We've completed a brief thematic study of the book of Job. I say "thematic" and not "textual" because we have not had a line-by-line type review which would have taken much longer, but followed an outline based on the theme, "Faithful living in times of crisis." In this way, we have become familiar with Job's story and focused on this man's reaction to his difficult experience, or should I say, the operation of his faith through various trials.
Briefly stated, Job was a righteous man in God's eyes and he was allowed to undergo a variety of trials initiated by Satan, but permitted and limited by God, in order to demonstrate Job's righteousness and faithfulness. Added to his financial, family and health losses were the accusations from his friends that he was responsible for bringing all of these catastrophes upon himself because of secret or unrepentant sin.
We observed Job as he faced three major crises.
1. Physical Crisis - where he lost his wealth, family and health. Job accepted that what had happened to him was permitted by God's will and submitted to it with his faith intact.
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord."
- Job 1:21
2. Theological Crisis - his friends encouraged him to repent of his sin, which according to the thinking of the day, was the cause of his misery. Job also believed in this 'law of retribution' where one was blessed or cursed by God based on one's relative righteousness. This may have been Job's secret sin. He trusted that his righteousness was the reason for his former wealth and blessings. This, of course, caused his second and more serious crisis where his theology no longer lined up with his life experience. He managed to successfully debate his friends to a draw, but this glaring inconsistency pushed him to contemplate the possibility that God may have other reasons for using personal suffering in the life of an otherwise faithful and righteous man.
3. Spiritual Crisis - this newly developed realization led him to a final crisis which emerged as a personal encounter with God. In this challenging scenario, God questioned Job's knowledge and power compared to His own knowledge and power as a Divine Being. We saw from this encounter that Job's true sin was that in his attempts to justify himself he attempted to lower God to his own level. For example, when he questioned God's justice and demanded a trial where he would debate his case with Him, thinking that in some way this would be the same as debating his friends and refuting their arguments. After being face to face with God, however, he recognized the great gulf that separated them and repented. God then forgave and restored Job as well as his three friends.
7 Lessons from Job
I'd like to finish our study of Job by drawing several lessons from his experience of suffering and enlightenment.
#1 - God is great!
Job's sin (and the lesson that he learned) was that the greatness of his God far surpassed what Job originally thought. People rarely, if ever, overestimate God or what He can do. Our problem, like Job, is thinking that God is simply a better version of ourselves. Small faith has a small God, but biblical faith believes in the God who created all, sustains all and will transform all when Jesus returns.
#2 - Our strength is in God, not self
Job's faith found a way to persevere because it was fixed on God and not upon himself. Paul the apostle had to learn this very same lesson through suffering as well (II Corinthians 12:9).
Job's faith allowed him to express his emotions to God who was strong enough to receive them. Strength in God builds a faith that can trust Him, even in the darkest moments.
7The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart triumphs,
And with my song I shall thank Him.
8The Lord is their strength,
And He is a refuge of salvation to His anointed.
- Psalm 28:7-8
#3 - Your faith works only when you work your faith
We note at the beginning, before he faced all of the crises, Job practiced those things that built a strong faith. Things like righteous living, faithful worship and benevolence. He was doing all of these things while he was healthy, while he was rich, while everything was going well. He was practicing acts of faith and working that faith so that when the storms came, his faith held fast.
Soldiers train while there is no war so that they are ready when the war does come. In the same way, we train and strengthen our faith while there is peace so that when the storm comes, and it will, our faith will be fully functional and strong because we have been dutifully working at it.
Remember that trials (of any kind) can cause us to lose, or worse, consciously abandon our faith.
- The sudden death of a spouse or child
- A loss of income or a job
- Forced changes in where or how we live
- A broken family
- Legal problems
- Constant immoral behavior by ourselves or others near to us
These and other trials constantly battering us will cause fatigue, discouragement, anger, resentment and despair. We let ourselves go spiritually when things like this begin to take place. We develop an attitude that says, "Well, if God doesn't care, why should I care?" This is where a well-developed faith can naturally take over and lead us through the storm to safety.
#4 - Be still!
"Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). We rarely learn anything while thrashing about spiritually. Note that Job's wife was exasperated with him. "Do something," she more or less said to him, even if it meant cursing God and ending one's life.
However, the spiritual man or woman's first response to crisis is stillness, not action.
#5 - Realize that no one really knows how it feels
Each person's suffering is unique, even if some of the details are similar to someone else's experience. One of Job's frustrations was that his friends assumed they knew exactly what he was going through, or why he was suffering and how to make things right.
When you are the one undergoing the trial, save your energy in trying to explain how it feels or what the experience is like, since aside from the comfort of venting, someone else understanding doesn't usually solve the problem. Like Job, we should pour out our hearts to God who does know and who can help relieve our suffering.
#6 - Sometimes you don't know, and you will never know why
Even though in the end God faced and spoke to Job, corrected him, forgave and restored him, He never revealed to Job the reason for his suffering! You don't always have to know the "why" in order to heal properly and to move on successfully. Job never found out why he suffered and yet he lived a happy and full life after this terrible episode in his life.
Heaven will not be for remembering or finding closure for earthly trials. Heaven will be for experiencing the awesome presence of God without the restrictions of sin and doubt. Knowing the why will not be needed when we will be glorified and exalted to the right hand of God with Jesus Christ.
#7 - God often uses crisis to bless us spiritually
It is usually after a crisis of some kind in our lives that we gain a greater understanding of God and His nature, power and ways. After a blessing, I am reminded of the things that I already know about God (His kindness and generosity) for which I repeatedly give thanks. However, it is during a crisis or during a trial that I usually discover something that I didn't know about God.
For example, I have learned and have been amazed at how God sees to all the small details of answered prayer. My wife and I prayed for help with a recent move, but in answering that prayer I noted the assistance and the blessings that we received in every aspect of that move (selling our house, buying another house, financing, moving, setting things up). I realized that God is the God of detail.
Regardless of the trial or challenge, God rewards faithfulness with both material and spiritual rewards. Job suffered greatly, but his constant (not perfect) faith was ultimately rewarded, not with the why of his situation, but rather with a greater understanding and appreciation of the "who" God really is and what He is like.
Now in addition to the seven lessons that we learned from Job, I'd like to provide you with an "emergency kit" to help you should you ever find yourself facing either a physical, theological or spiritual crisis.
Spiritual Emergency Kit
In the case of:
1. Physical Crisis
- Be still
- Stop crying out
- Stop explaining
2. Theological Crisis
- Say and do what you know is true, not what you think
- Humble yourself
- Start listening
3. Spiritual Crisis
- Believe God's word only
- Remember Cardinal Léger
Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger was a high official in the Roman Catholic Church. He lived like a privileged prince. He knew the teachings, the laws and the rituals of the Catholic Church. At the height of his career, he had a spiritual crisis and a calling to service. He searched the Word for what was true, what was from Christ and absolutely blessed by God regardless of denomination or doctrinal position. He willingly chose to leave his position as a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church and traveled to Africa (Cameroon) to work and live with the lepers who inhabited a separated colony in that place. He was a top-level leader of the Catholic Church who did what he was sure of theologically. He learned that what was absolutely true was to love and serve the sick and the poor in the name of Jesus. When in doubt, do what you are absolutely sure that God's word teaches.
Just a final word about the trials and the sufferings of this world. All of these will be forgotten when Jesus comes.
17"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.
18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing
And her people for gladness.
- Isaiah 65:17-18
As Isaiah says, heaven will not be for remembering, but for rejoicing in the eternal now. Our task is to stand fast in faith, not to figure everything out or measure God's justice to determine if what's happening is fair. No use looking for the return or worrying about its coming. All of this is wasted energy.
Paul tells us that we will all be changed into eternal, glorious beings, and it will be done in the twinkling of an eye (I Corinthians 15:52). From the state of death in sleep, or from a steady normal life lived faithfully, or from the middle of some crisis where all you can do is to stand fast in faith while everything is whirling about you.
From one of these states, changed too quickly to observe it or comment or feel it, transformed into a new creature with a body fit for an eternal, joyful experience in the presence of God, never to sin, remember or regret ever again.
This is the true and living hope that all Christians have no matter what condition they find themselves in presently. This would have been the answer to Job's question and the end of his crisis had he known what we now know in Christ Jesus. The good news for Job is that he will be rejoicing with all the faithful for the very same reason when Jesus comes to bring us together as the celestial church, and all the trials and all the sorrows will no longer have memory. Praise God and glory to Christ through the spirit! Amen.