by Phil Johnson
ob, by God's own testimony, was a righteous man, "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" (1:1)—"none like him on the earth" (v.8).
But even the most righteous people on earth sometimes feel God is obscured by the darkness of grief and suffering. Job in particular suffered the loss of all his children and all his earthly possessions in a single day, after which his entire body was reduced to a festering mass of sores, and he was left without any earthly comfort whatsoever—while being beseiged with bad counsel.
In the wake of so many unimaginable, crushing, life-destroying tragedies and plagues, Job felt abandoned by God. He felt overwhelmed by grief and personal loss.
I imagine it would be pretty hard for any of us to understand how he felt, how much it hurt, and how bitter the whole experience tasted.
But I'll tell you this: What Job suffered was no easier for him emotionally than it would be for you and me, no matter how righteous he was. He still felt the same kind of pain, with the same intensity, that you and I would feel if we suffered this way.
Job 2:13 says his friends "sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great."
Human emotions don't help us make sense of these things. If you want to sort through the problem of evil, you have to think sensibly, and theologically, and biblically, and not let your emotions rule your mind.
Job was a wise enough man than to know better than to respond by reflex on the basis of his feelings. If he had responded according to what he felt like, he might have cursed God. If he had just given vent to his feelings, he could easily been consumed with bitterness, self-pity, anger, and frustration—and he might have been tempted to take his wife's advice: "Curse God and die!"
But Job's very first response was the response of someone who knows something about God: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
Job had filtered his feelings through his theology. It still did not make sense to him why he had to suffer like this (and that is why Job is 42 chapters long; because it records the dialogue Job had with his friends as he tried to sort this out). But even though it made no sense to him, even though he was overwhelmed with painful feelings, his immediate response made no mention of those feelings.
He doesn't focus on any doubt or confusion he might have been struggling with. Instead, his very first response was a bold affirmation of what he knew to be true about God.
Faced with the darkness of pain and loss, he didn't go chasing his emotions or wallowing in his uncertainty; he stood firm and clung to what he knew for sure. He anchored his soul on theological truths he was certain of, rather than setting himself adrift on a sea of confusion and doubt.
This cannot be stressed too much: It was sound theology, not his feelings, that enabled Job to weather the immediate shock of the news that his children and everything he owned were gone forever. This is why sound theology is so important—and so intensely practical.
Notice what truths Job clung to. These were the things Job knew for sure about God. These were the truths that became his anchor. And throughout the book of Job, amid all his complaints and pleading, he never once let go of these principles. Here are three truths Job clung to in order to see him through his grief:
1. God is Sovereign
Job was a staunch Calvinist. He knew and confessed instantly that God was sovereignly in control of his life, even though Job had every reason to feel like his life was spinning out of control. As you go through the book of Job, you'll see that he raises all the same questions anyone would ask in a situation like this. He wanted to know why. He wondered if he had done something to deserve judgment. He wondered if God was angry with him for something. He had lots of questions.
But here, in his initial response, he simply affirms that which he knew beyond doubt: that God is sovereign and He therefore must have decreed what happened to Job: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away." He knew the hand of God was in it.
He doesn't rebuke Satan or even mention him. Job's focus was on God, and he knew this bitter providence could not have come to him apart from God's knowledge and express permission.
But even so, Job doesn't try to explain away God's sovereignty by dismissing it as bare permission. He knew God had a purpose in this. God wasn't a mere bystander, uninvolved and unconcerned. Job uses active verbs: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away."
Job doesn't blame God for the evil in the act, but he doesn't for a moment imagine that God was a helpless bystander when these things happened.
This is a healthy view of the sovereignty of God. Job knew that God controls providence. He is still in control even when it seems like evil has taken over.
In other words, when God gave Satan permission to afflict Job, it was a willing permission, not something involuntary that Satan tricked or goaded God to allow against His better judgment. God had a purpose and a plan in this.
And even though Job never had the benefit of knowing what we know because of the behind-the-scenes glimpse of heaven we are given in verses 6-12, Job trusted from the start that God was still firmly in control. If Job suffered, it could only be because God was allowing him to suffer. And Job knew that God had a purpose in it.
We get to see what took place in heaven that led to Job's trial. Job himself did not have the advantage of that knowledge. But he did know enough about God to know that God is sovereign. Satan could not touch anything that was Job's without God's permission. God must have given that permission, and Job knew that even without seeing the scene in heaven, because he already had a right view of God's sovereignty.
Furthermore, Job understood that God has a right to do with His creatures whatever He chooses. If He decides to allow us to suffer, He has every right to do so. In Job 2:10, Job tells his wife, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?"
In Lamentations 3:38-41, the prophet Jeremiah wrote,
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That woe and well-being proceed?
39 Why should a living man complain, A man for the punishment of his sins?
40 Let us search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the Lord;
41 Let us lift our hearts and hands To God in heaven.
Jesus said to Peter on the night of his betrayal, "Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" (John 18:11).
That was also Job's perspective. It was surely not something that arose from the grief and pain he was suffering at that moment. But it was the perspective his theology had taught him. It was what he knew about God, not what he felt with his emotions, that enabled him to endure this trial.
Here's a second truth about God that emerges from Job's response:
2. God is Just
"In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong." (Job 1:22).
That is a remarkable statement. People often respond to disaster and loss by charging God with wrong. Job knew that God is just. So while acknowledging that God was sovereignly in control of all the tragedies that had befallen him, Job was careful not to blame God in any way.
This is a difficult balance to achieve. There are even some CalvinistsI'd call them hyper-Calvinistswho fall into the trap of blaming God for evil, blithely describing His sovereignty over evil in such a careless, ill-thought-through way that they make Him the efficient cause and the author of evil.
That is simply bad theology. Don't fall into the trap of wanting your doctrine of divine sovereignty to be so overblown that you end up portraying God as the author and agent of evil. He is not.
Don't ever imagine that God exercises his sovereignty over evil in the same active way he exercises sovereignty over good. Don't ever suggest that God causes evil in the same way He causes good. He is the active agent and efficient cause of the good that comes to us. He isn't the "creator" of evil in the same way He is the Creator of good.
In fact, evil is not a created thing. Evil is a defect in something God created to be good. When God finished His creative work, He pronounced everything "very good" (Genesis 1:31), so evil cannot be something God created. Evil is not a substance or a created thing. It represents the marring of what God created good. The agents of evil are Satan, the demons, and fallen humanity. They are the ones responsible for damaging what God made to be good. God's sovereignty does not change that fact.
Now, God certainly permitted evil. It isn't something that caught Him off guard or took Him by surprise. He is not the helpless victim of evildoers. Evil was part of His plan from before the foundation of the world. But He is not to blame for it. He is not the agent or author who is responsible for it. He uses it for His own wise and holy ends, but He doesn't sanction it, condone it, or otherwise approve it.
Notice, again, in verse 11, that Satan challenged God to afflict Job. He said, "Stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" But God did not stretch out His hand and afflict Job. That was left for Satan to do. All God did was remove the restraints from Satan, and Satan was the agent of the evil.
So we see that Job suffered according to the plan and providence of God, but God was not the source of the evil; Satan was. Job understood this, and that is why although he knew God is sovereign, he did not blame God for evil.
We're not for a moment to imagine that God's sovereignty makes Him blameworthy for the evil that occurs in a fallen universe. To entertain such a thought would be to curse God in our heartsthe very thing Job was so determined never to do.
Now consider third truth about God we see in Job's response:
3. God is Good
Once more, here's Job 1:21: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord."
In the midst of his trials, Job was confessing that God is good. That is the very opposite of what Satan claimed Job would do. Verse 11: "he will surely curse You to Your face!" Instead, Job blessed God's name! Job knew that even in the midst of this horrible calamity, despite all the evil that had befallen him, God was good.
Job did not understand God's purpose, of course. He did not know about Satan's challenge. 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 this is the very lesson the book of Job is designed to teach us? James 5:10-11 says: "My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very 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, 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 he 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 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 gets an even better picture of God's greatness and sovereignty, Job's response in Job 42:6 is, "I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."
But let me be clear: 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.
On the other hand, however, Job, as a sinful creature, 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 afflictions that would eventually give way to an even greater weight of eternal glory. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Suffering is the price and prelude of glory. But while the suffering is temporary, the glory is eternal, and infinitely greater. That is our hope in the midst of suffering.
God eventually gave Job back more than he had lost. Here's Job 42:12-17:
12 Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.
13 He also had seven sons and three daughters.
14 And he called the name of the first Jemimah, the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch.
15 In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.
16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations.
17 So Job died, old 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 forever. 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 remember, 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, it is a far more solid rock on which to 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 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 doesno matter how painful or hard to understand it may be for the momentwe 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.