I have been thinking about Job recently. He was prosperous, successful, conscientious, a good father, a man of integrity, and one who feared God. Then suddenly, everything that made life worth living was pulled away from him and he was left naked, sick, sad and perplexed. In fact, utterly shocked and depressed to the point of almost suicidal.
The scene changes. Satan is standing before God, who asks him what the has been up to. “Oh,” says Satan, “Just roaming around the world.”
Satan: a prowling lion
Peter in the New Testament tells us that he continues to do that. He prowls about like a lion, looking for vulnerable people he can devour. If you have watched some of the superb wild life programmes on TV you will have seen lions stalking their prey, crouching in the long grass, watching, waiting, then suddenly springing out upon an unsuspecting antelope, quietly feeding. The antelope was quite innocent of any wrongdoing: it just happened to be there.
Our Enemy is lying in wait, watching for an opportunity to pounce on us. In times past, he has wreaked havoc on the church in many and various ways.
The Suffering Church
Christians have suffered terrible physical persecution. Families have been scattered, possessions plundered, homes destroyed.
Reputations have been ruined through lies and slander, people denied jobs because of their faith. The Romans threw them to the lions in their arenas; the Tudors burnt them at the stake; Huguenots in France were hounded out of their homes and massacred. More recently, Christians were treated with appalling cruelty in communist Russia, and in China. Behind all this was the marauding lion, the Devil, seeking to discredit and stamp out God’s precious people.
The Devil’s purpose, I believe, has not changed in that he is still opposing the church and trying to obliterate it. At this present time, his tactics have not been so blatant and obvious, not outright violence, at least not in the UK. Yes, our beliefs, behaviour, principles are always being pilloried and ridiculed: that is nothing new. But it is a fact that if you talk to many Christians, and especially leaders, you will find that they are finding life very tough.
Deadly and Insidious
Now, of course, this is the case with hordes of people. But I think that the Enemy has specifically pulled the rug out from under the feet of the church. He is using this situation to mount a very big onslaught. It is not outright, violent oppression, but it is a method of attempting to shut us down. He is using this covid crisis to rob us of the very things which have been basic and vital to church life. We have been robbed of being able to meet together except in limited and bizarre circumstances; we cannot sing together; we can’t touch and hug each other. All sorts of ways of blessing one another and doing the “one another” things that are impressed on us in the Bible have been seriously hit.
The instinct of pastors is to gather their flocks, feed them, tend them, nurture and care for them. It is hard to do that indefinitely on zoom! They want to envision, plan and set up programmes, but it is hard to do that when the rules keep changing. As fast as you make a plan, the goalposts are moved! So pastors are tempted to feel useless, fruitless, overwhelmed and plagued by uncertainty. Some feel like throwing in the towel altogether!
The Devil is very happy about this. Chaos is what he loves, especially amongst Christians.
Satan did it, God allowed it
Job was ruthlessly attacked. Satan did it, God allowed it. But Job could only see things from his miserable perspective. He ached with loss, his wife was bitter, he was physically sick, he was humiliated. Above all, he longed for answers from a God he had trusted and now seemed against him. He didn’t know that God was in fact so proud of him, that he wanted Satan to watch how he, Job, would handle it all.
How are we handling this season? As it becomes prolonged, the temptation is to become weary, discouraged, and cynical. “How long O Lord?” Why God?” “Where are you God?” “What’s it all about, Lord?”
How, why, where, what: Job asked all those questions. His friends, so-called, also asked, “Job, what have you done? How have you sinned? You must have sinned for all this to happen to you!” But poor Job was adamant, even in his wretchedness, that as far as he knew, he hadn’t sinned. This had crept up on him out of the blue: like covid 19!
So what else? They all examined it from different angles, but no one came up with a satisfactory reason, or answer for this shambles. Eventually, they ran out of breath, and then God spoke. What he said wasn’t anything to do with the crisis. He simply asked Job some questions. They were also of the who, where, what variety: “Who are you to question me?’ “Where were you when I created the world?” “What do you know about the sea, the clouds, light and darkness?”
God goes into a long, glorious account of the wonders of the world that he created, the details of birds, animals, trees and plants, the skies, clouds, stars. He has created everything down to tiny details. He has arranged the laws of physics, and designed the constellations and planets. His wisdom is unfathomable. The whole universe is under his orders. You are small, Job, very small!
Job never got answers to his questions; he never knew why he was put through such agony. But after this revelation of the might and glory of God, his response was, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” He wasn’t repenting for deliberate rebellion, but for being so shallow and unaware in his perception of God. He had been talking, asking why? Now he realises, “You said, ‘Listen and I will speak. I will question you, and you shall answer me.’” It is not for us to question God. Sometimes we hear people say, “If only I understood why, it would help!” There are things we shall never get an answer for; but we know that God is good, and we have to keep believing that.
But at least God gave us this book of Job which shows us that something bigger is going on, something beyond our normal human perspective. An enemy is prowling around in our day, and his method is scattering Christians, preventing corporate worship, limiting our contact, causing sickness and anxiety. Our instinct at such times is to rush together, hug, help, pray, sing, encourage and show love in practical ways. Now, these are very muted, if not entirely absent. So we must keep low before our Maker and Redeemer, stay close to him and not let the lies of the Devil overwhelm us.
The Gates of Hell shall not prevail!