jesus preserves our faith – he never lets go of us. Underneath are the everlasting arms. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
But what about believers who aren’t healed, or who live in poverty all their lives? In what sense does God deliver them “out of them all”? First of all, God does physically heal, provide and deliver. But when he doesn’t, he delivers from the soul-killing power of affliction. He delivers from unbelief and despair. Pain and sorrow don’t win the day; God does.
And ultimately God will deliver us out of all our afflictions. In heaven, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). No more disease, poverty, pain, regret, sadness, broken hearts. Only pure unmitigated joy.
Affliction will slay the wicked. But for us who have trusted him, Jesus will keep us till the day he slays affliction and crushes death beneath his feet.