What does it mean to be afflicted?
Currently, if you asked almost anyone in Johannesburg today, they would respond that frigid temperatures are afflicting them. We’re in the middle of a significant cold front. If you looked at me right now, I have two blankets draped over my legs and I am wearing three layers of clothing. I have a hot cup of tea to my left which I am using to warm my fingers. With no indoor heat, I bundle up as best I can to stay warm inside the house.
This chilly affliction will pass, though. The cold front will move north and in a month and a half’s time, spring will be here. Knowing myself as I do, I acknowledge that I will completely forget how cold I was during the second week of July. I always forget. Winter in Johannesburg is just four-six weeks long. The majority of the year, the temperatures here are incredibly pleasant. This current affliction will be just a memory in a few weeks’ time.
However, there are other afflictions that are not so short-lived or temporary. Some difficulties thunder into our lives and leave us wrecked and utterly devastated. Other challenges grow within us like a cancerous disease and our bodies are laid waste. Some hardships are self-inflicted. We may select a self-centered course in life and the consequences affect our financial, mental, physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual health. Some painful situations evolve from the decisions others make and we’re left to pick up the pieces. I could go on, however, I am certain that every one of us has experienced afflictions that have had the potential to humble, weaken, humiliate, and embitter us in life.
In the midst of such times, we may question the care and concern of our God. Where is God when significant times of affliction come?
The people of Israel presented this very question to Isaiah during their time of captivity in Babylon. Here is the response…
Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49:13-16 NIV
The word ‘afflicted’ from these verses originates from the Hebrew transliterated word anah. Anah means afflicted, lowly, needy and poor, humble, and wretched. Something in life has occurred that has brought some one down to the deepest depths of depravity.
Challenging times do that, don’t they?
And when relief, healing, salvation, and answers are slow to come or appear non-existent, we may wonder. Lord, where are you in this?
Our Lord answers with Himself.
He assures us that we are not forgotten. He whispers that our lives and well-being are engraved upon the palms of His hands. We are sheltered within His hands. His love and compassion enfold us.
Even when the different people and different situations in life forget us, ignore us, deny us, desert us, devalue us, or desolate us, our God will not. His tenderness and affection flow richly and deeply into our souls.
Devastation, disease, betrayal and loss have the potential to ravage our hearts and send us into a pit of despair. We must remember this: Even in the valleys of life where cancer, disease, war, terrorism, financial loss, bitter defeat, and even death may attempt to bury us, they cannot. Our lives are engraved upon the hands of our Redeemer and Savior. Even in our brokenness, sorrow, and depravity, we are lifted by outstretched arms of mercy, grace and compassion. We are brought up and out of our pain and embraced by the love of God now and forevermore.
Right now, I am typing these words with fingers that are numbed by the cold. In fact, I can hardly feel them! That doesn’t mean they are not there. My fingers are still typing. They are still working. They are still carrying out the message that I so emphatically want to tell.
Our God is near.
He is holding us; even if we don’t feel His Presence.
He is speaking to us; even if we find it difficult to hear His words.
He is demonstrating His love, compassion, and care in our lives; even if we can’t envision or understand His intervention.
His promise is clear. He shall never, ever forget us. And He will redeem whatever was broken, hurt, destroyed, or lost on either side of heaven. We may be experiencing the painful afflictions of this world of disease and depravity for unspecified amounts of time, but we are never alone in them. Our God is near to them too.
For when we feel the hurt and loss, our God does too. How could He not?
Our lives are engraved on His hands.
So, are you feeling a sense of affliction today?
Please be strengthened and comforted by the hope and compassion of your Savior and Lord. His hands are warm, loving and secure. His comfort is near.
You are not forgotten.
You are not alone.
You are known.
Your situation is understood.
Your affliction is being attended to by the outstretched, engraved hands of your Savior even now. Even if you don’t feel it, and you feel numb to His presence and His care. He is still near and still at work in your life….just like my chilled fingers typing this blog post.
Photo from Nathan T. Baker of Flickr