A Godly Response to Life's Trials
What a difference a day can make. Any of us could wake up on any given morning and by the time the day is over something unforeseen happens that alters our life forever.
No one understood this reality more than Job. One morning this godly man rose early to worship the Lord and intercede for the spiritual well-being of his ten children just like he did every morning. But by the end of the day, all of his children were dead, all his flocks were stolen by raiders, all his possessions were destroyed by fire, and his entire body was covered with painful boils.
Job lost more in a day than most of us will lose in a lifetime. The only thing he didn’t lose was his wife, and based on the counsel she gave him to just curse God and die, he probably wished he had lost her too! But instead of cursing God, Job chose to bless God for all the bad things that happened to him. His initial response to his unspeakable tragedy was “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job. 1:21). He later exhorted his wife, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” (Job 2:10).
Job’s friends, while well-intentioned, weren’t much help to him either. Their compassion and comfort were short-lived, and after sitting in silence with him for seven days, they began to counsel Job about the cause of his suffering which put him on the defensive. For 35 chapters they debated the question, “Why do people suffer?” Finally, God had enough of their ignorant discussion and He arrived in a whirlwind and interrupted Job and his friends. He never addressed the reason for Job’s suffering. He simply redirected the conversation to Job’s response to suffering.
Through a series of rhetorical questions and powerful descriptions of God’s sovereignty in creating the world, God essentially asked Job, “Who do you think you are to question me or try to understand my grand design in your suffering?” Job immediately humbled himself and repented. Through it all, Job learned a valuable lesson about suffering that every one of us needs to learn. When faced with trials, rather than focusing on the reason for the trial, we need to focus on our response to the trial. Instead of trying to figure out why we are suffering, we need to learn to trust God that He is sovereignly, wisely, and lovingly working out all the circumstances of our lives for His glory and for our good.
In his helpful book, Trusting God, Jerry Bridges writes the following:
All people-believers as well as unbelievers-experience anxiety, frustration, heartache and disappointment. Some suffer intense physical pain and catastrophic tragedies. But that which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan…He always has a purpose for the grief He brings or allows to come into our lives. Most often we do not know what that purpose is, but it enough to know that His infinite wisdom and perfect love have determined that the particular sorrow is best for us. God never wastes pain. He always uses it to accomplish His purpose. And His purpose is for His glory and our good. Therefore, we can trust Him when our hearts are aching or our bodies are racked with pain.
God’s purpose and plan for our lives are frequently beyond our ability to understand. Little did Job know that behind the scenes God was teaching Satan a much-needed lesson; that when a true believer faces trials they respond with persevering faith. The real question regarding Job is not “why did Job suffer” but “why did Job worship God.”
Satan questioned the genuineness of Job’s relationship with God. He assumed the only reason why Job worshipped God was because God had blessed Him so much. So in order to prove the genuineness of Job’s faith in Him, God gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted to Job, except kill him. But even after Satan let all hell break loose, destroying every aspect of Job’s life, Job continued to worship God. He understood that adversity was a normal, natural part of life. He said, “Man is born for adversity; as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). He understood life is “short-lived and full of turmoil” (Job 14:1). But in spite of the adversity he faced, he expressed his unconditional commitment to God with these words, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
The bottom line of the story of Job is this: the way Job responded to trials in his life proved to Satan the genuineness of his relationship with God. This same principle applies to you and me. How we respond to trials in our lives is one of the greatest tests of the genuineness of our relationship with God. Our response to life’s trials proves whether our faith is genuine or counterfeit; real or fake.
That’s what James was getting at in the opening verses of his letter to Jewish believers who had been scattered all over the world as a result of persecution. They were being persecuted by the Gentiles for being Jews and they were being persecuted by the Jews for being Christians. They were surrounded by trials on all sides; they were coming at them from all directions. In the midst of this distressing situation, James instructed them how to properly respond to the trials they faced. He wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Trials are a normal, natural part of life. They are unavoidable. It is impossible to escape them. So we shouldn’t be surprised when trials come, we should expect them to come; especially if we are a Christian. And when they come, God expects us to respond with a joyful attitude that is based on a deep-down sense of peace and confidence that God is in perfect control of everything and no matter how bad things may seem, we know He is using them to glorify Himself and to conform us to the image of His Son (cf. Rom. 8:28-29). God’s ultimate goal for every Christian is to make us like Jesus Christ and trials are His primary means of accomplishing that goal. We will never fully develop into who God wants us to be unless we go through trials.
There are few things as fascinating in nature as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. When you were a child, I’m sure that many of you, like me, found a cocoon and placed it in a jar and watched with wonder as this amazing event unfolded. The story is told of a young boy who witnessed this transformation. When the butterfly started to break out of his cocoon, the boy noticed how hard it had to struggle to free itself. The process was very slow. In an effort to help, he reached down and widened the opening of the cocoon. Soon the butterfly emerged but its wings were all crumpled and shriveled. Something was wrong. The butterfly, which should have spread its wings and flown away, could only helplessly crawl around on the ground because its wings never fully developed. What the boy had not realized was that the struggle to get out of the cocoon was essential for the butterfly’s muscle system to develop. In a misguided effort to relieve the God-designed struggle, he had crippled the butterfly from ever becoming the beautiful creature God created it to be.
The trials of life are much like the cocoon of the butterfly. God uses the struggles that we go through to develop our spiritual “muscle system.” Adversity is essential to our growth as Christians. But when we face adversity, like that boy who was unaware of the necessity of the struggle, we want God to relieve us from it; to make life easier for us. Yet God in His wisdom knows that to remove adversity from our lives would cripple us and keep our spiritual character from being fully developed. So He wisely and lovingly uses adversity to strengthen us and ultimately transform us into the beautiful image of Jesus Christ.