Affliction is for My Profit

March 16, 2014 / No. 3715

Dear radio friends,
Have you ever asked, Where is God? and what is He doing?
At some point in life, every believer is going to ask those two questions. Where is God? And, What is He doing?
It may be from a pit of deep depression that we ask, where is God? Maybe we are suddenly stricken with grief or disease and we ask, What is God doing? Maybe we see a wave of affliction come on a friend and he is overwhelmed, and we want to comfort him, but we hardly know what to say, because we do not know where God is in this or what He is doing. Or maybe we witness immense human suffering, in war, or after a tsunami or earthquake or tornado, and we wonder, Where is God, and what is He doing?
These are the two questions that Job under the heavy burden of affliction wrestles with in Job chapter 23.
By now, if you have been following this series on the life of Job, you are familiar with Job’s suffering. Perhaps no human, apart from Christ on the cross, has ever experienced such grief, pain, and rejection. In one day, Job’s ten dear children were all killed. On that same day, Job lost all his wealth. Soon after, Job was smitten with a miserable disease that disfigured his body, and caused immense physical and mental pain. Then, also, Job received no love and support from his closest friends. His wife derided him for his trust in God, and his friends accused him of hypocrisy and said God was judging him. All alone, in poverty, grief, pain, and rejection, Job has only one thing to cling to, his God. He believes and confesses that God is sovereign over his circumstances, he trusts that God brings these things on him out of love, and he has hope beyond this life in the glorious resurrection of the body and eternal life in the presence of God.
But, even though he has this faith and hope, still Job wrestles with these two questions: Where is God, and what is He doing?
We see this here in Job chapter 23. In verse 3 Job says, “Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!”
Note that, in his affliction, Job is not looking for happiness, peace, or relief, but rather he is looking for God Himself. Him! He is not looking for blessing, but the blesser. He is not searching for comfort, but the comforter. Job is saying, “If I knew where He is, I would go to Him.”
In verses 8 and 9, he says, “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him:”
By this he means that in prayer he searches God out in every direction, but God does not seem to answer his prayers.
So Job wrestles with the question, Where is God?
And then, too, he wrestles with the other question, What is God doing?
We see that in verses 3 through 7. Why does Job want to find God? He says, “That I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me. Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me. There the righteous might dispute with him; so should I be delivered for ever from my judge.”
Job is asking for a hearing with God. He wants to lay out all the evidence and get an explanation. His so-called friends are saying that God is punishing him, but Job is not convinced. So he wants to ask God, What are you doing? He wants an explanation. Why this suffering?
So this is Job’s struggle, these two questions, “Where is God, and what is God doing?”
It is important for us to see that every believer will struggle with those questions. You must not think that you are not a child of God if you wrestle with these questions.
Yes, sometimes the unbeliever will ask similar questions. For example, in Psalm 42:10 David complains, “As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?” There’s the unbeliever asking, Where is God? But it is not asked because he is looking for God, but rather as a taunt against David in his affliction. When the unbeliever says, “Where is God?” he is attacking the truths of the sovereignty and mercy of God.
Or another example, in Psalm 73:11, where the ungodly say, “How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?” This is Job’s other question, “Does God know what He’s doing?” But whenever the unbeliever asks this, he does it as an observer of someone else’s trouble. When he goes through trouble himself, he does not look to God, but he runs from God, he hides himself, because he is terrified of the wrath of God.
As Job wrestles with these questions, we see the glow of the ember of his faith. When he asks, where is God, he expresses his deepest agony as well as his greatest longing. More painful than his grief, poverty, physical pain, and rejection is this, that he cannot find God. This is his darkest hour. Where is God? He longs for God, and that desire is born out of faith.
In Psalm 13, David expresses it this way, “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?”
We see Job’s faith also in his other question, Why is God doing this? Now, I think we have to be very careful here. It is not always right to question God’s purposes. God Himself rebukes Job for this, later in the book. God is under no obligation to give a full explanation to us for what He does. His ways are always higher than ours.
But there is a right way to ask this question, and it is this, to confess that though I do not know where God is and what He is doing, God does know these things. That is what Job comes to in verse 10, and notice the first word here, “But, he knoweth….” Job is saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know where God is. I don’t know what God is doing. But, God knows.” My knowledge is finite, I cannot understand, but God knows! That is the important, comforting truth here, that we need to cling to in our suffering and when we wrestle with the same questions as Job.
Where is God, and what is He doing? Here is the answer, in verse 10: “He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” He knows where I am, and He knows what He is doing.
The “way that I take” refers to the God-ordained path that we must walk through this life to glory. It includes both the events of our life, and the conduct of our life.
God knows every detail of our lives because in love He has planned and laid them out. In Psalm 1:6: “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous.” In Psalm 139:3: Thou “art acquainted with all my ways.” For God’s people, that is a very comforting thought. God has an intimate and personal knowledge of my way. It may seem to us sometimes that God is far off, but that is only our experience, it is not the reality. The reality is that God is always with us, guiding us and holding us by the hand. In Psalm 73: “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” God has mapped out every step that we must walk, He holds us by the hand, and He guides us step by step on the path that inevitably leads to glory.
He knows the way that I take. The word “know” in the Bible includes the idea of love. In His eternal love, God planned out the unique way for every one of His children, through life, to glory.
But, also, Job means, He knows the conduct of my life. In verses 11 and 12, “My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” Job is saying that, by God’s grace, he is going to continue in the path of righteousness. He is going to hold his steps. He is not going to leave the way of obedience, even if that leads him through difficult and fiery trials.
You see two things here. In part, this is Job’s answer to his so-called friends. “God knows, you don’t. My heart and my walk is right with God. He’s not punishing me.”
But also this, we see here in Job a resolve, despite difficulties, to persist in godliness. I am going to be faithful in my responsibilities and in obedience. I am not going to use my troubles as an excuse to become slack in my walk with the Lord. I may have difficulties, but I am going to keep going to church, I am going to keep on reading the Bible, I am going to persist in prayer, I am going to pursue fellowship with God’s people. That is very important for us to hear too. Too often we use our troubles as an excuse for spiritual laziness, and then things only get worse, we spiral into despair. Job realizes that he needs, now, more than ever, to be walking close to the Lord. He knows he is vulnerable, he knows that Satan is at hand, and so he resolves to walk in the way of the Lord. He knows the way that I take.
And not only does He know my way, but He has a purpose. God knows what He is doing. Job describes that in the last part of the verse, “When he has tried me….”
The afflictions and troubles of life are God-sent trials.
What is the purpose of our trials?
Well, God does not send trials to His people to see whether they have faith. Nor does God send these trials to test whether our faith is strong enough. The story of Job makes this plain. God is confident that Job’s faith will remain. In the beginning of the book Satan is proud and bold, and he says to God, “If you just take everything from him, he’ll curse thee to thy face.” And Satan starts leaning on Job, bending Job, testing him, to see whether he’ll break. But as the book progresses, Satan becomes silent, and disappears from the scene. But God remains on the foreground, and through Job’s trials He proves the power of His grace. So, first, God sends trials to demonstrate in the lives of His people the power of His preserving grace. And Job is given to us in Scripture as a great example of this.
But also, God sends them for our own profit. Job says, “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” The trials are God’s way of refining us. The comparison here is to a refiner of metal. After a rock has been found in which there is gold, the refiner makes a fire and liquefies the rock in order to separate the impurities from the gold. We are like that rock. After God, through the work of regeneration, makes us new creatures in Christ, there are still remnants of sin. And fiery trials are sent to burn away the dross. God is always teaching us something about ourselves, our own weakness, our own selfishness, our own self-sufficiency, our pride, and much more through our trials. And as those things are exposed, we improve as believers, we become stronger in our faith, we are purified through suffering.
Maybe you can think of situations in your own life like this. Everything was going well, and you thought that you were very strong as a believer, and then through sickness or poverty or grief God brought you to your knees, and you learned some things about yourself, you saw some areas in your life where you needed to grow, and realizing these things you did grow as a believer. You were sorry about your sins and you put them away.
The trials of life are opportunities for spiritual growth. That means that when we go through a trial we should ask ourselves, “What is God teaching me here about myself?” Maybe we get into a bitter dispute with someone and it gets very messy and painful. Let us say it is an argument with a close family member. Those are the most painful disputes. Then you should ask, what is God teaching me about myself? About my pride, about my lack of love and understanding, about my unwillingness to be wrong, about myself? And then, when you learn those things, you need to acknowledge them and repent and seek forgiveness. This is the burning off of sin, the refining process. That is what God is doing in our trials.
And when we learn to see that as believers, we will see God’s love in the trials that come our way too and we will learn as well to be thankful for the troubles that God sends our way. In Romans 5:3-4, “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”
Job put it this way, “I shall come forth as gold.” And he means purified, shining gold. This is God’s purpose: He’s making gold. He’s burning and pressing on Job to turn him into a precious, beautiful, shining example of faith amidst trial. One of the greatest testimonies that a believer can give is the testimony that he gives when he is suffering. It is a shining example of faith in the sovereign care of God.
This chapter calls us to submit to the sovereign purposes of God. I do not always know why, I cannot always see God’s purposes, but I believe that God knows, and I will bow under my trials and worship him, and wait.
As you struggle with the trials of life, say this of God: “He knoweth the way that I take, and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Let us pray,
O God, Thou hast proved us; Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. And, Father, though Thy way is hidden from us, we are sure of Thy love, we know that Thou art acquainted with all our ways, and we are sure of Thy grace that will sustain, and that in love all things work for our eternal profit. Help us in this we pray. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.