As we consider the tragic events of September 11, 2001, there is wonderful encouragement found in the Old Testament. When we hear the personal stories of loss, final moments of conversation and escape, and the pain of living through a tragedy, many of us find it difficult to imagine what those directly affected feel. We often wonder how anyone could handle such a tragic event and cope with the loss.
The man Job in the Old Testament suffered the most chilling loss that any man could face. In a matter of hours, he lost all his earthly, monetary possessions, and all ten of his children. As we consider September 11, we can draw comfort that God is at work in these tragic circumstances. God cares about our suffering and meets us in the middle of those times. Consider the follow five lessons we can draw from Job.
1. God is in control, always in control.
In the first chapter, we see that there is a source or cause for the evil that attacked the house of Job. This source of evil is Satan, or the devil. Why would this source of evil attack such a good man? Job was noted by God as a righteous man that lived a life moving around or away from evil. Satan wanted to prove God wrong. Truthfully, we as humans may never understand why a particular tragedy happens to us or to our family or friends.
As chapter one continues, we read the details of how quickly Job’s tragedy multiplied. In one day, in what seems to be less than an hour, Job lost everything that was not within his physical view at that very moment—possessions and children. Job was able to respond to the multiple tragedies because he believed that God was in control. This response tells us of a great faith in an unseen God in whom Job placed his faith and life. Job said:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.[All citations taken for the English Standard Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.]
Job did not understand nor did he immediately ask why. This ability to resist the need to ask why is the first evidence of the depth of Job’s faith in the eternal God of heaven and earth.
2. Nothing can enter our lives as believers unless God the Father permits it.
Sometime later, this ultimate source of evil attacked Job’s health. In this attempt to destroy Job and his faith, as with the first attack against Job, Satan had to have God’s permission to destroy Job’s health and wealth. His body became infected with sores all over. He was very miserable. The disease came suddenly and completely debilitated him. Job said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” The Bible continues by saying, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips [about God].” Even though, the source of evil attacked Job in every way possible short of death, God remained in control of the events. Job had needs of which he was not aware. God did not send the evil and suffering on and to Job, but controlled the source of evil, Satan. Notice that Satan actually had to have permission to attack Job. While evil is rampant, it is not uncontrolled.
David in Psalm 139 confesses that God has written his life history before he was born (verses 16). We often like to think that this shows that God has a wonderful plan for each of us. If we stop and think a moment, we soon realize that if God has written down every day of our lives as David believed, then He ministered to David during the difficulties he, David, faced and will minister to us. If we believe that God is trustworthy, then we, too, can believe that God is in control of all the events in our lives.
3. God’s interests may far exceed anything we can understand initially.
You see, God was doing something much larger than anything Job could imagine.
One major problem we have is that we see history in snapshots. Unless we stop and allow the Lord to open our understanding to a much larger picture, we spend most of our time during crisis or tragedy focused on ourselves. Job was able to look beyond his immediate troubles. While we might think highly of this man, Job did not have a supernatural faith.
After some time of suffering, he began to wonder and ask why these horrid things had happened. I encourage you to read every word that Job spoke as recorded in the Bible. You will be amazed at what you find as you carefully read and reflect on this man’s suffering. If you doubt Job’s humanity, read chapter three. Job expresses his frustration and remorse at his circumstances. His frustration stems from his lack of understanding why this complete devastation has come on his house.
Job had two hidden spiritual needs that might never have been corrected without this time of suffering. Job trusted in his pious living (Job1:4-5). Remember that Job prayed daily for his children, interceding for them lest they sinned against God in their carefree life. Job somehow felt that his intercessory prayer would be enough to protect his children. He may well have done this because he had not taught his children the reverence that he practiced in his own life—we can only speculate. We can be guilty of living piously but not truly worship God.
Job’s second spiritual need is more easily defined because he expressed it himself. He was fearful; read Job 3:25, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and whit I dread befalls me.” This secret fear Job harbored was the loss of everything. In his heart, he cherished his possessions far more than he should have. His devotion to the Lord was not as deep and complete as he thought. These two spiritual needs might well have plagued his life until death had Job not suffered so deeply.
One good way to relate to what Job experienced and to allow the words of this Old Testament book to minister to you is to read only the words Job spoke. Another thing to keep in mind is that Job is speaking to the Lord not simply responding to his friends. Just as you and I are struggling with the events of recent days (Remember this was written shortly after 9-11-2001.), Job struggled with the events that seemed unjust and unfair in his life. He was on the one hand a very good example of spiritual devotion, and on the other hand, he was no different from the thousands of Americans who are struggling with loss, unanswered questions, and confusing emotions. Job suffered and asked God why, just as we do today. We do not know how long Job suffered before God responded to him—certainly, it was likely months, and could well have been many months.
David, often known as a man “after His [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), wrote many Psalms in which he complained and asked many questions as frequently as he praised the Lord of heaven. Several Psalms were written while David was fleeing from King Saul. David had about six hundred men and many of their families dependent on him for food, water, shelter, and clothing. At times, David was terribly frustrated that King Saul prospered even though David had twice been anointed king. If David can question God and hold to his faith, we should be encouraged and trust in a loving God even when we do not understand the circumstances.
4. God’s ultimate purpose is to deepen our relationship and understanding of Him.
After you have deliberately worked your way through the pages of Job, plan to read and read again the last five chapters of the book. Job comes to understand who God is in a way that reached beyond anything he could ever have dreamed possible. Job had a limited view of the God of heaven. He knew that God was worthy of worship. He knew that God was worthy of reverence and devotion. He knew that God was a judge. Yet, somehow in a life of worshipping the one true, living God, he had missed the reality of the living God.
We, too, often do many things to “gain” God’s favor when in reality, there is only one way to do that and that is through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Yet, we will read the Bible, memorize verses, go to church regularly, attend special classes, give to the poor, and even volunteer our time and resources to serve those less fortunate. No matter what we do, nothing can replace knowing and pursuing a relationship with the living God. Job was not much different than we are today. He had a regime that he practiced and it was a righteous regime, but it was not the same as knowing and seeking to know the living God, our Father. To know HIM, you must seek HIM and not the things that allow us to measure our righteousness.
5. God’s purposes always ends with God’s blessings in some way.
After God confronts Job with the veracity of his presence, Job’s lack of knowledge of the Holy God humbled him before God. It is at this moment in Job’s life that God is able to do something extraordinary. God draws Job into a very personal relationship with Himself. Job responds to this relationship with true worship. In Chapter 42:2-6, Job expresses his humility before God. In this seemingly poor state, still having nothing of value in this world, yet, he is satisfied to love and worship God.
Here is my paraphrase of Job’s final response to God. “Father, I have heard about you from my childhood and have trusted that I worshipped you rightly. I see now that all my efforts did not matter because I was doing things to please you rather that love and worship you. I’m good now. I know you and have seen you with my eyes. I’m good now just the way I am.”
Finally, his friends come to him requesting intercessory prayer. Job is elevated to the position of priest. He is now fulfilling the task that he longed to fill in his family’s life. After he has selflessly interceded for his friends, God restores Job with blessings beyond his greatest dreams. The Scripture says, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”