If you read the first two chapters of Job from a cynical vantage point, it would be easy to conclude that God and The Accuser are playing a game with Job’s life. The LORD asks The Accuser to consider His servant Job, The Accuser responds by claiming that Job is only pious because God gives him stuff, and the LORD says that The Accuser is free to take away that stuff. But where does Job fit into this apparent contest? What about the horrible toll he will pay, not to mention his children? It almost sounds like Job is nothing more than a pawn in a celestial chess match.
That isn’t what’s going on here, though. The events of this book have a higher purpose than a mere contest between The Accuser and God. And to explain what that purpose is, consider this prayer from Psalm 139-
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)
Last spring I had some heart palpitations that led to a series of tests. First an EKG, then a stress test, and finally a heart cath. I’ve reached the age in life where I now have a cardiologist! Those tests were nerve wracking, and in the case of the heart cath, quite invasive. But I was happy to go through that battery of tests because I wanted to know if there was a serious problem with my heart, and to get it fixed if there was one. Fortunately the tests revealed nothing but a slight arrhythmia.
The psalmist in these verses is pleading with God to test his inner, spiritual heart. And his motives were much the same as mine in my medical tests – he wants to know if there is any “grievous way” in him, so that ultimately he can walk in “the way everlasting.” So he virtually demands that God try his deepest motives.
But what does it look like for God to test our heart? May I suggest that it sometimes looks just like the story of Job. Later in the book Job expresses some sense of awareness that he is being tested –
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside. (Job 23:10-11)
Adversity is not the only way that God tests us. His word is so powerful that it can dissect our deepest motives (Hebrews 4:12-13). But adversity provides another means for God to test us – not to crush us, but to purify us.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
In suggesting that Job’s suffering was a means by which to demonstrate the purity of his faith, I don’t mean to sound insensitive to what Job or his family suffered. Anguish drips from nearly every page of the book. But if it is important to have a pure heart (and it is), and if the way to know whether our heart is pure is to test it (and it is), then we must acknowledge that more is going on here in Job than a crass game of wits between the LORD and The Accuser. We are seeing a godly man’s golden faith pass through the fire to be proven and purified.
I bet that everyone who reads this post can describe a similar episode in his or her life, some painful experience that led to deep introspection. And by sifting the motives of the heart before the Lord, your faith became purer and richer. I’ve had this kind of heart test as well, and it was even more invasive than the cardiologists (!), but it was worth it. And by the end of the book, Job will say the same.
Aside from the value of this experience for Job, let me suggest one other perspective to consider. It is only a hunch, really, since the text doesn’t explicitly deal with it. But I am thinking of the purpose of Job’s suffering as it relates to The Accuser. The Accuser maligned God as well as Job when he declared that Job’s piety is due only to God’s blessings. After all, the implication of such a charge is that God, in and of Himself, is not worthy of love and reverence. By the end of the book, The Accuser is totally undermined. God is indeed worth love for His own sake.
And so maybe there are two grand purposes to this story. One is for God to test Job’s heart to vindicate Job, and the other is for God to refute The Accuser to show him how wrong he is about Job (and us!), and about God. If this idea has merit, then what we have in Job is a “preview of coming attractions.”
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Revelation 12:10)