12 August 2011

The Patience of Job

Living by Faith, Not Feelings
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 Calvinists—I'd call them hyper-Calvinists—who 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 hearts—the 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 does—no matter how painful or 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.

Phil's signature


The Bible Christian said...

I'm sitting here on vacation worrying about circumstances back home that are out of my control.... That I will have to face, then Phil just blindsides me with TRUTH! God is sovereign AMEN

Victoria said...

Thank you Phil, this was an excellent article.
I lost an only child in 1999 in an auto accident. Job's sorrow has been a place of meditation for me-most especially the end of the book when God comes to Job and questions him. I have realized that the question of suffering is not the why-but the Who.
I have a friend who, with her husband, has been in an arminian Church all of their lives. They have had to leave that Church because of some of the emergent tendencies. They have come to my Church which is Calvinist-and they are struggling so much with the goodness and love of God in light of election. She called me the other day and we talked for along time-she really is tempted to judge God as not loving by her feelings and emotions. This is a great article for her and her husband-I will have her read it.
I am getting ready to read "The difficult doctrine of the Love of God" by Carson. I wonder if it will help them. I will know after I read it.
Is there any book written that you can think of-that can help people like this couple understand the Doctrines of Grace better? I believe I have John MacArthur's book on the love of God-but it has been a long time since I have read that one. That may be a starting place for this couple-since JM is so clear and understandable.
Thanks again for this post.

Pierre Saikaley said...

Particularly helpful is the explanation that evil is not a substance or thing God created.

I think of it as the absence of good. Or as you said God removed the restraints from Satan.

Also, everyone has a theology of suffering and evil, and God's sovereignty. The only question is whether it's biblical. When it's not biblical people can become hardened, bitter souls. They're thinking becomes "What has God done for me/you?"

But when things go well, suddenly, God is "back". He's there, He's praiseworthy.

donsands said...

Marvelous teaching from God's Word. Very edifying. And we certainly need this doctrine deep in our hearts for the days ahead of us, don't we. Pain is a certain portion of our lives. Perhaps not as severe as Job's, or Paul's, but pain shall rip into, and through, our souls at times as we walk with Christ in this devil filled world.

Thanks for such a packed full of good doctrine post. A lot there to take in, and yet the bottom line, as Matt Chandler has also said, is that God is sovereign and good.

Have a great weekend and especially fine Sunday, our day to worship our Lord and our Father corporately. All for the Cross. Gal. 6:14

Here's a song that is rare in our day, which tries to speak to pain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGPS8sa-bRQ&feature=related

Bryan Payne said...

Timely post as I'm preparing to preach my 5th message in Job this Sunday. I am struck with the magnificence of this book. Job begs for a day in court and an arbiter in court to help him. What a powerful beginning to God's Word (as I believe Job is the 1st book written)! God shows Himself merciful and gracious to Job by using him as the primer for the rest of the Bible. Job needs specific revelation and not just general revelation mixed with human wisdom--God provided us will His Word. Job needed a day in court--God provided (i.e. Isaiah). Job needed a helper in court--God provided JESUS! These truths are changing the way I face suffering. Clearly God's plan in all things is infinitely beyond my understanding.

jrcannedy said...

Wow Mr. Johnson, exceedingly edifying.

This is exactly what and where I had hoped to bring my sisters understanding to prior to her suicide. She had endured the pain of losing her husband to suicide and I knew if only she could understand God as revealed in the story of Job we could maybe effect the process of restoring her emotional peace and joy.

You have definitely hit the nail on the head in your statement “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.”

We will never know God exhaustively but what He has revealed to us will sustain us on this side of eternity. And it all begins here and now through men such as you bringing God’s truths to light.

This is a valuable truth and lesson the church needs to hear today with all the pain and suffering debate which is going on.

Stefan Ewing said...

A very, very good and edifying lesson to read on this beautiful summer morning!

How we apply our theology to the challenges of life is really where the rubber meets the road, isn't it? Heaven knows I've had to learn that the hard way.

God's sovereignty, justice, and goodness; His grace and mercy; His steadfastness and lovingkindness; His faithfulness to His covenants; the blood of Jesus Christ shed for our sins upon the Cross...all these can end up being mere points of academic curiosity, unless and until we are forced to cling to them and learn how real they are in midst of a crisis!

In fact, my wife and I has just come out of a year and a half of great difficulty and uncertainty, out of which our marriage has been utterly transformed for the better, along with our spiritual life, our jobs, and even our finances—in fact, my wife finally just got hired yesterday, after months of fruitless searching!

None of it has happened by our choice, and it was painful to go through—but now we are seeing the fruits of God's faithfulness and mercy, and He has brought us closer together than ever before, and drawn her closer to Him than ever before.

At the end of the day, this has been a lesson in practical theology. There were many days when the only thing that seemed to be sustaining me was clinging to the knowlege that God's word is true, that He keeps His promises to sustain His people, and that He is faithful to those with whom He makes His unconditional, blood-bought covenant (e.g., Isaiah 43:1-3;
Jeremiah 31:31-37).

Where before I could rattle off God's sovereignty, goodness, justice, grace, mercy, providence, and lovingkindness as a list of attributes I'd learned in Calvinism 101, now those principles really mean something, viscerally.

And it's all for His Kingdom and His glory, and for the sake of our King who will return in power and glory to reign upon His throne.

Anonymous said...

Timely and exquisite, Pastor Phil.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I love posts like this, so full of truth and edifying. God’s sovereignty is such a fortress in times of deep sorrow and pain. I cling to it not just in bad times, but just for the pure joy of mulling over it, time and time again, and it just keeps getting better and better with each new reflection. If we enjoy the Lord this much now, THINK what it will be like when we see Him face to face.

I Can Only Imagine! MercyMe ;)

Awesome post, Phil! To God be the glory!

The Varsity Prep said...

Thank you Phil! Your exposition on the suffering of Job, and the "intimate" providence of God is very helpful. Just a thought about God's sovereignty, and the presence of evil. Gordon Clark suggested that when the Reformers engaged the reality of God's sovereignty and the presence of evil they said that

"If an act could be both sinful and inevitable... there must be no contradiction between moral responsibility and inevitability/predestination/foreordination. This insight implies the historic Reformed answer to the problem of evil: [that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God planned for evil to occur and uses it for His own good purposes.

Would you see this view as "hyper-Calvinism?

Gordan said...

10 comments in and no one indignantly exploding over the notion of Job being a Calvinist. This place just ain't what it used to be.

Great article by the way. In the midst of suffering is not the time to start hammering out your theodicy.

Phil Johnson said...

Skully: "Would you see this view as "hyper-Calvinism?"

No, I said essentially the same thing in the article above.

We believe God decrees by His sovereign fiat whatsoever comes to pass (even allowing evil agents to act according to their inclination). That fact ought to be clear from Job's story.

But what I criticized as hyper-Calvinism is the notion that God's sovereignty functions in such a way that He Himself is the ultimate agent and efficient efficient cause of whatever evil occurs.

Coram Deo said...

This is a very fine and succinct exposition on Job, Phil; well done!

In Christ,

Christophe said...

It was good to read the abiding truth expounded so plainly. I know a thing or two about suffering and impossibility to stop it on my own. I have been unemployed for a prolonged time with kids in family and despite multitude of serious and advanced attempts in the end all I hear is "no". The one thing that holds me is understanding of God and His providence as exposed and expressed by the Doctrines of Grace so intrinsic in the Word of God, especially here in the ancient Book of Job dealing with suffering so fresh and so present to many. Although Job was doing much better job(sic)than I... I am engulfed by the same truths of the same Loving, Good and Almighty God. Thank you for this post.

Coram Deo said...


I've prayed to the Lord asking Him to grant you employment so that you can work and support the family He has given you in accordance with His will.

Be a shining light for Him wherever He places you.

In Christ,

Zoarean said...

This is a really good piece & I wholeheartedly agree that we need to focus on these 3 great traits of God in times of distress. Job certainly began with an embracing of these facts of God’s justice & goodness, as stated in the first chapter, but I do not concur that Job continued faithfully believing these ideals. He clearly began to doubt God’s right judgment over him in the later chapters.

Job 27:6 I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.

Job 32:1-2 So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. (2) Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God.

Job 40:1-2 And the LORD said to Job: (2) "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it."

Job 40:6-8 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: (7) "Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. (8) Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

The lesson of Job is starting the race strong is not nearly as important as persevering & staying strong though to the end, resolutely believing in God’s sovereignty, justice, & goodness despite much seeming evidence to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note to say 'thank you', Phil. God, in His sovereignty and goodness (in particular), knew I needed to read this today. Thank you for your obedience to Him to write it.

Robert Warren said...

Thanks, Phil. Truly Biblical thoughts on Job are few and far between in popular media.

One fact is often overlooked: Even though Satan clearly had been licking his chops over Job ("Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?") and therefore it is Satan that is responsible for the evil he did to Job, this whole thing was God's idea from the get-go - "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?"

These are hard concepts; who can hear them?

Stefan Ewing said...


It sure is a tough row to hoe. May God guard you and protect you, and be with you to lead you through this; and praise Him that He has sworn to do just that very thing!

Christophe said...

Thank you all for your prayers.

1 Samuel 2:6–9



donsands said...

Hey Christophe,
Excellent Word of God. I'll have to remember those words.

here's a hymn, by Matt Redman, that may encourage you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx9MWpMUMu8

"Not from sorrow, pain, or care,
Freedom dare I claim."

donsands said...

Actually the hymn words were from the pen of Law­rence Tut­ti­ett, 1864. Sorry.

Unknown said...

Bravo! Excellent post!


You have such a gifted and beautiful way of expositing God's words and bringing His truth to light inspite of the attempts of the darkness to put it out.

God bless you brother.

If I may also ask for prayers to go out to a friend of mine that has just lost her father last night. Pray for her and her family in this difficult time.

God bless all of my brothers and sisters in Christ!
I love you all so very much.

northWord said...

Phil, I think this was one of your best posts ever. Amid the many golden doctrinal & theological reminders was the pleading of a pastoral heart for the saints. Thank you again for your unwaivering faithfulness to Truth.

Peter said...

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.

I know exactly how he felt.

Nicole said...

I too think this was on eof your best posts ever! It was so timely for me. I was able to share it with many others. Thank you!