Affliction as Mercy
Hard times had fallen upon the Hebrews. Exile from their home and suffering was their punishment for evil, injustice and unfaithfulness. Their city laid in waste and their walls stood breached. Their temple of worship, where heaven met earth, God’s dwelling place, was sacked and empty. They where prisoners in a foreign land and their concept of God was geographical. If God was not in his temple in Jerusalem then he definitely was not with them in exile. So the Hebrew poet composed an ode to the question on everyones mind: “How Long?” (Ps 90:13 NKJV)
The poet knew this would take a while (Jer 29). However, the poet responded with a request, “Oh, satisfy us with your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days in which you have afflicted us, and the years in which we have seen evil.” (Ps 90:14-15 NKJV)
When I was younger my parents used to punish me If I acted wrongly, rudely or in a destructive manner. Needless to say, I never enjoyed the punishments, or much less saw them as a favour. But in the poets perspective their punishment of affliction and suffering, although it may to be evident now, is mercy. It is easy for us, like children, to believe that those who correct us are against us, hate us or have it out for us. But it takes maturity to discern proper instruction.
The stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “people are not disturbed by things but by the view they take of them.” In other words it is not what happens to you that is important, it is how you react to it. Pain and suffering does not come from what happens to us but it comes from the stories we tell ourselves about the future and whats going to happen. It’s not only what happens but also how we internalize it.
The poet prays for the nation to be satisfied in the mercy that God is showing them through the punishment. They can’t start telling themselves the wrong story, they cannot internalize this incorrectly.
It may seem like mercy and judgment are at odds but for the Hebrew bard they are one in the same. Like I said, It takes maturity to discern proper instruction and for this reason the bard finishes his ode with the words, “Let your work appear to your servants, and your glory to your children.” (Ps 90:16 NKJV) Through the judgment they would see their error, turn from it and see the glory of God. He could punish them and open their eyes or he could abandon them and let them die. Hmmmm…. He chooses the former; that sound like mercy to me.
Pain as mercy. A strange idea. But once we understand it we can begin to see how much God loves us. And we can join the apostle in saying, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chases everyone he accepts as his son.” (Heb 12:6 NIV) Most people make the biggest changes by having life push back at them. May you be satisfied in His mercy.