When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23.9-10)
My brother both goes out of his way not to say, “I’m worried” or “This worries me.” Steve “works on” situations he can manage and refuses to “get excited” by those he can’t. On a recent call to see how he’s faring after minor surgery, he said, “Nothing exciting to report—just a little soreness.” That set my thoughts spinning about how quickly we let anxieties drive us into excitement overload. Things we should calmly work on turn into frantic attempts, and those we can’t work out escalate into full-on panic. We lose touch with Jesus’s teaching about worry. In Luke 12.25-26, He asks two questions: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”
Absolutely nothing about worry prolongs or improves life. Indeed, it has the opposite effect. Anxious excitement is a thief that steals everything fine and good in us: our confidence, joy, imagination, courage, and companionability. Worst of all, it convinces us there’s honor in becoming excitement junkies. We start believing our constant frets and moans prove we’re deeply invested in our predicaments, when we’re actually milking them for excitement. On some level, we perceive our agitated state as a sign of importance. No matter what “we” do, “they” just won’t get it together. What would become of the excitement bingers among us if their problems all worked out. What would they do?
Doubts on Hold
On our worst days, we have nothing on Job. He’s completely wiped out. His possessions, family, health, and reputation are destroyed, and—right on time—here come three excitement junkies to check things out. Ostensibly, they’re there to solve his problems. But they run into something they didn’t anticipate, because two things Job hasn’t lost are his mind and his faith. Yes, Job’s difficulties concern and disturb him. Before he allows himself to get overly excited, though, he wants to understand the purpose behind these apparently random disasters. Differences between Job’s mindset and the mentality of his three friends give us the Bible’s most distinctive picture of what separates people of faith from worry addicts. While his friends immediately launch into, “Here’s what you’re problem is,” Job essentially says, “I don’t know why I’m besieged by so many problems, but I’ll find out once they’re over.” It’s less important for him to theorize possible answers while he’s in trouble than come out knowing its real reasons when it ends. So Job puts his doubts on hold.
His friends have plenty of explanations, all of which basically come down to “you’ve done something wrong, Job.” Yet Job knows he’s lived a righteous life. Their overexcitement brings no clarity to his condition. And when he insists he’s done nothing wrong, his friends insist he prove he hasn’t displeased God. Job can’t, because God’s not talking. “When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him,” he says. (Job 23.9) The excitement junkies leap on this as a sure sign God has singled out Job for punishment. They’ve not listened closely to what Job says. He doesn’t believe God has left the scene; he’s merely confessing God can’t be seen. Rather than operate on crazed assumptions, Job’s willing to wait on the right answer. In verse 10, he confesses his faith: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
Knowing God Sees
When we’re beset by trouble, we remember it’s not over until it’s over. God’s reasons may not be within reach, but we must trust they’re right. And a core feature of that trust comes in willingness to put doubts on hold until we’re able to see what actually happened. On a perverse level, there’s satisfaction to be gained by jumping to conclusions about our trials. Applying premature logic leads us to think we’re still in control. The danger in relying on what we see at any moment becomes an even greater problem when God can’t be seen. Since we depend solely on our faculties, His invisibility translates into absence, which is never the case. Revisit what Job actually says. “Although I can’t see God, He sees me—He knows the way that I take.” Knowing God sees is all it takes to pull us out of excitement overload so He can accomplish His work in us. When He’s tested us, we’ll come forth as gold.
Philippians 1.6 tells us to be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” That’s our part in the refining process—remaining confident. The extent to which God tests us is His concern. In midst of our trials, we must come to grips with the fact that transparency and full disclosure aren’t typical in God’s process. Much of the time He can’t be seen because He’s working behind the scenes. He’s carrying out His plan. Like Job, we realize that what we experience will change us. We can’t understand what’s happening now because we’re not ready to understand it. Rather than get wound up in needless worry and excitement, it’s best to remind ourselves it’s not over until it’s over.
In the midst of our trials—when we’re lost in the desert without answers—we get everything turned around. Not until it’s over can we accurately see what took place.
Postscript: Refiner’s Fire
Job teaches us the value in putting our doubts on hold and submitting to God’s refining process. That’s where understanding happens. Lent gives us a prime opportunity to practice this principle. Today’s musical selection: “Refiner’s Fire.”