Job – a reflection from the beginning of the story
Job’s three friends could not have been more wrong. They looked at this profoundly afflicted man and concluded that he had brought all his suffering on himself by his sin. What other explanation could there be?
But there was another explanation —the very opposite of that for which these men contended so vehemently. And that was Job’s piety. It was actually because he was so good, so holy, so outstanding a man of God, that disaster befell him as it did.
In the crucible
None of this is conjecture. God could say at the outset of the story that there was no one on earth like Job. He was blameless and upright, a man who feared God and shunned evil — the holiest man alive!
Far from protecting him from suffering, however, his holiness was the very thing from which his sufferings stemmed. God spoke warmly of Job’s piety to Satan, who responded by alleging that it was only skin deep — and he could prove it!
If God took away from Job all the good things he had given him, Job would curse God to his face. And so the whole matter was put to the test. God permitted his servant to be placed in the crucible so that the true character of his piety might be revealed.
A dangerous man
Godliness can lead to suffering in other ways. Take, for instance, the Old Testament prophets. Why was a man like Jeremiah so often in danger of his life? Why was he cast into prison? Why (if tradition is correct) was he eventually executed? Precisely because he was so unflinchingly faithful to God.
Think about Jesus. Satan targets him in the wilderness, plying him with temptations. So too at other times. Why? Because of the threat that Jesus poses. He is on a divine mission and is filled with the Holy Spirit — a dangerous man indeed!
Satan attacks him, therefore, in an attempt to stop him. And we know that the experience was painful: ‘He suffered when he was tempted’ (Hebrews 2:18). Doesn’t that have many parallels? Christians who are eager and determined to serve God inevitably find themselves assaulted by the evil one, just as Jesus was. And they suffer as a result.
Answered by affliction
Or approach it from one further angle. John Newton wrote a remarkable hymn entitled ‘Prayer answered by crosses’. It begins,
I ask’d the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
Then, very movingly, he traces out the manner in which the Lord answered him — by affliction. It is often the way. The earnest believer pleads that the Lord would make him as holy as a saved sinner can be. And the Lord answers him by bringing sorrows and trials into his life.
In various ways, then, piety can lead to suffering. And because of that we may find ourselves facing a particular temptation — the temptation to not aim high. We neither seek nor labour in prayer for the kind of piety we see in a man like Job. We settle for less in the hope that it will prove less costly. We shrink from the pursuit of eminent godliness to avoid the pain.
Do you know something of that temptation? If so, then let me give you some reasons for resisting it and seeking earnestly to be like Job, notwithstanding the cost.
No life is more beautiful
Who are the most beautiful people on earth? Those with film-star looks? Those with the fairest faces and the finest figures? Not at all. It is those whom grace has carried furthest toward its ultimate goal — the restoration of our fallen humanity to its original splendour and perfection. That grace had made Job’s life a thing of beauty! And the more conspicuous it is in us, the more truly beautiful our lives will be.
No life is more useful
Job’s godliness made him a friend to the poor, a defender of the innocent, a faithful husband, an honest businessman, a just employer, and an outstanding father to his children (Job 1 and 31). Godliness made his life a blessing. It will do the same to ours!
As it finds expression — in our prayers, our example, our counsel, our care for our family, our commitment to the church, and in the way we conduct ourselves at work — we will be good and useful servants, both of our heavenly Master and of our fellow men.
No life is more delightful to God
When God speaks to Satan about Job it is with very evident pleasure: ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him’ (Job 1:8). As he did at the creation, God is looking at the work of his hands and taking delight in it. It is no different today. God continues to take pleasure in his saints. And the more Christ-like, the more blameless and upright we are, the more pleasure we give him.
No life is more worthy of God’s love
How often we have sung the words of Isaac Watts: ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all’. That is exactly what it does! There is no life more worthy of God’s love to us in Christ than a life of unreserved devotion. Let there be no shrinking back from it!