Other than the Psalms, which deal with life in such raw honesty, there hardly seems a better place to turn when in the midst of trials than the book of Job. Job lost everything in a matter of moments; his health, material possessions, wealth, and ten children. Yet, remarkably, “He did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10), at least for a while. In time, he did stumble in unbelief. However, God graciously restored him to a God-centered faith and increased all Job had twofold (Job 42:10). If you, or someone you love, is enduring a time of testing in their faith then you need to take another look at the book of Job.
Joel James, a pastor in South Africa, will provide you with rock-solid biblical counsel about the purposes of God in your suffering in his excellent booklet HELP! I Can’t Handle All these Trials. In Chapter 2, Why Did This Happen? he directs our thoughts to five reasons God brings calamity into the lives of His people.
- To Discipline Someone for Specific Sin – But be careful! It was their misapplication of this principle that led Job’s friends off track. Many make the same mistake today; therefore, let’s carefully consider this point. When Job asked, “Why has this happened?” the theologians in Job’s world were, as we shall see presently, happy to supply him with what they believed was the right answer: “God is disciplining you for your sin.” Does God discipline people with calamity for specific sins they have committed? Yes …sometimes. Sometimes God does cause calamity in order to discipline people for specific sins. Tragically, Job’s friends misapplied that principle to Job, with devastating effect. Many Christians today fall into the trap of Job’s three friends, assuming that calamity comes for only one reason. As a result, they often unjustly accuse suffering people, stealing their hope that, in the midst of their tragedy, God still loves them. To steal that hope is a theft more cruel than any other. God’s fury with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in Job 42:7 serves as a warning against it.
- Because of Human Sin Generally – In Genesis 3, Adam pulled the keystone out of the arch of creation with his sin, and ever since, bricks have been falling on our heads. When Adam sinned, the whole universe was plunged into futility and enslaved to corruption (Romans 8:20–22). In our bodies that means pain and infections. In our work that means weeds, forms in triplicate, and software that self-destructs during an important sales presentation. In relationships it means parental distraction, teenage disruption, and messy divorces. We can praise God that Jesus Christ has defeated the Curse and has accomplished its ultimate removal through his death on the cross. The book of Revelation describes heaven with these seven powerful words: “There will no longer be any curse” (Revelation 22:3).
- To Mature Believers in Jesus Christ – As a believer in Jesus Christ, you can be sure that, whatever happens, God is causing it to bring his Christ-reflecting and Christ-exalting work in you one step closer to completion (James 1:2-4). To make a sword requires heating and beating. In the same way, comfort, peace, and ease don’t produce spiritually strong, flexible, sharp Christians. Only the heating and beating of God-given trials manufactures resilient, Christlike character—a blade strong enough and sharp enough to be truly useful in the hand of God. If you have not yet put your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, God is using your trial, not to mature you in Christ, but to move you toward Christ.
- To Prove Our Faith – A fourth reason God brings calamity into the lives of believers is to prove our faith, both to ourselves and to others. How did God prove that Satan’s accusations against Job were slanderous? God tested Job, and Job’s endurance proved Satan to be wrong. Peter told his readers that they had been embroiled in trials because the proof of their faith was more precious than gold. And when their faith eventually came through the crucible pure and strong, Peter said that their endurance would result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6–7).
- To Bring about Unanticipated Good – The Bible is full of such surprises. The classic example? Joseph (Genesis 37–50). His brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery just as they might have auctioned off a cow or goat to the highest bidder. No doubt as the slave traders’ camel caravan humped its way toward Egypt (and at various awkward points after that) Joseph asked, “Why has God done this?” Answer: unexpected good. Eventually God used Joseph’s kidnapping, slavery, and unjust imprisonment to put him in a position to keep his family from starvation. Decades later, Joseph said to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:20). No one could have guessed it at the time, but good was God’s plan for Joseph’s calamities all along.
As Consulting Editor of the LifeLine Mini-Book series, I read through this booklet last year—from an editorial perspective. But yesterday, I did so for purely my own personal benefit and was greatly helped and the God-centeredness of my faith was strengthened. Therefore, I highly recommend this booklet for your personal benefit, one-to-one counseling, and small group ministry. Consider getting it as a “Praying for You” gift for a fellow believer who is enduring a long night of trial. It’s the same cost as a common greeting card, but a thousand times more helpful.