Book That Influenced Me
GOD’S PURPOSE ALWAYS HAS THE WELL-BEING OF HIS SERVANTS AT HEART
In May 1999 my good friend Daniel Tennant gifted me the book “Conflict and Triumph”, whose cover he had designed for the Banner of Truth. It is a reprint of William Henry Green’s book, first published in 1874 under the current sub-title “The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded.” When I read it at the time I thought it a fine exposition of Job, written by a man with a pastor’s heart. By January of this year I had been diagnosed with cancer and my wife also has a progressive illness and I turned again to Job and to Green’s book, not least because of the reaction of both Christians and non-Christians to our circumstances.
A new helpfulness
I now found the book spoke with a new helpfulness, particularly because Job experiences three crises of faith during his severe conflict. Job is unaware that the loss of his property, his children and his health is the result of Satan being permitted by God to test his faith (4:6f, 2:1f). This phase of Job’s trials reaches its climax when his wife, having endured everything else, breaks down as she sees her husband endure severe physical suffering and bids him to ‘Curse God’ or rather, ‘Take leave of God, abandon His service’ (p.45) ‘and die’ (2:9). ‘She feels it is a cruel dispensation, and He is cruel who has inflicted it,’ (p. 47). Although his wife’s loss of faith adds another heavy burden to the severity of Job’s trial, I suggest that those who judge Job’s wife harshly do not appreciate that helplessly watching a loved one suffer can be an even severer test of faith than experiencing personal suffering. Furthermore one of the reactions to our own circumstances, from some Christians as well as non-Christians, has been ‘You don’t deserve this!’ Is this not to say that either God is dealing unjustly with us, or what is happening is outside His control? If either is true, then we might as well do as Job’s wife counsels, turn our backs on God and resign ourselves to die! Job’s response is to look to God’s past dealings with him and his family and to say, ‘Shall we indeed accept good from God and shall we not accept adversity?’ (2:10). ‘The (present) evil does not by any means match the (past) good, far less outweigh it’ (p. 49). That must surely be one argument the Christian too is to employ when faced with such trials. God is Sovereign and He leads us, arid has the right to lead us through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ as well as ‘by the still waters’ (Psalm 23).
However, Job’s suffering persists and as time goes on without relief he begins to complain in ‘the language of one tortured beyond endurance’ (p. 51). When it seems things cannot get worse three long-standing, sincere and God-fearing friends arrive. Their intention is to comfort Job and much of what they say is good and valuable. However, their basic assumption is that Job has sinned and that his sufferings are God’s judgment. (8:5-6; 11:14-17; 22:5-7,9). They come to represent the cause of God . . . which they do in a spirit which repels him (Job), with assumptions that experience does not sanction, and which his own conscience falsifies. The insoluble conflict which they assume or create between God’s justice and Job’s integrity, for which he has the testimony of his own conscience and cannot surrender or falsify, tends to place before his mind a distorted image of the character of God. God appears to be torturing him for crimes he has not committed’ (p. 54). By assuming that they know more than they do and by their increasingly harsh judgments, J oh’s friends unwittingly become Satan’s servants, adding to Job’s suffering and bewilderment, and for this God later calls them to repentance (42:7f).
Much less excusable than Job’s friends are those believers who, in spite of all the Scripture teaches to the contrary, ask, ‘What’s gone wrong? What have you done to offend God?’ when Christians undergo trials and ill health. Sadly, such questions come from some Christians within reformed evangelical churches as well as from those who espouse a ‘health and wealth gospel’. One of the important lessons that God reveals through Job is that whilst sin can result in illness and loss, it is by no means the only reason, nor even the main reason, for suffering in the lives of Christians. The Word of God has many promises of blessing, but it also has many warnings that in this fallen world, suffering and sickness are inevitable.
A burst of triumph
Having found hope in his Sovereign God’s past dealings in responding to his wife’s ill-founded counsel, Job now finds hope in God’s future dealings with him in responding to his friends’ accusations. In the midst of his deep anguish, and what appears the irresolvable tension between what appears to be God’s judgment upon him and the testimony of his own conscience, we find some ‘whispers of hope’ such as 16:19-20 and 17:3. These whispers eventually find their climax in the triumphant cry of 19:25-27. ‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and not another. How my heart yearns within me!’ ‘With this burst of triumph the temptation is trodden under foot. Satan is vanquished, and Job’s inward conflict is substantially over’ (p.76).
How many are the saints who have since that day found their own victories in this same sublime conviction and thanked God that Job’s conflict led to such a triumphant discovery of the nature of his God and their God? Today, we have the joyful privilege of being able to read Job’s declaration in the light of the knowledge that ‘there is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:5,6).
Sanctify to thee thy deepest distress
However, ‘even this noble utterance leaves the black clouds of the present undispersed’ (p120). Although Job trusts that all will be well in the future, his present suffering remains undiminished and unexplained. It is only when Elihu and God speak that it becomes clear that there was ‘ample justification of the providence of God in permitting him to be treated as he was, and to suffer as he did’ (p. 122). Elihu argues that Job’s friends misrepresented God in that they seem unaware that God uses two means to detach people from what is wrong and establish them in what is right and good’ (p. 129). In other words, to sanctify them. The first is His Word
(33:15-18) and the second is affliction (33:19f). For Job’s friends, suffering was punishment, while in the estimate of Elihu it is curative, and represented God’s affectionate concern for the true welfare of the sufferer’ (p. 131). God was not punishing Job. Neither was He using Job as a means to an end, simply to show His servant’s faith is stronger than of the wiles of Satan. God’s purpose always has the well-being of His servants at heart. Job’s temptations and suffering brought him to a deeper knowledge of his God and purified his own life in ways that nothing else could have done. When God speaks, He does not refer to what Elihu has said. Neither does He give Job definitive reasons for his suffering but He shows Himself to him so sublimely (38:1f) that Job is astounded that he could ever have doubted Him and argued with Him (40:4,5; 42:3,5-6). His awe and love of God reach a new level. Adversity has done its work, and God in His grace now restores Job’s health and his worldly comforts (42:12f).
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine
I suggest that the reasons given by Elihu for Job’s sufferings satisfy Job only because he has such an exalted view of God. When a person holds such a view of God, nothing can be more important than, in New Testament terms, to be made ‘like Him’ – and nothing is too great to suffer for that to be achieved. Such are our fallen, sinful natures that true knowledge of God and Christ-likeness are not easily achieved. The gold has to be heated, and the dross repeatedly removed before the purifier can see in it his face. If we value the Christ-likeness that is the goal of our salvation then we will be able to say with Paul, even in the midst of suffering, ‘we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8: 28-29). Afflictions are put in the same scale with benefits: they, too, are benefits when they come from God’ (p. 154). Thus does Job’s Redeemer, and yours and mine, transform conflict into triumph!
Gerallt Wyn Davies has recently retired from his post as Chief Executive of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.
“Conflict and Triumph” is published by The Banner of Truth Trust, 180pp
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