In my pursuit to reveal God’s goodness and true character to the world, I often spend more time studying passages of scripture that seem to contradict his goodness, than those that validate it. To put it another way – I focus on studying what I call the “problem passages”, so that I can understand them in context and help people see that God is in fact, better than we think he is.
In my recent book, Good God, I dealt with literally dozens of these problem passages, such as: the book of Job (yes, that’s right, the whole book), James 1, Hebrews 12, John 9, Romans 9, and so many more. Although I tried to make Good God as exhaustive as possible in dealing with the questions that people might have about God, every now and then, I come across an additional verse that didn’t make the cut. Perhaps I’ll release an updated version down the road that might include some of these, but in the meantime, that’s what my blog is for.
One such verse is Psalm 119:71. It states, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”
Out of context and by itself, it’s easy to spot the apparent contradiction to the character of God that I present in Good God. It appears that the writer is thanking God for afflicting him, so that he could learn his ways. If you’re a student of the message of grace, or if you’ve read my book, then you know that this can’t be the true intention of the writer. So what’s going on here? What does the passage really mean?
As usual, context is king.
Let’s take a look at the full passage from a different translation.
Before I had trouble, I strayed from the true path, the path of righteousness, but now I live according to Your word. You are truly good, and Your acts are too; teach me what You require. The proud smear me with their lies; I will keep Your instructions wholeheartedly. Their hearts are dull and callous; I am delighted to study Your teaching. It is a good thing that I was humbled because it helped me learn Your limits.-Psalm 119:67-71 VOICE
In context, the writer clearly states that his pain was as a result of his own choice to stray from God’s path. Never is he accusing God of doing anything to him, but rather he is simply acknowledging that he was thankful that he experienced humility during his rebellion, otherwise he wouldn’t have turned back to God. God didn’t bring him through bad things to humble him, but because he went through bad things and humbled himself – he was thankful.
Just another perfect example why context is so important in reading scripture. Remember, when you come across a verse or a passage that seems to contradict what you know about God; take the time to study it out and see what it really says.