Affliction and Grace

March 25, 2020 | Church | César De León

Manasseh was probably one of the most evil kings of Israel. He built altars to all the hosts of heaven and encouraged their worship (2 Kings 21:5). He passed his children through fire, practiced witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spirits.

The Bible declares he did so much evil in the sight of the Lord “he provoked the Lord to anger” (2 Chron. 33:3–6). So many were killed during his reign that, we read, “Moreover, Manasseh shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end …” (2 Kings 21:16).

After 55 long years of evildoing, Manassah was captured by the king of Assyria, who put Manassah in chains, put a ring in his nose and took him to Babylon.

However, this wasn't the end of the story. When Manasseh experienced deep affliction, something remarkable happened to this extraordinarily evil man. After he was captured, he turned to the Lord, whom he had despised and dishonored all his life. Manasseh humbled himself, prayed to God and asked for forgiveness. In the end, God not only forgave Manasseh but returned him to Jerusalem and restored his kingdom (2 Chron. 33:12–13). This is grace at its finest!

Manasseh's story is particularly pertinent today. When things are going well, it's easy to assume that God is blessing us. We tend to coast along through good times. That can be dangerous. 

Left to our own devices, we can develop likes, tastes, habits and characters opposed to God's character. If we're OK today, we think tomorrow will be good as well. Are we really OK?

Throughout the Bible we see how God allows affliction to get our full attention. When Manasseh was led away in irons, he went to his knees in prayer asking for help — total repentance before the God of his ancestors. As he prayed, God was touched; God listened and brought him back to Jerusalem as king. That convinced Manasseh that God was in control (2 Chron. 33:11–13).

Ellen G. White wrote a lot about the role of tribulation in our lives. She writes, “Many of your afflictions have been visited upon you, in the wisdom of God, to bring you closer to the throne of grace. He softens and subdues His children by sorrows and trails. This world is God’s workshop, where He fashions us for the courts of heaven. He uses the planing knife upon our quivering hearts until the roughness and irregularities are removed and we are fitted for our proper places in the heavenly building. Through tribulation and distress the Christian becomes purified and strengthened and develops a character after the model that Christ has given” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 143). 

I do not believe God punishes people. I do believe that, in His love for us, He allows events and circumstances to take place for His higher purpose.

The closer we get to entering the Promised Land, the more challenging life on Earth will become. On the one hand, God wants to make us fit for His glory. On the other, our enemy is ruthlessly intensifying his efforts to separate us from our Divine Maker, either by keeping us busy and enamored with the “good things” of this world or by launching assaults on our faith, our peace and our joy.  Either way, afflictions and suffering are on the horizon: "Affliction, crosses, temptations, adversity, and our varied trials are God’s workmen to refine us, sanctify us, and fit us for the heavenly garner” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 115).

This is a good time to remember Paul’s words: “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16–17).

We are facing a global afliction right now with the coronavirus pandemic. It's an opportunity to reflect. Just like Manasseh humbled himself, perhaps it’s our turn to humble ourselves and ask God for a new heart and a right spirit so we can focus on the things that are eternal. As we become more attuned to God’s purpose for our lives, we can more effectively reach and touch those around us. 

César De León, North Pacific Union Conference ministerial director