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 are eating popcorn, “vegging” 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.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will 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 (Job 1:13-15). Then his sons and daughters are killed (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 or charge God with wrong (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:
“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. My brothers are treacherous as a torrent-bed, as torrential streams that pass away, which are dark with ice, and where the snow hides itself. When they melt, they disappear; when it is hot, they vanish from their place” (Job 6:14-17).
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.
Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me (Job 38:3).
The reason why God asks Job questions is 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 when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young? Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open; they go out and do not return to them. “Who has let the wild donkey go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey, to whom I have given the arid plain for his 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 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.
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 we 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.
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.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Denton’s blog was originally posted on his website as “4 Ways to Use the Book of Job as Outdoor Ministry Curriculum”