Job started so well. His faith was as invulnerable to Satan’s onslaughts as a turtle snuggled up inside its shell is to the frantic pawings of a dog. Job tucked his head and feet inside his faith in God and said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Later, however, Job was rebuked by God for his complaining spirit. What went wrong? There are at least four reasons Job’s trust in God took a tumble. First, he listened to bad counsel.
Avoid Bad Counsel
If you are going to handle your calamity in a wise, God-honoring manner, you must ignore well-intentioned but unbiblical counsel. If Job’s counselors had been from the church in our era, they probably would have said, “Job, look at these terrible things that are happening to you. We have to break the generational curses that have power over your life. We have to cast out the demons of skin disease. You need to send 500 dollars to the faith-healer, I. M. Acharlatan, at Better-for-aBuck Ministries.” People will say all kinds of crazy things to you when calamity strikes (“don’t worry, God didn’t know this was going to happen.” Really? now I am worried!). Don’t let their well-intended but unbiblical counsel trip you up spiritually and send you sprawling. To handle calamity, you must ignore unbiblical advice with a gentle smile and a thank you. People speak to you because they care; receive their counsel with a gracious attitude, but don’t let their unbiblical advice throw you into a tailspin like Job did.
Time Keeps On Tickin’
A second reason Job went off the rails was that he let the termite of time gnaw at his faith. According to Job 7:3, Job’s grief and the burning torment of his physical ailments had extended for months by the time his friends arrived. Job’s suffering felt eternal; the sheer duration of it was wearing him down. Like an eager marathon runner, Job bolted off the starting line of faith, but as the race of responding to his calamity stretched out mile after mile and day after day, Job’s faith began to stumble and stagger. Time is a killer in trials. Like Job, we start with strong faith, but as we tick off days on the calendar, turn over the page to a new month, eventually buy a new calendar for next year, and then a new one for the year after that, we can easily despair. Time makes trials hard.
The Expectations Trap
A third reason Job stumbled is he had false expectations of God. In chapter 29, Job listed his many accomplishments. For example:
- He was a respected civic leader: “When I went out to the gate of the city … the old men arose and stood” (29:7–8).
- He was adored by the poor and disadvantaged because of his philanthropy: “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (29:15).
- In summary he declared, “My steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” (29:6).
Because of his success and his great kindness to others, Job had built up some expectations—things he believed God owed him because he had been good. In chapter 30, Job had this flash of insight into his confused and angry heart: “When I expected good, then evil came; when I waited for light, then darkness came. I am seething within and cannot relax; days of affliction confront me.” (30:26–27)
Job’s summary is both pathetic and perfect: “When I expected good, then evil came” (30:26). The expectation that God owes me good if I have been good is dangerous because it leads to feelings of betrayal and anger at God. God, however, never promises endless good if we are a devoted mother, a patient father, a faithful taxpayer, or if we don’t run with the wrong crowd at school. To handle calamity rightly, Christians must avoid Job’s mistake of building up the expectation that “God owes me because I’ve tried to be good.”
The Shield of Faith
Finally, besides bad counsel, time, and expectations, there was one other reason Job stumbled: he lost his grip on the shield of faith. In chapters 1–2, Job was solidly entrenched behind an impenetrable barrier of faith in God’s wisdom—a perfect example of Paul’s teaching about the shield of faith in Ephesians 6. The soldiers of the ancient world often carried large shields. When enemy archers fired a volley of arrows, they ducked behind those shields and let the arrows harmlessly ricochet off. In Job 1–2, Job had done just that. Satan had fired a barrage of fiery darts at him, but the shield of Job’s faith had deflected them all. That’s how faith works: no arrow of Satan—no matter how hot or deadly—can overwhelm simple, childlike faith: “I’ll trust God whether I understand what he is doing or not.” In chapter 3, Job allowed the handle of the shield of faith to slip from his sweaty fingers. Rather than preoccupy himself with believing trust, Job allowed his thinking to be dominated by frustrated expectations and, later, by the disheartening, untrue accusations of his friends. In the Gospels, the man cried, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In calamity, we must voice a similar cry to Christ: “I believe; rescue me from my doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief.”
For these reasons, Job stumbled. But, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. In heartfelt worship, Job returned to a fear-of-the-Lord-faith which enabled him to humbly walk with God the rest of his days.
[This post is a chapter excerpt from Joel James’ helpful mini-book, HELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials. If you find yourself in the midst of a painful trial, or know a friend who is, you will benefit from reading Joel’s counsel from the life of Job.]