I’ve just finished reading the book of Job in the Bible during my personal times of study.
I guess you could say it’s a book with a happy ending…
During the course of the story, Job has everything taken away from him: his wealth, his children and even his health. His friends spend a long time lecturing him on how bad he must have been to warrant such punishment. He starts to think that maybe God got it wrong, and has some answering to do.
Well, God shows up eventually, but he doesn’t respond the way Job would have liked. He poetically and powerfully points out that He is, in fact, the one who is in charge and holds the very earth together. Job repents of his doubt in God.
And (here’s the happy ending) God gives him even more than he had to begin with.
But I don’t like Job for it’s happy ending. And even though the poetry and dialogue is great, that’s not what stikes a chord in my heart.
I like the way Job gives us such a perfect picture of God’s sovereignty. You simply cannot come away from reading Job and still doubt that God is in control of your life.
You see, although God doesn’t make the bad things happen to Job, he allows Satan to do them. In the very beginning of the book, we get an insight into the conversation between God and Satan. God is telling Satan how loyal and righteous Job is. Satan says that Job is only loyal because God has blessed him. A hint of trouble, he says, and Job will curse God. So God lets Satan go and strip everything away from Job.
Just think about this…
The more devoted we are to God, the more loyal, the more secure in his arms…. the more the devil is going to try and tempt us away.
Certainly in my life, when things are going well… temptation strikes. When I’m praising God, the temptation to doubt or even curse him is closely following.
Days after I thanked God for being able to see my grandfather, he died.
And so the pattern is: God is good. I am tempted to believe otherwise.
Back to Job…
Well, he doesn’t curse God. Do you know what he says?
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”
It just amazes me how he can still be so thankful. I mean, I complain when I get a few leaves stuck on my car windscreen! And here we have Job who has lost his livestock, most of his servants and all his children…. and all he says is praise to God!
I think we all have a lot to learn from Job about thankfulness. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful witness to our friends and family to praise God’s name, no matter what the circumstances. And I’m not suggesting we should be ‘happy all the time’, ‘just wear a smile a bear it’ sort of people. What I’m talking about is crying out to God in our times of hardship for thankful hearts. Thankfulness needs to come from the inside. You may never shed a tear, but God will know if you are inwardly resentful.
So let’s embrace whatever comes with thankful hearts, as we recognise that it was God who gave us everything in the first place!
But the story isn’t over. Satan comes back to God, with more evil in his heart. Very well, he says, Job hasn’t cursed you. But wait and see what happens if you lay a finger on his body.
So God allows Satan to go back to Job, this time harming him. But God says that Satan must not kill Job.
Notice that Satan needs God’s permission to do anything to Job. He even needed permission in the first place to take all his things away. God is always in control.
And if the suffering in our lives has God’s stamp of approval on it, then it will not be more than can be beared in his strength. God sets the limits. Never does he give Satan free reign.
So, following this rendevous with God, Satan goes off and covers Job, from head to toe, in “painful sores”. The Bible says they were literally covering him “from the soles of his feet to the top of his head”.
Even at this stage, Job still does not sin against God by cursing him.
By now, Job’s friends wander over, and when they see the state he is in, they conclude that he must have been a very naughty boy. Which is what they spend the majority of the book telling him.
It is good, however, that they realise the supernatural nature of what has happened to Job. I’d imagine if something like all that happened to someone today in our society, people would label him as “bad luck”, but I don’t think anyone would say that he had done something wrong before God. Let alone that Satan was tempting him.
Despite the fact that his friends think they’re so clever, God tells them off at the end of the book for speaking wrongly of him. The whole time, they were trying to pin all the bad stuff on God, when it was actually the devil doing it.
That’s what makes the book so interesting for me. Right at the start, you get a heavenly perspective, then all the dialogue between the people, and then God comes back onto the scene right at the end. Thinking back to highschool English, this is a bit of dramatic irony. It’s where we, the audience, know exactly what’s going on, but the characters in the story are oblivious.
Which is why I found myself shaking my head as Job’s friends take their turn to speak. When they try to say that God is punishing Job (something which sounds quite reasonable, given the circumstances) it is just pure nonsense in light of the conversation between God and Satan.
But how often do I speak on God’s behalf, whilst not really knowing his divine purpose? I’m not going to pretend that we can ever really know why he does certain things, but we can know his character from the Bible. And we can know that he is always good.
When God comes to talk to Job at the end of the book, it is really amazing. If you ever need any reminders about God’s power, read chapters 38-41 of Job, and meditate on it.
Job certainly comforts me to know that 1. God is good – he does not allow bad things to happen to people for no reason, but rather to strengthen their grasp on him or tell them to reach out for him, 2. God is sovereign – he is completely in control, even when Satan is tempting us to doubt that, 3. As a Christian, I should expect to suffer – James says we should welcome trials as “pure joy” (it’s amazing how many times I’ve referred to that passage in the past week).
I daresay, at this stage in my life, I am a stranger to real suffering.
I wonder how it will affect the way I encounter trials and temptations in my life if, instead of seeing them as times to question his goodness, I see them as opportunities to cling even more tightly to the hand of my heavenly Father and praise his name…
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