The book of Job - Part 5
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
September 24, 2017
We are just going to pick right back up where we left off last week in our journey through the book of Job.
Job was a great man with a great family and great relationships, most important of which was with God. He was blameless and upright; he feared God and ran away from evil.
Job was such a shining example of a servant, God pointed him out to Satan, whose job was walking up and down the earth looking for people to accuse of wrongdoing.
We looked at the devil’s response and what it meant last week…
Job 1:9–11 (ESV) — 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
“Does Job fear God for no reason?”
That question cuts to the heart. It makes us think about our motivation for serving God.
Some people approach God like a tenant approaches a landlord. They pay the rent, so the landlord is obligated to provide the best living accommodations. They obey the rules and God is obligated to bring the blessings. They don’t love God for God; they don’t really love Him at all. They just serve him because they want things from him.
Or put another way, some people serve God as mercenaries. They are only in it for what they can get out of it.
Satan accused Job of this. He accused him of obeying all the rules because God brought all those blessings into his life.
There is one surefire way to find out if a fellow serves God for no reason: bring suffering into his life…
Job 1:12 (ESV) — 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
That’s where we left off last week. I am going to be very honest with you. This shakes me to the core.
It raises questions I don’t want to ask. It even makes me afraid.
Not long ago I read a book called Ghost Boy. It’s about a guy named Martin Pistorious who in 1988 fell ill as a child and when into what everyone thought was a vegetable state. But actually, he was fully aware of everything that went on around him, unable to communicate and forced to endure some pretty awful things, like his mother saying she wished he’d just go ahead and die.
That went on for over a decade until someone realized he was there. He has almost fully recovered.
When he first realized his pitiful state, he started to lose hope. But then he decided, with God’s help, to lean into his pain, lean into his fears. It’s what got him through.
Our instinct is to run from things that scare us, but maybe, as hard as it may be, if we lean in to the fears Job stirs up, our comfort and confidence in God will also be built up. It won’t come easy, but it can come if we let it.
So let’s lean in and confront the elephant in the sanctuary right now.
God gave satan permission to test Job’s motivation for serving by bringing suffering into his life.
If that puts a knot in the pit of your stomach, it’s OK. It puts one in mine. When we look at it from our earthly, limited, perspectives it appears unjust, unfair, and, well, downright cruel.
Leaning into this doesn’t necessarily mean we get answers. Leaning in can mean accepting that there isn’t an answer. That’s what Martin had to do.
I cannot reconcile the problem of how God can be good and just and fair and yet appear cruel, unjust, and unfair with Job.
But I do know those whose lives he affected in the Bible tell us something about him that I must accept by faith as true.
David who was called the apple of God’s eye said…
Psalm 18:30 (ESV) — 30 This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
And Moses, who was called the friend of God, said…
Deuteronomy 32:4 (ESV) — 4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
And in a prophetic scene in heaven those who had overcome the beast said…
Revelation 15:3 (ESV) — 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”
Now, you may say that’s a cop out. Just by faith believe he is still good, just, and fair? God shouldn’t get off the hook so easy. I hear you.
I may never be able to convince you otherwise, but this shocking revelation in verse 12 must in the end be cast into the deepest part of the ocean of who God is.
However, it does give us comfort in one sense if we shift it around a bit; if we look at it from a different angle.
Let’s read that verse again.
12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Note what God said in effect to Satan, “You may go this far in testing Job but no further.” One commentator writes…
God sets the bounds. There is evil here, but not dualism, and perhaps we need to pause to register that fact. A great deal of popular Christian thinking operates with a sort of dualism, in which the whole of life is understood in terms of a battle between God and Satan, or between the Holy Spirit and the world of the demonic, as though these were all equal partners in a contest.
Of course it is sometimes easier to interpret our lives in terms of a conflict between heavenly powers than to take appropriate responsibility ourselves. But a dualism of good and evil is not the teaching of the Bible. While we must not ignore the reality of spiritual warfare, we must remember that the contest is not between equals. There is no equal and opposite force of evil in tension with the goodness of God. Such a view is not found in the Bible. Rather, God is always sovereign. And Satan is always only an adversary on a chain. Satan is always under God’s authority and control. It is the sovereign God who says, ‘Everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger’ (1:12). So Satan, we are told, went out from the presence of the Lord.
CS Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity…
One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between [equal] powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.
Job 1:12 puts to rest anything you’ve heard about there being a balance between good and evil. I may not understand why the devil is allowed to roam the earth and propagate badness in the world, and I may not understand how God could let that serpent bring suffering into Job’s life or anyone else’s, but I do know this verse assures me GOD IS IN CONTROL.
God does not just keep the devil on a chain but all evil. It will advance no further than He allows it.
Right now some pretty scary things are happening, from hurricanes to maniacal dictators playing around with nuclear weapons. Have you ever wondered, though, why things aren’t worse than they are? They certainly could be.
Job 1:12 shows us that just like God set the boundaries of dry land and said to the waters this far and no further, so he sets the boundaries of the devil and all evil.
Conclusion: Now before we close let’s go back to that elephant our verse brought into the sanctuary.
God gave satan permission to test Job’s motivation for serving by bringing suffering into his life.
Does that mean, and let’s just lean into this, it was God’s will for Job to suffer?
We have waded back into deep waters again, the depths of which philosophers and theologians dare to fathom.
When it comes to suffering and evil in the world, philosophers and thinkers have taken three approaches (this isn’t exhaustive).
One is the “no hope” approach. There is evil; there is good. There’s nothing anyone can do about it, so avoid suffering at all costs. If you can’t, just suck it up and try to survive.
Suffering is not a matter of being God’s will or not. It’s just the way it is.
This goes back to that whole dualism thing. Job 1:12 answers that. God and satan are not equals! The Gospel is good news of hope.
The second is the “some hope" approach. This way of explaining suffering was made famous by Rabbi Kushner, who wrote a best selling book many years ago called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” He had lost his 14 year old son to disease and grappled with why. His conclusion was God is good and He doesn’t want people to suffer, but He’s powerless to stop it all the time.
Suffering isn’t God’s will for anyone. It’s just that he can’t always prevent it.
The “some hope” approach is attractive because it has God not wanting us to suffer. Yet, it’s not so attractive when you think about it. Do we really want a God incapable of stopping suffering, a God who isn’t in control?
I remember a lady once saying that she could never believe it was God’s will for her son to die in a car wreck. I cannot blame her for a minute. She was hurting so badly. But what she didn’t realize was she was supporting the some hope approach. The great thing about God is He’s patient with us about that.
Job 1:12 demonstrates God is in control of all things, including evil and suffering. Though he doesn’t cause evil and suffering and he certainly gets no joy out of it, he does allow it. We’ll spend more time here later.
Then there’s the “it’s all you” approach. You’ve done something wrong and that’s why you’re suffering. You’ve offended God in some way and he’s letting you know. It is God’s will for you suffer because you deserve it.
Remember this one when we get to Job’s friends.
The “it’s all you” approach is very common in the religious community (the favorite of Pharisees and their legalistic cousins), but it makes the only reason for suffering punishment. We’ll spend much more time on this later also, but know for now…
Our verse, when you put it in context of Job’s story, is very clear that suffering can afflict the good (the blameless even!) which means suffering is allowed by God but has a purpose other than punishment.
I’ll close with this excellent summary by Tim Keller…
“[Here we see God overruling evil.] He says, “This far, no further.” He puts a limit to evil. The Bible everywhere says God is continually keeping the world from being, and us from being, as miserable and as bad as we otherwise would be, as we could be, as we should be.
The Bible says continually nations would be far more violent, hearts would be far more hard, families would be far more broken, civilization would be far more disordered, if God was not continually saying over and over and over again every day, “This far, but no further.” He’s constantly doing that. See, he’s in control of it. He’s overruling evil. He’s always putting a limit to it.
Secondly, he’s overcoming evil. He’s always putting a purpose to it. What is Satan’s reason? Why does Satan want to let suffering come into Job’s life? You see, it’s so interesting because Satan and God have an absolute unity of opinion; there’s consensus. Isn’t this wonderful? I mean, if Satan and God agree on something, it must be true. The consensus is what a servant is.
God says, “Have you seen my servant Job? There is none like him in all the earth.” What does Satan say? He contradicts. He says, “He’s not a servant,” but the way in which he contradicts is he says, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Now they agree on this. If you serve God for the life comforts that you get, you’re not serving God at all.
Unless you’re serving God for nothing, you’re not a servant. Unless you’re serving God for him, and not just for the life comforts and not just for the wealth and not just for the ease and not just for the health and not just for the friends, unless you’re serving God for him and not for these things, your life is a bubble. You’re a bubble boy. You are building your life on things that inevitably will burst. You are fragile, and you are vulnerable. It’s a castle built in the air. It’s a house built on the sand.
Therefore, here’s the question. Is Job a servant or not? Is he a fragile, vulnerable person who can be overwhelmed, or is he a strong person with roots? The answer is actually, as it turns out, he’s partly there, but he’s partly not. Therefore, Satan releases the suffering into Job’s life to eradicate the servantness of his heart, and God allows just a certain amount in order to do the opposite.”
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