About a year ago I wrote a series of posts called Lessons From Job, sharing things God taught me from my devotional reading of the book of Job.
I’m following the same Bible reading schedule this year and recently came through Job again. This time God spoke some new truths to my soul that encouraged me in my continued trial of chronic illness. I hope these three lessons can encourage you as well.
1. The main character is God
As I stepped back and thought about the entire book, I saw the story, the themes, the descriptions of God in a new way. Yes, the book may be named after Job, and he is the main human character, but ultimately–really–who’s the main character?
It’s not Job. It’s God. Just like we saw in Pastor Israel’s sermon a couple of weeks ago: Joseph wasn’t the main character in his story, God was.
Neither are we the main characters of our story. God is.
It’s not about us. It’s all about God: from Him, through Him, for Him (Ro 11:39). We are on His stage, following His directions, pulling back the curtains to reveal–for ourselves and for others–who He is.
It’s His story, from beginning to end and everything in between. Like Job and Joseph and every other saint historical and contemporary, we–and our suffering–play only a small role in God’s greater plan of showing Himself to us and through us.
2. Our suffering is on display
Job’s story begins with a conversation between God and Satan in which Satan essentially challenges God to test Job, expecting Job to turn against God as a result.
Maybe you, like me, have wondered why God would allow Job to be tested to such an extreme. God knew Job would keep his integrity, because He knows everything.
But Satan doesn’t. And I couldn’t help wondering if God allowed Job to suffer so that Satan himself would see the folly of his challenge.
This is not to suggest, however, that God uses–or abuses–us as pawns just to prove some heavenly point. Besides, the rest of Job’s story tells us that Satan wasn’t the only one watching.
What about Job’s wife, who initially told him to curse God and die? What about his friends, who came to him, saw his condition, heard his grief as well as his trust in God? What about the Old Testament saints to follow, who heard the story of the righteous man who lost everything?
What about us, reading the Scriptures today?
I’m reminded of Abraham obeying God’s command to take Isaac, his only son and his promised heir, his miracle child, and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah (Gen 22).
God knew Abraham’s faith would hold. But did Abraham? We say we have faith, but a time of trial requires us to put our money where our mouth is and, to borrow the term from a brother’s recent sermon, activate that faith.
Abraham’s actions demonstrated his faith and obedience for himself as well as for his son, Isaac. Perhaps even for the servants who came with them, for Sarah when she heard, and certainly for every believer who’s read this passage.
The examples of Abraham and Job, as well as the many others given in Hebrews 11 and beyond, remind us that suffering doesn’t just give us a chance to demonstrate our own faith. It also puts our faith–and the Object of that faith–on display.
Who is watching? Perhaps angels in the spiritual realm. Certainly friends and family. Other believers around us and after us. As D. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes, “It is the way in which we endure trials that really certifies our faith,”1 both for ourselves and for others.
3. God’s character doesn’t change in times of suffering
Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.Job 1:20
Job loses his livelihood, all his worldly possessions, and every one of his ten children in one day, and what is his response? Not just a response of mourning (“tore his robe, shaved his head”) but also a response of worship.
Maybe the question astounds you as much as it astounded me: How could Job worship in such pain?
The answer came as I pondered this passage: because God doesn’t change. What makes Him worthy of worship in the good times is what makes Him worthy of worship in the bad times.
God is good, always. God loves us, always. God is perfect, always. And so on. No “if,” no “but,” no “unless.” The end.
God’s character is the same no matter what we’re going through. Therefore we can worship Him in the bad times AND in the good times.
I believe that’s why Job could fall to the ground and worship His Creator after that same Creator seemingly took everything away from him. Because he knew who God was, and he didn’t let his circumstances tell him anything else. He held onto what he knew about God, and it led him to worship even in the pain.
That’s the kind of relationship with God that I want.
Job could look past the things, past the circumstances, past anything temporal, earthly, and unsteady to the Truth Himself: God forever, Heavenly, and unchanging. He knew God so well that even when life was pulled out from under him, he didn’t doubt Him.
Which leads me to ask the question that challenged me from Job’s example: what defines our relationship with God?
Do we love God because of what He does for us, because of the blessings He gives us? If so, then when He does something we view as unpleasant or we lose those blessings, our love–if not our faith–will be shaken.
Or, like Job, do we love God because of who He is, always and forever? If that’s the case, then it won’t matter what He does or what happens because, like Job’s, our love, our faith, our trust will be anchored to the rock that cannot move.
And this trust doesn’t just benefit us–like we already talked about, our faith is on display for others as well. I can’t help imagining the responses of Satan and the rest of the angels as everything Job held dear was torn away from him, as he sat in the ash heap and scratched his sores with a shard of pottery, as he “did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22).
I bet they said not just “Wow, what a man of integrity” but also “Wow, what a God worth serving.” What a God worth serving if His followers cling to Him no matter what happens to them, no matter what pain He allows in their lives, no matter where He leads them.
Could others look at our suffering and say the same thing?
One last point on the practical level. When we’re walking through a valley, there is and can be great value in focusing on Scripture passages, songs, books, and other resources that specifically address suffering. But we can’t forget to look at God, to come back to those verses that extol God’s many attributes, to sing the songs from the “worship” section of the hymnal, to read the theology books and study biblical doctrines.
Because God’s character will filter into every situation in which we find ourselves. We can’t look at our situation and try to determine God’s character from there. We have to look at God and bring His character into our situation. Any situation. Every situation.
Of course, this is easier said than done, I know. But my sisters, this practice, this perspective, this FAITH is essential not only for our soul but also for our testimony. What does our response to our suffering say about God? Can other people look at us, at our faith and say, “Wow, I want to know that God”? Have we truly grasped, internalized, and built our lives on the truths of God’s unchanging character?
1Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965.