As I study the different ways in which God operates, I am reminded of how he often tests those he loves. There are countless stories throughout the Bible of this, two of which are illustrated in the books of Mark and Job.
In Mark, there is a passage about a young rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus eventually tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. He informs him that he will have treasure in heaven and simply to follow him. The young man left sorrowful and disheartened. Jesus tells his disciples who’d witnessed all that had happened how difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter into God’s Kingdom. Puzzled, the disciples asked, who then can be saved?
The cost of following Jesus proved to be too much for the young man who missed out on the benefits of walking down that path. But where the young man’s perception had been altered, Job’s world collapsed.
In Job, God asks of Satan, have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him, blameless, upright and a man who fears me and rejects evil. Satan counters that God has protected Job, his household and everything he has. If God were to strike all that Job had, he would surely curse God. So God permitted Satan to have control over everything Job possessed, but not his body — at least not initially.
As a result Job’s sons and daughters were killed in a tragic accident, his livestock was robbed by invaders, his servants with the exception of the ones who came to report all that happened were killed. And yet Job’s response was “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
But as I continued reading, Satan wasn’t satisfied. At Job’s expense he asks God to strike Job’s body. God permits this, sparing his life being his only condition. Job is afflicted with sores so severe, his wife encouraged him to just curse God and die. His appearance so unrecognizable his friends broke down and cried when they set their eyes upon him. In all this Job did not sin.
Job’s faith in God is absolutely crazy. Everything in his life was failing apart. How was Job able to place more value in the supernatural world than in the one in which he was currently living? How is it that his convictions were so strong that nothing was able to separate him from his relationship with God?
Last year I traveled to El Salvador on a missions trip with my wife and several church members. On our trip we visited the home of two children from the child development center our church had sponsored. As we rode toward the village, the poverty we witnessed along the way was extreme. It reminded me of the commercials I’ve watched on television, where kids are shown bathing in polluted waters and living in homes the size of sheds with dirt floors. I was now in that environment.
When we arrived, the mother who was with us directed us outside to an area where we could all be seated. The two kids, brother and sister, ran around excited to be home. I remember seeing the grandparents that also lived diagonally across the property. The grandfather was seated on a metal chair, his wife standing next to him while her hand was on top of his aged white hair, gently rubbing his scalp. The father, who was off from work that day, typically worked before sunrise to sell fruits and vegetables at the city markets. As we sat and talked with the children’s parents, they told us about some of their hardships, but there was a warmth that filled the air, distinct from the temperature of the afternoon, perhaps brought about by the love that they shared for one another.
As we left that day, our group provided the family with some groceries, and though they were appreciative, I knew it would be only a band-aid for a much larger need. I wondered what it would be like to have grown up in a community that didn’t afford me the luxury of being able to dream past the responsibilities of each day. My financial stability is a product of my involvement with professional sports, yet I saw no American football fields as we traveled the country. The parents we spoke with would not have produced a child of my size and statue. Would my heart defect that my pediatrician noticed in me been detected at all? Would my parents have been able to afford the surgery? Trips like this one make you realize how little of a role you’ve played in your life story.
Job was rewarded in the end for his commitment. But it is still hard for me to imagine what happened to him, nor do I desire to bear that burden — the thought alone makes my mind and body go numb. But Job understood that it was the Lord that gave him all that he had, something that I also recognize as being true in my life. It was his plan alone that allowed me to be who I am.
The book of James teaches us that we should “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Perhaps that was the essence of Jesus’ test to the young rich man, to simply help him grow in his maturity. Something which God knew that Job already embodied.