by Mike Ratliff
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
We have arrived at the stage of Job’s trial where he is past trying to rationalize his suffering in light of his godly walk with God. He has stoically refused to curse God in his suffering saying that we should be willing to accept the good with the bad. He silently suffered in his agony on the ash heap. Then his three friends showed up and suffered in silence with him for a week. Job then cried out in pain and frustration to his friends complaining that he did not deserve to be treated like this. Eliphaz responded with a diatribe that included an accurate declaration that all men are sinners. However, he made the mistake of trying to get Job to confess that he had committed some grievous sin, which caused God to punish him. Job then responded that he was justified in his complaint. His suffering is increasing. He is past being noble and gracious. He can no longer contend with Eliphaz and the others because they refuse to believe that such horrible suffering isn’t God’s chastening.
Job has reached the stage where he is crying to God. I remember many times being in this type of working through painful circumstances. I would first be very noble, proclaiming that God is just and He knows best…blah, blah, blah. Then a few days later, my patience wearing thin, I would lash back at those who tried to help me with their misguided advice. Then I would turn to God and vent. This is where Job is as we join him in the midst of his pain.
“Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand? Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope. “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more; while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore. “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:1-11)
Job is nearing the point of hopelessness. This chapter from Job seems to echo the sentiments of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiates. When I was a baby Christian in the midst of the fire, I absolutely hated that book. I would refuse to read it. It states emphatically, that anything man desires on this Earth is a waste of time. Any pursuit, no matter how pleasant, is only temporal. No pleasure lasts. It is a very depressing look at life if one is dominated by fleshly pursuits. Solomon ends Ecclesiastes with a very wise and discerning statement.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
The only fulfillment that is not temporal is found in fearing God and keeping His commandments. For the immature Christian, this is not a pleasant reality. However, as we mature in grace and God changes our hearts we see that the world has nothing to offer that is worthwhile. It is only in our service and devotion to God do we find true lasting fulfillment. Job loved God. He was devoted to Him and lived with every part of his life subject to His Lordship. However, just like the rest of us, he is not complete. Job is stall lacking something. God has brought this horrible trial upon him to purify his heart and bring Himself glory.
Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.” (Job 7:12-21)
Look at the suffering Job is going through. When he is awake, his pain and agony is unbearable. Then he says to himself that if he could only go to sleep he would be comforted, even if for only a short time. However, when he does go to sleep, he is tormented by nightmares. He also hallucinates. These are Satan’s devices designed to break Job. Remember, Satan’s goal is to get Job to curse God to His face. God, says it won’t happen and allows the test.
Now, God knows everything. He is omniscient. He knew that Job would not curse him. However, why did Job remain faithful? Why do we obey God? What is it that believers have going for them that non-believers do not? This is an imperative for us to understand. Regenerate believers are new creations. We have been changed.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:14-19)
This means that we no longer regard Christ according to the flesh. We regard Him spiritually. We have the Holy Spirit empowering our spiritual obedience. Job had this as well. What has this got to do with God knowing that Job would not curse Him to His face? Job walked by faith, not by sight. When we obey God, we do the same thing. What is faith and where does it come from?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
If we walk by faith, what are we doing? Aren’t we responding to the Word or commands of God. People are very complex. However this truth is self-evident; when we make decisions, we respond to our highest desires. We pursue what we desire and reject what we don’t. Doesn’t God know this? Didn’t He design us? What is it about being a New Creation in Christ that enables believers to make choices that are obedient to God’s commands whereas, prior to salvation, they could never consistently do so? Where does faith come from? It comes through hearing the word of Christ or of God. This means that our supernatural faith actually changes our will to line up with God’s will. This is why it is imperative for Christians to become intimate with the Word of God. Doesn’t this truth shed some light on why the regenerate heart believes God and obeys Him? It also shows us that those professing Christians who cannot obey God consistently are not regenerate. If they were, they would be pursing obedience.
Job had this faith. He walked by faith prior to his calamity. Now he is suffering and his highest desire is in conflict. He deeply desires to obey God and remain faithful, yet he wants his suffering to end. He has reached the point in this trial where this conflict has caused an emotional outflow of confusion and pain. As humans we cannot comprehend why God would remain silent here and not step in to help him. However, God is there with him. Job may not realize it because of his agony, but the fact that Job is maintaining his integrity means God is still empowering his will. We are safe in His hands.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
God preserves His people. He may test them and allow them to fall into horrible persecution and suffering, but the genuine believer will not curse God to His face. Instead, his or her faith increases as God empowers it. As suffering mounts, so does faith. Faith is not a feeling. It is not a warm-fuzzy. It is belief that gives us the ability to walk through life in obedience to God no matter what. It does not mean we won’t be confused or hurt. We may even vent at God now and then. However, the process of submission to His Lordship in all things increases and purifies our faith enabling us to walk closer with our Lord through even the worst tribulation the world can come up with. Job is suffering and venting, but his faith is intact. God is preserving him. He does the same for us.