Last week saw the end of a year-long study of the life of Job.
For those not familiar with that story, Job was a man who lived around 1700BC, and the account can be found in a book in the Bible named after him.
He started off a wealthy man - a millionaire by today's standards. The Bible records a dialogue between Satan and God, whereby God holds Job up as a godly man. Satan insists Job's loyalty to God is because of his wealthy lifestyle and, were it taken from him, he'd curse God. God invites Satan to do what ever he wants to Job, apart from physically harm him. Satan gladly does it, wiping out Job's family and business.
Despite everything, Job doesn't get angry with God, but praises him. Satan, not content with this, further challenges God. This time, he's sure that Job clings to God still only because he has his health. Now, God consents to Satan attacking Job himself, the condition this time being that Satan was not allowed to kill his victim.
The poor man suffers with a horrible skin disease, which makes him depressed, and to make it even worse he's ostracised. It sounds like it was a common belief at the time that suffering was a sign of God's displeasure. None, even Job himself, knew of the meeting in the heavenly realm which started it all.
Job is approached by three friends, who initialy show him kindness; but their advice soon turns to accusation. Many of the things they say are good and true, but they misunderstood what was going on.
A fourth man, Elihu, turned up later, and gave Job some advice, although he said some things which were not very Biblical. It's not clear what to make of this friend, and even Bible commentators disagree.
Towards the end of the book, God steps in and speaks to Job directly, and begins to remind him to remember his place. Laying out his majesty and power leaves Job deeply humbled. You see, although Job was a decent man, and was a child of God, his complaints about his treatment went too far, and the wise unfolding of this whole episode allowed God to record for us some of his wonderful characteristics and works.
The three friends who first arrived are rebuked by God for their harsh treatment of Job, and the Lord gives them an opportunity to repent. Job also repents, and God marvellously restores to him the material blessings he had. He went on to have a large family and a far more successful business.
What was such a blessing was the clear demonstration that Job really did know God, and expected a Messiah to come. One comment of his was, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he shall stand in the latter day on the earth" (Job 19:25) He knew Jesus was coming, and looked forward in faith to the one who would deliver his people from their sins.
What did we learn? Throughout the study, we talked about many issues, and the contribution of the brethren of their personal experiences of God are always very valuable; but the most important lesson was about God's sovereignty. He rules everything. He is the King of the whole universe and the heavens. He sends his children both good and evil, and even when Satan himself attacks us, he is allowed to go only as far as God allows.
Whether all suffering is from Satan is another issue, but it's doubtful. Still, no matter what the origin of the Christain's trials, he can rest in the knowledge that the Lord is still ruling, and he ordained the trial for our ultimate benefit. "All things", says the Apostle Paul, "work together for the best for them that love God..." (Romans 8:28)