Like the night I survived a terrifying lightning storm with my two other 12 year old friends at the base of Hawk Peak one summer, we often witness God’s goodness and power through being exposed to the wildness of his Creation. And if he so chooses, he often ushers us into an encounter with him through those wilderness experiences. And if I may be so bold, these wild encounters that align us with our Maker aren’t as likely to happen while we eating popcorn ,“veging” in front of the tube. The book of Job is overflowing with outdoor ministry curriculum. It is about how one man encountered God face to face through the wildness of Creation. It is about a righteous man named Job who endured temptation and suffering much like Jesus, and although, like us, he was a sinful man, by faith in God he endured his suffering in an honorable way. And in the process of being terrified, crashed into God’s goodness.
1. WILDERNESS GIVES US THE LENS TO WITNESS SOME OF WHAT JOB & JESUS GOT TO SEE THROUGH SUFFERING
Similar to what Jesus experienced (being sent off into the desert to be tempted by Satan, immediately after his blessing and baptism) God gives Satan permission to test Job. The Devil thinks that when squeezed, Job will cave in and dishonor God’s name if he suffers enough. Reflecting on trials in the wilderness, one can more easily relate with the experiences of Jesus and Job.
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:8-11)
What happens next is such an intense squeeze on this man that one wonders what we are going to see in Job’s mirror when it is all over. Job’s livestock and servants are taken away (see Job 1:13-15). Then his sons and daughters are killed (see Job 1:18-19). And as if that is not enough, Job’s personal health is taken away and he becomes afflicted by sores (Job 2:7-8). Yet even with all of this wringing out of this man, Job displays his righteousness and does not sin against God and blame God for his suffering or curse God.
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:22)
Do we blame God for our suffering? If so, we need to get on our knees and pray for the grace to filter our response to suffering through the lens of Jesus and Job. Wilderness experiences act as a refining fire to help us see through the right lenses of faith. Being pushed to what many of us would think is the brink of what anyone could handle without totally losing it, Job then suffers the abandonment of his friends. They are deeply religious friends, but they can’t deal with Job’s suffering. It is too much. Job compares their disloyalty and fleeting friendship to an intermittent stream that dries up during the heat of the summer:
A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends,
even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,
as the streams that overflow
when darkened by thawing ice
and swollen with melting snow,
but that cease to flow in the dry season,
and in the heat vanish from their channels. (Job 6:14-17)
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2. BRACE YOURSELF LIKE A MAN
What happens next is a surprise. Here is a man who has endured unparalleled suffering. And God was the one who ordained the suffering. Then, only as God can do, God answers Job’s suffering with questions. Often as we are taken way out of our comfort zone through wilderness adventure experiences, our ears get unplugged and we start to hear our Father’s voice. In those moments, don’t be surprised if he does the talking and the questioning. When that happens, just be still and know that HE is God (Psalm 46:10). God is up to something in your soul.
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me. (Job 38:3)
The reason why God asks Job questions to tell him and remind him that he is ultimately in control. We often enter the wilderness totally out of control, being tossed here and there by the winds of lies, busyness, or downright idolatry. Yet in the midst of the wilderness, often times through trials, we face God and realize that he is in control. This is why we usually come out of the wilderness a different person than when we entered it.
Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer?Can you count the months they fulfill, Or do you know the time they give birth? They kneel down, they bring forth their young, They get rid of their labor pains. Their offspring become strong, they grow up in the open field; They leave and do not return to them.Who sent out the wild donkey free? And who loosed the bonds of the swift donkey, To whom I gave the wilderness for a home and the salt land for his dwelling place? (Job 39:1-6)
3. IRONICALLY TRIALS SHOW US GOD’S GOODNESS BY USHERING US INTO A FACE TO FACE ENCOUNTER WITH HIM
Job was a righteous man already. It is not like he needed these intense trials to break him so that he would be faithful to God. But God tested him anyway, because he loved him and wanted him to experience him face to face. What an honor to go through that kind of suffering. In the wilderness, we are pushed out of our comfort zones through stress, fatigue, hunger and thirst, emotional trials, etc. One could try to avoid of this, but why? Jesus’ temptation in the desert was really hard, but he would not have traded the intimacy with the Father that resulted for anything.
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How about us? Do we like our couch, remote control, or Playstation more than an opportunity to come face to face with our Maker? Do you want more? There is obviously no formula for experiencing God in our lives. Yet when we make ourselves vulnerable to God and intentionally push ourselves to the brink of our comfort, somehow in those moments, we are in a prime position to meet God through our need.
Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say, ‘I do not understand,’ it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat ‘You do not understand.’ And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.” ― G.K. Chesterton,
God had more for Jesus and Job and used trials as the means to give them more. Sometimes I think we have this backwards. We think that the path to “more” should be easy. The Bible seems to say just the opposite.