04 February 2011

God Is Great; God Is Good

by Phil Johnson



    love Job's immediate reaction to the first wave of tragedies that rocked his life, robbed him of his possessions, and took the lives of his children, all in one single, horrific day: "He said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'" (Job 1:21).

It's a response rooted in the very doctrines most people today associate with Calvinism. Job was confessing that God is sovereign; that every good thing Job ever had in the first place was a gracious gift from the Lord's hand; and that by definition, Job had no rightful claim to any of God's blessings.

Even more important, in the throes of a grief greater than you and I have ever known, Job was confessing that God is good. It was the very opposite of what Satan claimed Job would do (verse 11): "He will curse you to your face." Instead of cursing, Job blessed God's name. He knew that even in the midst of such unthinkable calamity—despite all the evil that had befallen him—God is good.

Job did not understand God's purpose, of course. He knew nothing of Satan's challenge (vv. 9-11). But he knew the character of God. That is why he was so tormented trying to figure it all out. But you can read all his complaints and protests, and you will see that he never once impugns the goodness of God. In fact, in Job 13:15, Job says, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." He trusted that God was good.

Did you realize that in the New Testament, James says that is the very lesson the book of Job is designed to teach us? James 5:10-11: "As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful."

Even this horrible trial was a token of the Lord's mercy and compassion to Job. I know that is hard to grasp because of our human prejudices, but I am certain that when we get to heaven, we will hear testimony from the lips of Job himself about the great goodness and compassion of God that came to him because of his trial.

See, although Scripture says Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1, 8), that doesn't mean he wasn't a sinner. It means he was a justified sinner. His conscience was clear of any unrepented sin (and Job himself outlines that argument in chapter 31). Some have suggested that there was an element of overconfidence or self-righteousness in Job. But remember that even Satan had nothing to accuse him for in chapter 1. He was justified. He was forgiven. He had devoted his life to the pursuit of holiness, and there was no glaring, gross, or life-destroying sin in his life.

Still, Job was not sinless. He acknowledged his need for a Redeemer in Job 19:25. And at the end of the book, when He begins to have an even greater understanding of God's greatness and sovereignty, Job's response in Job 42:6 is, "I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

But let's not miss the point: God did not afflict Job in order to punish him for his sin. God was testing him, proving him, and strengthening his faith. God's ultimate purpose for Job was good, even though the immediate effect was calamity. This was not punishment for his sin.

Bear in mind on the other hand, however, that Job, as a sinful creature, knew he had no claim on any blessing of any kind. God could justly afflict him, because Job needed to be refined and strengthened. And God's ultimate purpose, as James 5:11 says, was compassion and mercy.

Consider this: Job's loss was temporary. All his afflictions were transient, passing tribulations that would eventually give way to an even greater weight of eternal glory. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, Our "light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."

Suffering is the price and prelude of glory. For Christians, the suffering is always temporary, and the glory is eternal, and infinitely greater. That is our hope in times of trouble.

God eventually gave Job back more than he had lost: Job 42:12-17 gives the end of the story:
And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job's daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons' sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.

When I first read that years ago, I couldn't help feeling that new sons and daughters would hardly make up for the children Job had lost. As a father, I cannot imagine the pain that would be caused by the loss of one of my sons. And a new son wouldn't ease the sorrow of loss or make up for the pain of it. So my first reaction to this passage, years ago, was to think this was scant comfort for Job.

But consider this: Job's children were righteous, too. So when he died, old and full of age, he was instantly reunited when them for all eternity. Even now, they are together in the Lord's presence. Job, from heaven's perspective, can look back on that trial and say it was truly a light and passing affliction, and the Lord restored to him everything he ever lost, and more.

That is our joy and our confidence in the midst of disaster. It may be contrary to the feelings we experience when we suffer loss, but from an eternal perspective, God's goodness is a far more solid rock on which to cast our anchor than the way we "feel" in the midst of calamity.

That's why theology is so important. It teaches us that despite what we may feel, God is still in control; he is just and righteous; and above all, He is good.

That is precisely what the promise of Romans 8:28 teaches us, isn't it? "We know that all things work together for good." How do we know that? Because we know that God is good, and so no matter what He does—no matter how painful or how hard to understand it may be for the moment—we know He will use it for good. And it is the very definition of faith to be able to cling to that promise no matter what.

In the words of Psalm 31:19, "Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!"

Help us, Lord, to trust what we know, even when we cannot see it in the dark.

Phil's signature

43 comments:

Eddie Eddings said...

Job's testimony has been far-reaching. His life and trials have helped every Christian through the ages. I can't wait to meet him someday. (within the next 40 years for sure)

thomas4881 said...

I'm comforted that I won't be thrown ito the lake of fire. Also, it's good to know that I will live beyond millions, billions and trillions of years. I have eternal life that I will enjoy living in the new heavens and new earth in the new Jerusalem with Jesus Christ forever. It's comfortig to know that our God is soverign. He is as Abraham said "God most high, possessor of heaven and earth". Not one hair on my head can be touched unless God allows it and if God allows it then it's to glorify him and bless me.

Susan said...

Wow....excellent. Thanks so much for this, Phil.

christianlady said...

:)

sonofthunder7 said...

Amazing, encouraging, God-exalting post. Thanks, Phil.

The Bible Christian said...

Our God is Good... Phil this was a great reminder to the body of Christ, it seems like lately I know so many people very close to me who are suffering and going through many kinds of trial and struggles.

One more thing Phil, nothing "Crusty" about this post, just compassionate God exalting truth. Thank You

Thomas Louw said...

I’m a Calvinist and agree with Frame’s book “Doctrine of God.” (As far as I have read it)

Your post really struck a cord with me. I have one question.

I will probably get comments that say “Phil answered that.” I don’t think so.
So here is the question.

What do I tell a Christian guy who says: “I saw guys rape my wife”

If I believe God is in control as He is, how do I understand this?

I believe no one can understand this sort of thing. Josef can look back and see that God used others sins to save a nation.

Job can look and see he received more than what he had, he can look forward and say I will see them again.

I can tell him and his wife, they will become stronger in faith and in their relationship, that they will be able to help others who had similar experiences.
These answers still sound hollow.

They still love God and say that He is good and I believe it when they say it but, their eyes are still full of questions.

Robert said...

Thomas,

I would say that we can't see how God works all things out for our good and His glory, but that we will see it all one day. I wouldn't say that is the way to comfort these people. I think you should just be there for them.

Steven said...

Great post Phil. When you discuss feelings versus theology you get to the point of what is wrong with much of evangelicalism today. Instead of the gospel which is good news to some and folly to others (1 Cor. 1:23), many will do what makes most, if not all, feel good. This goes not just for the prosperity preachers but for many alleged evangelicals that want to focus on the social implications of the gospel without ever preaching the gospel. It makes them feel better about themselves as they can see some good result and it makes those that they have "served" feel better. The only problem is that, as you point out, they have taken the short view. They have satisfied a need for a brief moment, but have neglected the gospel that could lead to everlasting life in the presence of God.

Martin said...

Having endured weeks of unbelievers saying "why do bad things happen to good people?" it's good to be reminded that our God is good.

Rob said...

Excellent message, and I too have had some of those same thoughts, regarding the loss of Job's children and how getting "new" children wouldn't necessarily make things all better again, but I think your point is a great one: the children that Job lost were righteous, and he knew he'd see them again, while still being blessed with new children following his trials.

Robert Warren said...

Thank you, Phil.

Are there two books more misunderstood than Job and Ecclesiastes? (I say that knowing full well I have only begun to unwrap them).

I've read a devotional piece e-mailed from a church using Job 3:26 ("For the thing that I fear comes upon me,and what I dread befalls me." ESV) as a kind of affirmation of word-use superstition ("negative faith"). I heard the pastor from the same church using last phrase of Job 41:22 ("In his neck remaineth strength, And sorrow is turned into joy before him." [referring to Leviathan] KJV) in a sermon comment apparently intended to encourage the listeners that Jesus will turn their sorrow into joy. This comes from a man who is responsible for the spiritual nourishment of his flock (Heb 13:17). Who knows what these poor people understand.

Thanks again for enhancing our understanding.

Thom said...

This column struck me as one of your best in quite some time. I saw no intended target and no sense of a return volley from imagined foes. Just an encouragement from scripture on God's sovereignty and goodness. 'O Joy', sings my heart upon the thought of meeting Job in the presence of God one day. Good job.

Halcyon said...

Thomas Louw:

All platitudes (no matter how true) ring hollow in the face of actual horrific tragedy.

If it was me, I would never start with platitudes. I would simply state the facts: what happened was horrible and evil, it should not have happened, and I'm sorry. Later on (when they're ready), I would comfort them with abstract truths, but you should always lead with concrete comfort.

A spoonful of compassion helps the platitude go down.

thenface2face said...

God's sovereignty is indeed a comfort, when we have tasted that He is good. We sense it better in the presence of prayerful, silent friends. Who offer maybe a hug or a cup of cold water if wanted, and forbear platitudes.

Thank you for these God-exalting and lovely words Phil. I always look forward to Fridays.

Karen Butler

Aaron Snell said...

This is probably the best concise thematic summary of Job I've ever read. Thank you, Phil.

Aaron Snell said...

"A spoonful of compassion helps the platitude go down."

Brilliant.

Daryl said...

I wonder if we don't need to comfort ourselves differently than we do others.

That is:

Is it not right and good to comfort ourselves (and be prepared to comfort ourselves) with the knowledge of God's sovereignty, while taking Halcyon's approach with others until the time comes for the other.

I don't know how platitudes would help me, coming from myself. Although I do see how they could be comforting coming from others.

Am I making sense?

Daryl said...

BTW...The title of this post has caused a song to get stuck in my head.


"God is great, beer is good...and people are crazy."

Which pretty much sums up most of life.

fuph said...

Halcyon, I couldn't agree with you more.

Thomas Louw, I strongly urge you to download a 4 sermon series by Don Green called Trusting God in Trying Times at http://www.thegracelifepulpit.com/DG-CDA02.htm. About 2 years ago I went through a period of intense emotional turmoil that shattered my world and woke me up to just who God is. This sermon series was a tremendous help in getting me to look at this turmoil from the proper perspective without platitudes. As Don points out, you can't look at the event and ask how a loving God could allow this to happen. You have to start with understanding God as revealed in the Old Testament and then view the event through that understanding of God. We may never know why something happened (God never told Job why), but we need to trust that God is sovereign, loves His children deeply, and knows the beginning from the end. Through the last 2 years I have seen the perfect timing of God's active involvement in my life more times than I can count. I also have experienced how God can use His children to love, encourage, and support His children. It is very humbling to know that God loves me in spite of me and totally because of Him. It is also extremely comforting to know this. It didn't come quickly. It took some time for this to really settle in with me.

For what it's worth, just my "opinion" based on my experience.

Rachael Starke said...

What a wonderful, hope-filled piece to end the week, especially the closing prayer. Decidedly uncrusty... :)

DrJ said...

When I'm tempted to think in any way that God is not good all I need do is meditate for a few minutes on....


the cross....


and I find my doubts of his goodness cannot coexist with what I know of Him through His cross.

pennedpebbles said...

Now, this is a helpful and edifying post!

mittelstadt said...

Thanks very, very much for this post.

sincerely

Mike Mittelstadt

Jack Miller said...

Edifying. Encouraging... and solid food to nourish our faith.

God is great. God is good.
Amen.

Thomas Louw said...

Thanks guys.

"A spoonful of compassion helps the platitude go down."

Nice one. (platitude new english word today class)
Thanks fuph.

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan said...

I have been wanting to read and comment on this all day. Ironically, I couldn't, because I was wrapping things up on exactly the kind of situation this post is addressing. The timing of this post could not have been more providential.

These words are so amazingly true. Today was the last day of a long process that began a few weeks ago, on the Tuesday after New Year's. Our weekly Wednesday prayer meeting was the next morning, and I prayed exactly that verse: Job 1:21.

It's nice to be a Calvinist when you're on the mountaintops of life, but it's great to be a Calvinist in the valleys, precisely because Gensis 50:20 and Romans 8:28 are our watchwords. God works all things for His sovereign purposes, and we know that He is gracious towards those whom He has adopted as His children.

The promises of God are sure and His word is true, for He alone rules from everlasting to everlasting. He is our God and we are His people, redeemed under His eternal covenant, sealed in the precious blood of His one and only Son Jesus Christ. To God alone be all praise and honour and glory, forever and ever!

Dave said...

Good post. At what level do insults become curses? With Psalm 19:14 in mind, how close can we push the edge of that which is acceptable in the sight of God before it is not?

Solameanie said...

Beautiful, edifying post. Amen and amen.

Boerseuntjie said...

"Martin said...

Having endured weeks of unbelievers saying "why do bad things happen to good people?""

I can't recall if it was Pastor RC Sproul (Snr) or John MacArthur or Spurgeon; but I do recall someone commenting that it is not a case of:
"why do bad things happen to good people?"

BUT;
Why do GOOD things happen to BAD people? [Bearing in mind that we are all sinners and guilty in the sight of our Most Perfect and Good Judge and His Law].


For what it is worth.

Your fellow bond-"Doulos" according with the everlasting merciful love and adoption of our Triune YAHWEH Alone,
W

mike in Ky said...

this is a good thought provoking post here...Job has always been held up a a great example for us to emulate. This perplexing idea of abject tragedy coming from a good God seems so paradoxical on the surface and many have puzzled over this for ages. The flaw for us today is that many do not believe that God is in control...they believe that they are and seek more to blame God than to thank Him...even in the midst of the worse heartbreaking tragedies. God is always there and He knows EXACTLY what is going on and why for...

Jason said...

WHAT ARE YOU CRAZY? WHAT HAPPENED TO JOB WAS EVIL, UGLY, AND DOWN RIGHT TRAGIC TO SAY THE LEAST.

HOW IN THE WORLD DOES THAT SUPPORT OR TELLS THE STORY THAT GOD IS GOOD?

IF THAT IS WHAT GOD DOES TO GOOD PEOPLE THEN WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I SERVING GOD FOR? I HAVE BEEN POOR, POVERTY HAS ALMOST COMPLETELY DESTROYED MY LIFE IN A MULTITUDE OF WAYS. I HAVE BEEN DOWN AND OUT AND HAVE SUFFERED GREAT LOSS TIME AND TIME AGAIN. THE PERSUASION TO FOLLOW GOD WAS BASED OFF THE PROMISES OF LIFE AND LIFE MORE ABUNDANTLY NOT ONLY IN THE WORLD TO COME BUT ALSO IN THIS LIFE.

JESUS SAID THAT THE THEIF COMES TO KILL, STEAL, AND DESTROY; BUT JESUS IS COME THAT WE MIGHT HAVE LIFE AND LIFE MORE MORE MORE ABUNDANTLY. I HAVE BEEN BEAT UP BY THE WILES OF THE DEVIL, AND BELIEVE ME WHEN I TELL YOU HE IS PLAYING NO GAMES AND HIS PAIN AND MISERY IS SERIOUS. NEVERTHELESS, IT WAS AND STILL IS THE HOPE THAT GOD COULD HELP ME A SURE SINNER LIVE BETTER BE BETTER AND STOP LETTING THE DEVIL RULE MY LIFE AND THAT PROMISE WAS FOR RIGHT NOW. I CAN'T WAIT TILL I GET TO HEAVEN TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF GOD. BECAUSE LITTERALLY IF THAT IS THE CASE THEN I MIGHT AS WELL LIVE IT UP, FOR GOD CANNOT HELP ME. THE WILL OF GOD IS HARDLY EVER DONE ON THE EARTH THAT IS WHY JESUS TAUGHT US TO PRAY THAT THE WILL OF GOD BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN? SO YOU MEAN TO TELL ME THAT THE WILL OF GOD IN HEAVEN IS SUFFERING. THE GOSPEL IS SUPPOSE TO BE GOOD NEWS WHEN WILL WE LEARN???????????

Jmv7000 said...

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined TO BECOME CONFORMED to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; ” (Romans 8:29)

Killdaggy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robert Warren said...

After I posted my comment above, I was thinking it was a little fringe and off-topic...until I read Jason's comment.

BTW Jason, let me know if I need to spot you 20 for a new keyboard, as your Caps-Lock is apparently broken.

Daryl said...

Jason,

If that is your belief, than I'm sorry but you're not understanding the Bible or the gospel, at all.

I'd begin by repenting that I am trusting God, insofar as He does what I'd like Him to do.

Jmv7000 said...

Jason,

"For it has been GRANTED to you (Greek word is grace) that for the sake of Christ you should NOT ONLY BELIEVE in him but ALSO SUFFER for his sake." Philippians 1:29

I understand what you are saying and think you have some good points, but there are a few pieces of the puzzle I would encourage you to think through. Romans 5:1ff seems to indicate that suffering allows me to better know the hope I have in me and that encourages me.

Romans 8:29, the often forgotten half to Romans 8:28 gives the purpose for why God does what He does, that is to conform me into His image - something we ALL want!

Robert Warren said...

Jason:

I, being a notorious practitioner of commenter's regret, will try to be a bit more charitable.

When bad things happen and we believe that God didn't really want them to happen, but couldn't stop them from happening, what does that say about what we think of God's power (or His Almightiness)? Wouldn't it mean that that these bad things have absolutely no meaning?

I hope you know the meaning of being born again, that it is somewhat more significant than a persuasion to follow. Please read John 2:23-3:21. The living better and being better are part of the sanctification that comes from being born again. Keep in mind, however, that God's idea of better might not always line up with ours, as He has perfect knowledge and an eternal perspective.

The will of God (in its various forms) is always done; we might not always perceive it. It seems to me that's one of the messages of Job.

Phil Johnson said...

Jason:

Read and ponder Monday's post. It's set to go live a minute after midnight tonight. I wrote it before you posted your question, but it contains a good answer to your question, if you are willing to think it through carefully.

May God give you grace to see and embrace His sovereignty, even in the midst of our suffering.

tftorrance said...

@Jason,

I don't know if you're still reading here, but I thought I would add my two cents in response to your points about the Christian and suffering and the "abundant life."

Last year, I was diagnosed with a deadly (statistically %15 survival rate) cancer. I'm young, 36, with a wife and 2 kids; and I love (and have loved) Jesus. I went through the hardest core chemo one can endure (suffered all kinds of side-effects, close to death at points); had surgery, finally to remove the tumor along with my rt kidney. Thankfully, I was declared cancer free a few months ago now. At that moment, I was set to go back to work, and was laid off from my job due to the bad economy (I'm still unemployed). I'm just giving a little history so you know that you're not the only Christian who has suffered or is!

What it sounds like to me is that your expectations of the Christian life and "abundant life" need to be re-oriented towards a more "cruciformed filter" for interpreting your circumstances. I think the best place to look --- even beyond Job (and he is good) --- is to Jesus Himself. He suffered more than any of us ever will; yet all along and then beyond (Heb 12.2) He constantly experienced the "abundant life" (see His prayer in Jn 17). The "abundant life" is being "rightly related" to the Father, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit. So no matter your experiences in this "fallen world, now;" you can and are experiencing the abundant life because you have an intimate relationship with the Father (i.e. you can cry out to Him, even with many tears Heb 5.7-10). And in fact, that's just it; we still suffer, because we still suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world in fallen (but redeemed) bodies (see I Cor 15). And yet because of the union we now have with the Father through Christ by the Spirit; and because "He" has redeemed/reversed the Fall in a penultimate way now; He is able to providentially and lovingly use the things that would destroy us as the school-masters (so to speak) that cause us to run to Him, depend on Him instead of ourselves. Just think of the Apostle Paul who said (paraphrase) "that he had the sentence of death upon him so that he wouldn't trust in himself, but inn the One who even raises the dead" (cf. II Cor. 1:3ff). If you are able to re-orientate your view to this kind of "cross-shaped" thinking, you're going to have a much more fruitful way forward (although not easier, necessarily).

I remember being in the fire of my cancer. I had moments where I even became upset with the Lord; not that I didn't love Him, or trust Him, but I just wondered what in the world He was doing (even though I knew everything I just communicated to you above). Certainly we go through seasons of growth, maybe you're in the fire right now. But allow that to push you further into Him, instead of away from Him. Recall what He went through for us, and allow that to be your grid for interpreting all of reality.

Peace brother!

tftorrance said...

@Jason,

I also wanted to mention a really really good book called: Death and Life: An American Theology by Arthur McGill. This book is excellent, it's only about 100pgs; and can be purchased from Wipf & Stock Publishers. This book deals directly with your questions and points. The second half of the book works through The Gospel of John's "Theology of suffering (or cross) and glory." This would be excellent for you to get your hands on (besides the good resources that Phil has provided from Spurgeon --- which are excellent, Spurgeon was no stranger to physical/mental-emotional suffering). Anyway, press on brother; don't give up!

Bobby Grow

TAR said...

Excellent, thats Phil