March 7, 2012

In Exchange for Your Health

It was a day like no other. Satan appeared before the throne of God. The Lord of the universe was surrounded by angels, cherubs, and seraphs. But Satan, showing a mocking smile on his face, haughty manners and a look full of contempt for the rest of God’s heavenly beings, kept approaching slowly, as if every one of his steps was a challenge to God’s eternal authority. Instead of resembling the fugitive who had been expelled from the kingdom of heaven, he had the looks of a prince who still retained his royal bearing, even after that fateful battle that had sent him and his followers flying down as bolts of lightning to our planet. Everyone stared at him in silence, not daring to make any comment about the one who had managed to threaten heavenly bliss. Finally, he stood before God, and spoke with a triumphant air:
“Well, well, things have not changed very much around here.”
“Why do you say that?” asked God.
“As usual, You keep requiring everyone to give You worship. Just look at them; all of them would like to be free, but You will not allow it. It is quite frustrating, isn’t it?”
His invective triggered a murmur down the aisles of the heavenly courts. God, however, did not buy it. For a moment, silence overwhelmed.
“What are you doing here?” asked God.
“Well, what does it look like? I just arrived from going to and fro on the Earth, where I am ruler and lord,” answered Satan.
“Are you the ruler of the Earth?”
“You put it right. Everyone gives me honor down there.”
2012 1507 page22“Well, well . . . By the way, have you ever considered My servant Job? I am positive he has never given you credit as the ruler.”
“Yes, I know him,” Satan retorted. “The thing is, You do nothing but make him prosper in all his endeavors. Take Your blessings away, and You will see how he turns his back on You. That is the way humans are, You know. They do not even know how to really love. Did You think for a moment they love You for nothing? Of course not! That is the reason no sacrifice for them is worth it.”
“OK, Satan. I will let you intervene in his affairs, but you are not to touch his physical life. I can guarantee you I will never forsake him.”
A malicious smile shows in Satan’s countenance as he leaves the heavenly courts in a haste to
get his demon gang working. Soon enough, Job is stricken in the economic, family, and emotional spheres of his life. Overnight he loses his sons and daughters, his possessions, and his social standing. Now he is a nobody. From the moment he is left without any money, his colleagues and friends also lose all respect for him; Job even loses the people’s friendship and his authority as a leader. He is a loser, now subject to their mockery and derision.
Puzzled, dazed, and with no explanations to account for such a turn of events, Job nevertheless keeps silent. His heart is bleeding inside. Too many slaps for a single day. He knows his heavenly Father, and he well understands that these calamities do not come from the merciful God. His true enemy is the devil. But he does not know whether his sufferings have any meaning or purpose. Before making hasty judgments, he utters, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
A Second Visit
Clearly annoyed, with a still haughty bearing and an explosive look on his face, Satan walks up once more to the presence of God. This time God’s heavenly angels look at him differently. Job’s reaction has provided them with a greater trust in the Lord’s plans for humanity. The loyalty and patience of the patriarch have furnished them with the assurance that divine love can in fact develop even in the corrupted human heart. However, once more Lucifer looks at our heavenly Father with arrogance.
“I am back,” he says haughtily.
“Well, you do not look so good,” replies the Lord. “Things have not turned out as you were expecting, have they?”
“If You are talking about Job, this is not over yet. Let me just remind You he does not love You.”
“Why do you insist on proving to Me that what I do on behalf of the human race does not make any sense?”
Lucifer replies by resorting to one of the most profound explanations about human nature:
“It is all give and take, You know. A person is willing to do without anything, as long as he saves his skin” (see Job 2:4).
According to Satan, human beings have no sense of the love that offers itself expecting nothing in return, such as the exemplary love of Jesus (John 3:16). We live obsessed with rewards, either as regards our religious notions or the most trivial of affairs. Blinded by hatred, evil ambition, and our lack of scruples, we are willing to do whatever it takes—no matter how much folly the process may involve—so as to save our own skin. But for our fallen self, saving has nothing to do with coming closer to God in order to experience salvation; on the contrary, it means to cling to our existence so as to keep living a life of self-gratification.
According to Lucifer’s logic, human beings are just not worth it. We have been reduced to a hideous behaviorism, at the same level of animals conditioned to obey their trainer, who rewards them with some treat every time they do what is expected of them. Thus, he says, it is an absurdity to think of humans as beings who are open to the possibility of free decision-making.
God anticipates perfectly what Satan is trying to suggest. He replies,
“OK, Satan. You may touch his body with disease, but you will not kill him.”
“You will see”—shouts Satan triumphantly—“how disease makes him disown Your name!”
A moment later he walks out excitedly from the presence of the Lord.
Once more, heaven is immersed in great uncertainty, as every heavenly being waits to see whether human beings are able to trust God even in the midst of sickness and direct hits to their bodies.
According to Lucifer, it is not possible to remain faithful to God when hit by disease. In fact, he says, people are usually ready to demand, curse, and blame the heavenly Father as a result of the most inconsequential setback; how much more will be the case when dealing with a serious health issue? Moreover, humans are known to be usually willing to resort to all kinds of treatments—including some that require the negation of one’s faith, such as spiritualism and witchcraft—in order to be healed. They are often unaware that our way of dealing with sickness reveals our true colors.
This time Satan strikes Job with a terrible skin condition that causes him an unbearable itching. Alone, bankrupt, childless, and sick, he is ill-treated and maligned, subjected to the cold gossip of people around him. When it seems the situation can get no worse, his wife explodes in a bitter complaint:
“Are you still trying to be perfect? Curse God and die!”
“You speak as a foolish woman,” Job replies. “Shall we accept only blessings from God, and not calamities?”
The conclusion of this dialogue is quite moving: “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:10).
Believing Beyond Suffering
Long years after Job, Saul of Tarsus answered God’s call to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had been persecuting the fledgling Christian church before. But on the road to Damascus, Jesus Himself appeared to him in a shining light coming down from heaven. Saul fell to the ground and lost his sight for a few days. Paul, as he would be known thereafter, never fully recovered his sight, and his health was never the same. On more than one occasion Paul asked God to be healed, until one day the apostle received a clear-cut answer: “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord said, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Paul then includes a powerful message for everyone who suffers. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (verses 9, 10).
Our character is the only thing we will take to heaven. It is “the most valuable possession of earth or heaven.”* We test and reveal it every day by our reactions to adverse or favorable circumstances. The angels of God’s court who looked on at the drama between their Lord and His archenemy during Job’s trial are also looking on at the drama as it continues among us. They recall, with awe and admiration, Job’s willingness to die faithful. They look on with anxiety as we waver before the prospect of illness, social dislocation, or financial loss. Our heavenly ministers, “sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14), are no less keen to intervene in our cases than they were in Job’s. But though they long to, they are no more free to intervene for us than they were with Job. Yet this does not mean that God has surrendered the ground to Satan.
Paul’s understanding may be helpful. First of all, he knew that abuse is not God’s business—the buffeting was Satan’s business, and he was the victim of Satan’s messenger (2 Cor. 12:7). Second, Paul could read in his continued suffering a godly purpose. It was, as he states, “in order to keep me from becoming conceited” (verse 7).
A third observation follows from what Paul calls his boasting (verse 1). Clearly physical abuse did not break the communion between the sufferer and his God. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 report a sustained conversation between God and His servant in the midst of the servant’s pain. And that conversation allows us a fourth and final observation, utterly vital in all this. For godly character is not synonymous with perfect intelligence. Though Paul was able to discern good purpose in his pain, we often may not see any sense in ours. Job surely did not.
Nevertheless, God does not have to be comprehensible to be reliable. And we do not have to understand to be faithful. Whether or not we understand, we may know, with Paul, that ?our heavenly Father is in control of our most excruciating experiences, and that despite all the fiery darts of the enemy, our life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).
The hand that took the nails at the cross for us is surely a hand we can trust, and a hand to which we can be faithful. If He bore all He did for us, what is it then if we bear a little for Him? It develops and perfects the character we shall share with Him through eternity. It is His promise: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” ?(2 Tim. 2:12). Job endured. Paul endured. Let us endure.
* Ellen G. White, Education, p. 141.
Alejandro Medina Villarreal, a pastor and author, is the current Editorial Vice President of GEMA Editores, the Adventist Publishing House in Mexico’s capital city. This article was published March 8, 2012.