“ ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’ ” Job 1:9-12
I don’t know anyone who enjoys taking tests. Everyone I know dislikes them or gets anxious about them to some degree. For some they are a mild annoyance, for others they are panic-inducing nightmares, for most they land somewhere in the middle of those extremes. One of things I have enjoyed most about studying first psychology and sociology, and then theology and scripture, is the lack of formal tests. These subjects tend to favor papers and presentations to demonstrate one’s knowledge gained rather than formal, timed tests.
Job’s story is one of being tested. Job 1 sets the stage with the telling of a conversation between God and Satan. This conversation teaches us a lot about Satan we need to remember as we look at Job’s story. It teaches us that, just like all other angelic beings, Satan is accountable to God, Satan is capable of being in only one place at a time, and cannot see into our minds or our futures. Satan can do nothing without God’s permission meaning his power is limited and we are able to overcome Satan through the power of God. And finally, we learn that Satan is real and active on earth.
In his wanderings on the earth, Job’s faithfulness to God has caught Satan’s attention. Because of Job’s faithfulness, God has blessed him richly. In today’s terms, there are estimates of Job’s wealth in animals and land alone being over $20 million initially and approaching $60 million by the end of his story. Satan’s theory is that Job is only faithful to God because of the great wealth with which he has been blessed. Thus, Satan presents this challenge to God: Take away Job’s blessings and see if he remains faithful.
It’s a challenge which should scare most of us. Compared to many in the world, even those of us struggling to make ends meet, living in the United States means we are richly blessed. In addition to the freedoms we enjoy, there is access to free education through high school, safe drinking water, and various social programs to help with obtaining housing, nutrition, and medical care. While our system is far from perfect, and too many people fall through the cracks, millions of people in developing and 3rd world countries, as well those living under oppressive, corrupt dictators face far more challenges to their survival. In a lot of ways, we are Job. Greatly blessed by God and catching the attention of Satan who wants to test our faith.
God allows Satan to test Job. As you read through the book of Job you see that with each test, with each thing Satan steals from Job, Job remains ever faithful to God. Everything is eventually taken from Job. His livestock, his servants, his family, and even his health. He is left with a wife and friends who advise him to “curse God and die.” (Job 2:7) The book of Job tells of long discussions between Job and a few friends regarding why God would allow such tragedy to befall one who has been so faithful. Reading them with the aid of a good study Bible is something I would highly recommend. It is an honest look at one of the key questions we still struggle with today: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Starting in Job 38, God answers Job’s cries to understand all which has happened to him despite his faithfulness. God’s reply is a reminder of the much bigger picture we cannot see:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimension? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
Or who laid its cornerstone –
While the morning stars sang together
And all the angels shouted for joy?” Job 38:4-7
After 4 chapters of God asking these sorts of questions, Job’s response is a humble one: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3) It is a profound acknowledgement of his inability to see and understand all God sees and knows.
In the end, Job never sins, never turns his back on God despite all Satan is allowed to steal from him. Imagine if all your earthly possessions, your livelihood, and your family were all gone tomorrow, would you still turn to God to seek to understand what was happening? Or would you turn your back on God?
Job finds himself beginning again BECAUSE he was faithful to God. His story is a powerful, and uncomfortable, reminder that we are not promised an easy life on this earth in return for being a faithful Christian. It is a reminder that our reward is eternal, not earthly. It is a reminder that material wealth and earthly success are not what defines the faithful heart of a person.
Job’s story has a mostly happen ending. His friends are rebuked by God for being such poor friends. His herds grow to twice the size they were before. He is blessed with even more children and lives to see four more generations of his family come into this world. But he had to always carry the loss of his older children with him. He had to always know that, at a moment’s notice, all he had could be gone. He had to always be looking to understand a picture of eternity much bigger than he could ever see or understand.
Job had to begin again because his faithfulness to God was being tested. His story reminds us that God is always with us in our new beginnings. The key is to turn towards God when life tests us instead of running away.
Suffering is something which we will all experience in some form at some point in our lives. It is a natural consequence of the sin and evil which exists in the world. How have you turned to God in the midst of suffering in the past? How do you continue to turn to God in the midst of suffering in your life today?
Job’s story is a great example of how we can’t judge a person’s faith by how hard or how wonderful their life appears to be on the outside and by earthly measures of success. How often do you find yourself making judgements about a person’s faith based on earthly measures of success? How often do you measure your own faith or God’s faithfulness to you based on earthly measures of success? Ask God to help you judge faithfulness by his standards, not the worlds.
Our friends and family can make suffering easier or harder to endure. Job’s friends, and even his wife, were of no comfort to him in the midst of his suffering. Of your friends and family, who would be a comfort to you in the midst of your suffering? Cherish these relationships. Are you a comfort to your friends and family who are suffering?
Natalie Grant has a great song which talks about how hard it is to understand why those who are innocent, or those who have been ever faithful, should ever experience suffering in the world.