Vol.XVI No.III Pg.3
May 1979

Fruits Of Affliction

Dan S. Shipley

On Dec. 11, 1919, the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama, dedicated a most unusual kind of monument on the main street of their city. It was a monument to a pest! — to the boll weevil. In 1915 the Mexican boll weevil had disastrously invaded the southeast portion of Alabama, destroying a big portion of the cotton crop. As cotton was the economic mainstay of that area, the effects were immediate and devastating. But what appeared to be an almost ungetoverable calamity turned out to be a great blessing — because it forced the farmers to turn to diversified farming which included raising peanuts. By 1917 Coffee county harvested more peanuts than any other county in the nation. What had looked like a great loss only paved the way for unexpected prosperity. No wonder these fortunate people saw fit to show their appreciation for the lowly boll weevil!

As this story so aptly illustrates, adversity often carries with it the seeds of unexpected blessings. We see it in the life of Joseph whose misfortune of being sold into slavery by his brothers proved a great blessing for Israel. Spiritual Israel too, was born from the darkest hour in human history. From the cross comes the crown; from the curse, the blessing (Gal. 3:13). Persecutions scattered the early Christians and thus contributed to the greatest growth ever experienced by the Lord's church. Even Paul's imprisonment promoted the progress of the gospel (Phil. 1:12-14). "Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like a toad, though ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head" (Shakespeare). However, the "sweetness" and blessings of adversity are not apparent to all. Some, in fact, not only fail to see any good from their troubles, they react with bitterness and resentment. As with the boat, it is the "set of the sail" that determines our course, even in contrary and unfavorable winds. The Psalmist says, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted..." (119:71). Adversity can be good for us — it can be an effective teacher, but only when we are receptive students — like the apostle Paul, for instance.

For lesser men, Paul's thorn in the flesh may have served as an excuse for doing less. But he accepted affliction as a benefit — "that I should not be exalted overmuch". He could even say, "I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Cor. 12:7,10). Like Paul, we can learn important lessons in the school of affliction — especially the lesson of humility. Adversity has a way of revealing our littleness and insufficiency. It enhances our appreciation for concerned friends, both earthly and heavenly. In Christ we learn to evaluate our afflictions as being light, temporary, and beneficial (2 Cor. 4:17).

"Boll weevils" of affliction will continue to come — even to the best of God's people. With an attitude of defeat and despair, we only compound their bad effects. But with the eye of faith we can see and appropriate something good from most all of our misfortunes.