The biblical story of Job is a stand-alone story – there is none other like it. Few (if any) in history have gone through the magnitude of suffering Job endured, and few have acted with such courage in that suffering. Job stands as the premier example of enduring hardship and loss with a God-honoring attitude and the blessed results that follow. His reactions to the tragedy in his life powerfully illustrate how to have strength in times of adversity.
The basic story goes like this: Satan came before God and challenged the genuineness of Job’s character. Since Job was a blameless man, meaning he lived with rock solid integrity, Satan accused him of only honoring God because of all he could gain by the relationship. If Job lost his perks, Satan reasoned, Job would fall away. So God allowed the devil to wreak havoc in Job’s life first by ruining all his wealth and killing his children, and then later by afflicting Job with boils over his entire body. But through the entire loss and suffering, Job’s faith held firm, and he did not curse God nor blame God.
Job’s suffering is significant in history on several levels. For one, Job lost all his wealth in a matter of hours. What makes his loss so significant is how much wealth he had to lose. Job was “… the greatest of all the men of the east.” Job 1:3. The “East” signifies a very, very large area, encompassing possibly several nations, perhaps even continents. To lose a little wealth is bad, but to lose an incomparable amount of wealth is catastrophic. Job lost far more than anyone in his region of the world could stand to lose.
Second, Job was bereaved of his ten children in one day. Many people can relate to the loss of a child; there is possibly no greater emotional pain than to lose a beloved child. But Job lost ALL his children. To lose not one or even two but ten children in one fell swoop must have triggered a hurricane of emotional torment almost too great to bear. But Job bore it.
Third, Job suffered intense physical agony. We know Satan is the master of torture; he relishes making people suffer as much as possible. So what did he chose for Job, so that he would turn him against his God? He chose boils. These were deep infections of the skin, swollen and oozing blood and pus. This was a lingering, gnawing pain from which Job could get no relief. And since the boils covered his entire body (2:7) there would be no position Job could find in which the weight of his body was not pressing against his sores. Add to that he was most likely racked by high fevers from the infections. It was relentless, inescapable torture, day and night.
And finally, the discouragement others brought to Job further intensified his misery. When someone is enduring hardship, at the very least one would hope his best friends would come alongside and try to alleviate the situation with words of encouragement, words of hope. Not so for Job. His “friends” came to him and began monologuing on how he was to blame, how he was hiding his iniquities, and that if only he would confess his sins, God would back off. Essentially, they asserted it was all his fault.
The powerful story of Job is an outstanding example of how to have strength in times of adversity. We find the key to Job’s strength was his perspective. Job recognized the source of all events in his life, and that made them all acceptable to him. Let me explain.
Early on in the story, when Job had just encountered the second phase of Satan’s assault (the bodily sores), his wife, who would most be expected to offer encouragement, delivered perhaps the most painful criticism of all:
‘”Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!”’
Job’s response to her reveals the backbone of his theology which gave him the incredible strength he is known for:
‘But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”’ Job 2:9,10
And so we find the vital truth here. Job realized who sent all the wealth, family, friends, and everything that was good and desirable. But he also realized who sent him the devastation, the pain, the loss.
It all came from the same loving God.
Strength in times of adversity comes not by reaching inside oneself and finding the powerful inner person, nor by reaching out to others to find an external source of impetus, but by fully knowing and believing that both good and bad come from the Lord, who loves His people more than they can even imagine. The Lord God, who made heaven and earth, provides immeasurable blessings to His people, and, at times, unimaginable pain, with the sole purpose of bringing us to love and glorify Him more with our lives.
When you look around at the world about you and see there are so many things that are not right, it is helpful to remember from whence those things came. No, God is not an author of sin, or of any evil thing, but in His sovereignty He allows evil to exist to the ultimate good of His children and to His ultimate glory. Nor is He powerless, at the mercy of fate or chance. He is in complete control at all times and in all circumstances.
Some might balk at this. Some might say: “Really? God could stop evil but He doesn’t because somehow it brings Him glory? I can’t be ok with that.”
The honest answer to this query is yes, God allows evil and hardship because He can and does use it all for His good purpose. He is God and He can do whatever He wants. It’s not up to us small-minded humans to tell an almighty God what is ok or not ok. We don’t have the authority to claim that.
Just because we cannot fully understand the mysteries of God does not mean we therefore have the right to reject what we don’t fully understand. This is where the crucial element of faith comes in. We have faith because God told us there is no righteousness (or salvation) without it. We have faith in God because He is over all and He has proven Himself to be true and righteous throughout all of human history.
We may not suffer so greatly as Job suffered, but we can have the same stalwart faith and relentless trust in our God no matter what occurs, good or bad. We can have strength in times of adversity because our strength is in God, and we surely know He is a loving and gracious God who blesses His people.