Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:1-23 Job’s God is a Sovereign God

Once again we turn to the book of Job and its opening chapter. I will read just the first verse. “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright, he feared God and shunned evil.” The book of Job is about being wise. It’s a part of the Bible that we call ‘wisdom literature’ The Bible is divided up into such major categories as the Law, the Prophets, and the Sacred Writings. These Writings were further divided into smaller groups, and in one called ‘the Book of Truth’ were gathered the book of Psalms, Proverbs and this book of Job.

What is Biblical wisdom? It is more than information, knowledge, facts and even ethics. Wisdom tells us that we ought to live as God intends us to live, and how to do so. So Job is a practical book. It deals with life issues. Job teaches the wise response to troubles when they come uninvited into your life. Crises come and the temptation is to worry, thinking, “God is down on me; God doesn’t care; God isn’t in control; God cannot stop what has happened; he is helpless to prevent Satan from doing all these things. It isn’t fair!” The book of Job paints a big canvas, and shows how we as Christians relate to God. The first chapter of the Book of Job introduces three characters and the first is Job himself.

1. JOB

Job was a real person living in space and time-history, actually existing somewhere in the middle east in an unknown place called Uz. He lived after Noah and perhaps before the time of the patriarchs – Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. So he actually experienced the things here recorded in the book. The Bible treats him as a real person, in fact in Ezekiel chapter 14 in verses 14 and 20 Ezekiel reminds us of three great figures as models and father figures for believers during the Old Testament, he speaks of Noah, and of Daniel, and he also speaks of Job. Now all those three men have been dismissed by the so-called higher critics as fictitious characters. Then their moral power as examples goes. I wouldn’t say to you, “I want you to be as brave as Superman. I want you to be as powerful as Harry Potter, and go out and kill dragons like Saint George,” for they would be no motivation to you because they are all fantasy figures, while you and I live and stagger and struggle in the real world. They are fairy stories, but Noah, Daniel and Job are in a different category. In the New Testament James says to the church that we all know about the patience of Job. Like Elijah he was no semi-divine figure but a man of like passions to ourselves. In fact archaeologists have found the name ‘Job’ in three places carved on pieces of stone in lists of names (though none of them would be the Job that is referred to here). But it shows us that this was a familiar name of real people who lived 4000 years ago.

What sort of man was he? After the opening sentence the book begins by telling us that this man was blameless and upright who feared God and shunned evil. It is vitally important for you to see Job wasn’t self righteous. He wasn’t a Pharisee. The afflictions that came upon him weren’t sent into his life to humble him because he was a religious phony, his outward behaviour cloaking a desperately wicked heart. Job was a truly humble man. It was Job’s comforters who refused to believe he was genuinely godfearing, and they kept harping away on the secret sins that he must have committed. But the writer of this book, helped by the Holy Spirit, says in the opening verse that this man was blameless and upright. But in addition to that, God himself says it in verse 8; “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man that fears God and shuns evil.” So God’s own imprimatur was upon him.

So if you even entertain a thought that Job was not all that he’s cracked up to be, you’ll never understand this book, neither the drama of it nor the problem it presents. Nothing that happened to Job, I’m saying, no pain whatsoever, happened as an affliction for particular sins in his life. The biggest single temptation that Job had to face and overcome was to believe that the loss of his family, his wealth and his health were because of his sins. That’s the heart issue of this book and the whole point of the contest between Satan and God: will Job continue to admit that everything that happens him comes from the hand of God when he has no reason at all to understand why those calamities should have happened, and will he yet keep trusting and worshipping God.

Job went very low – as we read in chapter 3 – angry and despairing and bitter, but his faith didn’t fail. Yet he had no idea why these things where happening to him. He had to keep trusting in God. He lost everything but he clung to God sometimes by his finger tips. Job had a great God and he always knew this, and at rock bottom his conscience bore him witness that he was a blameless and upright man.

There are two passages in these Scriptures that indicate how blameless Job was, firstly in this opening chapter in verse 5 we see the care that he had for his children and his desire that they should have a good relationship with the Lord: “Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts,’ This was Job’s regular custom.” So you see what that window on the life of Job tells us about his beliefs, that what was crucially important for Job was a man’s relationship to God. Whatever possessions his children might have his concern was that they certainly had this, that they knew the Lord and that no barrier existed between themselves and God. Job was concerned that there was no inward barrier in their hearts, then they didn’t sin against God. Heart religion was crucially important for Job. That is one indication of Job’s religion.

Then you can also read in chapter 29 of the book of Job something of the immense stature of this man. In that chapter Job is reminiscing of a time when God’s intimate friendship blessed his house, when the Almighty was still with him (vv. 4 and 5). But the heart of the chapter is a remarkable testimony to what sort of man Job was. “I rescued the poor who cried for help and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing. I put on righteousness as my clothing, justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy. I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” (vv. 12-17).

So here is the Holy Spirit’s picture of Job, blameless in his family life, his personal life and in his walk with God. His life was abundant in good works, in the ministry of mercy that he had towards other people. He was a truly holy man of God. So what we have in this book of Job is not simply Mr. Average Christian, we are being introduced to a superlatively godly and God-honouring man, but not a sinless man.

2. SATAN

The second character we are introduced to in the book of Job is Satan. Now he’s become a rather familiar figure to us and to our civilization. I suppose most people in our community know something about Satan, certainly more than they know about the apostle Paul. But Satan appears very infrequently in the Old Testament, being referred to just three times. He appears in Genesis 3, Zechariah 3 and he appears here in the first two chapters of Job. Again, how infrequently Satan speaks in the Bible. He only speaks three times, here in Job 1 and 2, and he also speaks in the guise of the Serpent in Genesis 3, and he then speaks once in the New Testament at the temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ. In “The Screwtape Letters” CS Lewis has Satan speaking all the time. He talks in fact like an Oxford don, but he doesn’t speak very much in the Bible. Satan has no offices. He is not a prophet, and he has no priestly work to do, and his powers are severely limited by the restraints of God, so he is no king. The Bible emphasizes Satan’s malice against God, and what Satan is, rather than what Satan says.

The word ‘Satan’ means to carry a grudge against someone, and that’s Satan’s style. His work is to oppose men. He is the Satan, the adversary. He is the cynic who misreads and twists everything. He puts everything about Job in the worst possible light and that is what he does when he has any man, he embitters them against others. Satan is a very frustrated and disappointed creature for he can never accomplish what he desires. Those are the marks of Satan at work, not horrendous cruelty and sexual deviations, but a combination of the grudge, the accusation, the cynicism and the twisting of everything in order to detract from the good. Where there is such aching frustration and bitter disappointment there you will see Satan at work. We certainly meet these characteristics in the way Satan maligns Job to God.

Perhaps you are thinking how is it possible for Satan to come into the presence of God? Where can such an occurrence take place? Where exactly did Satan present himself before God? We have to say that that is a difficult question. We don’t know, and that may not be a very satisfactory answer. We certainly know that it was not in heaven. Satan cannot enter that ‘city bright’ because ‘closed are its gates to sin.’ So this place is somewhere before the all seeing and omnipresent God. There are times when he draws near to his people, individually, or when they gather together in his name, and God may draw near to his creatures in a similar way. Remember that this event took place early in the history of redemption not long after the Serpent had entered the Garden where God would walk, and there the devil had demeaned the Lord. It was in Paradise itself, to our first parents bearing the perfect image of God, in that very place where God would meet with his children, the old Serpent met with them too. This confrontation between God and Satan concerning Job took place before the incarnation and the cross of Christ at which juncture Satan’s dominion over the land Uz and the nations of the world was ended.

From where has Satan come to meet God? Satan says “from roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it” (v.7). So Satan is the restless one, a vagrant and a vagabond. He is never able to say, “This is my home.” Satan has no home, nor ever will. He has a place which God has prepared for him and his demons, but no home. Why is Satan there before God? Why does he come before God when the angels – the messengers of God – are presenting themselves to him (v. 6)? There Satan appears, and if the angels report on their activities Satan is not exempt. He is also having to give an account. “Where have you come from?” God says (v.7), and Satan has to answer. Satan can’t sulk, “Well I’m not telling you.” He has to give an account just as much as the very angels themselves. They all must present themselves, every creature which lives and moves and has its being in God.

In fact the Lord may choose even to use Satan at times to accomplish His own purposes. A workman may work for his boss through gritted teeth. He may hate to serve him, but he has to reply when his manager comes in and asks him such questions as – “where are you coming from, and what are you doing?” When his master says, “You do this,” he has to do it. So it is with the devil. You have to remember he’s a creature. He did not make himself, and he has no eternal self-existence – no aseity whatsoever. Satan depends on the Creator for his existence. He’s not some unpredictable loose cannon in the universe. His powers are limited and controlled by God. His malice is under check. Of course, there are not two Gods, one of them a supremely blessed, good, kind and loving God, while the other is a god of cosmic malevolence. There is one God only, the living and the true God, and everything else has come about because of him. Whatever wickednesses Satan would wish to do they are always less than what he desires to do. He can’t turn this world into a hell. And if God should say, “Come, and speak to me now!” Satan must reply to him, and if God says to Satan, “No, you cannot take that man’s health,” then it is not possible for Satan to inflict that person with illnesses. Satan has to wait until he hears God give such permission as, “At this moment you can take his property,” and then Satan can spoil his property. “You may touch Job’s family, his ten children,” and then that horror happens. Satan can’t just gate crash and spoil our parties. The Ancient of Days, the divine bouncer, will keep him out very effectively! We do not have a God who is a spectator twisting his hands in horror at what he sees happening by Satan’s instigation. Satan is always and everywhere under the authority of God. He hates his servitude, but he has to live within those restraints.

Satan has never done one thing out of love for God, or obedience to God. He has never done one thing to bring glory to God. Everything the devil does he does because he hates God. He is determined to frustrate the purposes of God, but Satan is a born loser. Satan has never won on one occasion. Someone said these provocative words, “the devil is the hardest working servant that God has.” Of course everything Satan does he does out of hatred, but God uses it to accomplish his plan. God has to work out and achieve his purposes in this fallen world of sin. There’s an awful lot of dirty work to be done, and God can never get his hands dirty. It is the devil who takes care of the dirty work. Consider, for example, the life of Joseph and how his own brothers sell him into slavery, deceiving their father and breaking the old man’s heart. Down Joseph goes, in that cruel deporting, away to pagan distant Egypt for ever. His brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. It was part of God’s plan which these evil brothers were accomplishing, that the line that came through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Seed of the women, would survive, that the Seed wouldn’t be snuffed out through an ancestral famine of years’ duration. So God takes them all away from the famine area bringing them to Egypt where they multiply, and for 400 years God sustains them there. Joseph was sent on ahead by Jehovah as the pioneer of all who were to follow him. “You meant it for evil,” Joseph said to his brothers, “but God meant it for good.” And those words we can say to Satan of all Satan does. Satan wants to crucify the Son of God. He enters into one of the disciples, Judas, and betrays him. Satan’s wicked hands put him on the cross. and he crucifies him, but God uses that whole event. He brings redemption, life and forgiveness of sins from it. “You meant it for evil, Satan, but God meant it for good.”

3. THE SOVEREIGN GOD

The third character that we meet in this first chapter is the living God, and the book of Job is teaching – amongst its many lessons – that God sovereignly controls everything that happens whether it be good or bad. God is in charge of his creation, involved in everything, every detail and every event, yet without himself becoming the agent of sin. Now are we nervous about this doctrine? Do we have a problem that emerges because we are trying to protect God from the charge of being the author of sin? Job’s comforters in all their arguments were determined to protect God, trying to make it more rational to believe in a just and holy God. “You must have done something evil, Job,” they said to him. “Come on, confess it! There is something you’re hiding from us, actions in your past or attitudes in your heart, because God is fair and just in everything he does. We exempt God from everything bad in creation. No one can blame him. You have been plunged into these calamities. It must be for some secret sin. Own up!”

There was a Christian nurse who was working on a casualty ward, and the ambulances would bring in injured people from car wrecks and domestic accidents. Then the hospital Chaplain would turn up, and she would hear him speaking to these traumatized people, and his opening sentences would usually be, “Now you mustn’t blame God for this.” That was the refrain that he would give to them all, as if he were the chairman of the National Society of the Protection of Cruelty to God. He was trying to defend the Lord, but what he was doing was to lay a foundation for despair. He was leaving the victim in the hands of chance, or fate, or Satan. That is, he was putting the patient in those mean hands by pushing the Lord out of the picture. Such are the counsels of hopelessness. Hurting people want to see God there when the planes hit the skyscrapers and their loved ones have perished. They want to know God is on the spot and in control when things go horribly wrong.

Three weeks ago today 32 year old Todd Beamer was teaching the teenage Sunday School class at the Alliance church at Planesbury in New Jersey. His pastor said about him that Todd was rock steady in the faith, grounded in the word. He arranged his work (he was a sales account manager at the Oracle Corporation) so that always his Lord’s Days were free. Two days later on the 11th of September he was flying on a Boeing 757 which was hijacked by Islamic terrorists. Todd Beamer called a telephone operator and told her about the hijacking and then said steadily over the phone the Lords Prayer. The pastor had been preaching a series in August and early September on that passage from Matthew 6. Then Todd and a number of the passengers got out of their seats to resist those hijackers; “Lets roll,” they said. “Let’s roll!” The terrorists probably wanted to fly that plane into Camp David, but instead, through the bravery of Todd and the other men, that plan was thwarted. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania and Todd Beamer and all the other people on the plane were killed, but no one else. Todd’s wife Lisa was expecting their third child in January. They met when they were students in Wheaton College. Lisa knows that Todd will never come back, and grieves for him, but not as those who have no hope. She also affirms this very clearly, that the Lord meant it for Todd to be on that plane.

We can see that Lisa Beamer has a very different attitude from the Hospital Chaplain’s to the pain and trouble that comes into everyone’s life. We’re told here in Job chapter 1 that it was Almighty God who instigated the trial of Job. The whole initiative was his: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?'” (v.8). “Let me introduce you to Job,” God said. Remember that Satan is a creature and so Satan doesn’t know everything. That is, Satan isn’t omniscient – anymore than the virgin Mary. Satan doesn’t know today what all of you are thinking – anymore than the virgin Mary. Only the Creator has exhaustive knowledge. Satan has a powerful organization, but to be all knowing is an attribute of God. So this all knowing God says to Satan, “Have you ever thought about Job?” It is the Lord himself who turns the spotlight on the old man. It is almost as if Satan didn’t know all that much about Job until then. So it was God who took the first step. God put Job in the crucible. God threw down the gauntlet to Satan. It was God who lowered the high strong hedge of protection around Job and then lowered it again, and lowered it some more. It was God who permitted Satan to devise and encourage many of the evil things that happened to him. It was God who introduced Job to Satan, and set the rules for this whole encounter. The whole scenario is the Lord’s doing. Satan is one of the chief actors, but the script is written by God.

Yet the Bible also makes it absolutely clear that God himself can’t be tempted to sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). He is not the author of sin. He doesn’t condone sin. God is light, there is no darkness in him, he can’t look at evil. His wrath is revealed from heaven against sin. It is we men who freely choose to sin, and it is Satan who tempts us to sin. Not God; never God. God is the sovereign mover and controller, while Satan is the agent who might bring permitted trials and evils into all our lives.

Let me use this illustration for you; a elderly lady was praying out loud near an open window. She had neither food nor money, and she was pleading with God that he would supply something for her to eat. Two boys were walking past the window and they heard her prayer and they decided to mock her faith. So they went to a store and bought a litre of milk and a loaf of bread, and they stealthily put the food through the open window onto the table. When she opened her eyes there was bread and milk, and she praised God for hearing and answering her prayers. Then the boys’ heads popped up above the windowsill and they said with a grin, “Old women, you are stupid. God didn’t send these things. We put them there. We did it just to prove to you how dumb you are. God didn’t bring the bread and the milk we brought it.” What would you say in a case like that? The lady smiled back at them, and she thanked the boys for the food. She said, “Maybe the devil brought these things, but God sent them!”

You see the difference? When the postman brings the electricity bill to your house, you don’t get upset with him because he didn’t write it, he just delivered it. When a thorn in the flesh came into the life of the apostle Paul he acknowledged that it was a present from God – actually gift wrapped for him by the Lord – but it was a messenger of the Satan who brought it. Now that is the principle by which we should see everything that come into our lives.

Thomas Watson is the best introduction to reading Puritan literature because he is full of aphorisms and wit that are quite wonderful. If you understand what he says in the following words then you’ll understand this whole message. This is what Thomas Watson says “God always has a hand in the action where the sin is, but he never has a hand in the sin of the action.” It doesn’t matter what happened, where it happened, when it happened, how it happened. If it happened at all then God had a hand in it. God controlled it. God was there at the World Trade Center in New York, and there at the Pentagon in Washington, and there when the plane dived into the field in Pennsylvania. But God is not guilty of the sin or the hatred that was in the hearts of the evil men that caused mass destruction and those murders. God always has a hand in the action where the sin is but he never has a hand in the sin of the action.

Satan’s big whinge is that God has built walls of salvation around Job, and God makes it impossible for Satan and his demons to do anything to Job. So Satan challenges the Lord, “But stretch out your hand and lower the hedge. Strike everything that he has and he will surely curse you to your face” (v.11). God reproaches Satan, “Very well then, everything he has is in your hands. But on the man himself don’t lay a finger,” he says (v.12). In whose hands is Job now? It appears that Job is in Satan’s hands; “everything he has is in your hands” (v.12). Is Job in Satan’s hands, or is Job in God’s hands? And if you understood the narrative you’ll see that Job is both in the hands of God and in the hands of Satan. But you will also see this, that the hands of God are over the hands of Satan, and Satan’s hands can only do what God’s hands will allow him to do. It is like a golf pro. teaching his son to play golf and showing him the grip and the swing, with his son standing before him and he leaning over him directing his son’s actions with his hands over his son’s. In reality Job is as much in the hands of God when Satan is testing him as he was all the preceding years when Satan never interfered in his life. The major difference now is the degree to which God has chosen to let down the hedge which he has placed around Job.

That is the case with all of us today. Consider Simon Peter when Jesus says to him that a time has come in his life when Satan is going to give him a hard time “Simon! Simon! Satan has asked to sift you as wheat,” the Lord tells him. Satan had asked the Son of God if he might touch Simon Peter. Satan again is shown to be the servant and creature. He cannot destroy the weakest lamb in the flock of Christ at will. There are walls of salvation around each soul God delights to defend. The Lord gives the asking Satan permission to sift Peter as wheat, to put him on the winnowing floor and bring out his flail and beat down upon Simon Peter. But Jesus assures Peter, “I have prayed that your faith will not fail.” So Satan has Peter in his hands, but Peter is also in Jesus’ hands. The mighty Christ is ever living, and able to save him to the uttermost, and he is praying for Simon Peter. Satan can only take advantage of the limited opportunities that God permits him.

Today you may be going through a period of darkness and trouble. Satan is sifting you as wheat, but if you’re a Christian you are also being kept by superior power and guardian grace. Jesus ever lives to intercede for you. He can save you to the uttermost. You notice when everything is taken from Job, when he loses possessions and power and servants and even childr en Job never mentions Satan once. He never attributes anything that happens to him to the hand of Satan. He always goes directly to God as the first cause. God has given Job sheep, oxen, donkeys and camels, and Job says that the same God who gave them, he is the one who took them away. What about Job’s children? He says that their lives were a gift of God and that same God also took those lives away.

Now God never informs Job in the manner Jesus told Peter about the ensuing Satanic trial. The Lord never said to him, “Job, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” Job didn’t know about the duel between Jehovah and the devil. Job was given no explanation about the terrors that were going to roll in his life. All he had was a confidence that God was too wise to be mistaken and too good to be unkind, and that sustained Job. Men and women, that should sustain you too, and you have much more light from God than Job ever had. The least in the kingdom of God has greater knowledge of God and his ways than Job.

Those of you who are Christians know that this God who’s in control of your life was born of a woman and lived under the law, suffering such anguish by taking our sin on Golgotha. The Lord Jesus took all of hell’s hatred to himself, overcoming it and spoiling their devilish schemes. That is the one who knows and sympathizes with you, who is praying for you through sifting and winnowing times.

I once preached in McIlwaine Presbyterian Church in America in Pensacola, Florida which was pastored then by the late Donald A. Dunkerley. Don Dunkerley and his wife had a little baby, who had been born very handicapped and was named Joy Ann. She lived for a short span, and after Joy Ann died a pastor who had also lost a little baby came to see Don, and by way of commiseration he said to Don, “You know I also had a baby that died, and we’ve got to be fearful about being bitter towards God. When my child died I wanted to blame God, but I realized it would be wrong to blame God, so I decided to blame the nurses and the doctors and myself rather than to blame God.”

Don said to him, “That’s no real comfort to me. Wouldn’t it be awful if I had to feel that I’d lost my daughter because of some mistake on man’s part that a restricted God couldn’t overrule? Instead of being bitter towards God I’m to be bitter against my daughter’s physicians, and her nurses, and myself? No.” Don said to the man, “The whole responsibility for Joy Ann’s death – I say responsibility I don’t say ‘fault’ or ‘blame’, the whole responsibility rests with God. She was born with many congenital defects. She was programmed for destruction from the moment of her conception. When God before the foundation of the world purposed that he was to give us this daughter all those congenital defects were part of his good plan and purpose. The responsibility is God’s because what he does is right. I don’t need to blame doctors, and I don’t need to blame myself. I don’t need to be bitter. I don’t need to be fault-finding against anyone. What God does is right, and his great and holy name is ever and always to be praised.”

Let us conclude by considering what John Piper wrote about the recent unspeakable destruction in New York, entitling his article,

“Why I do not say, ‘God did not cause the calamity, but he can use it for good’.

Many Christians spoke this way about the murderous destruction of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. God did not cause it, but he can use it for good. There are two reasons I do not say this. One is that it goes beyond, and is contrary to, what the Bible teaches. The other is that it undermines the very hope it wants to offer.

First, this statement goes beyond and against the Bible. For some, all they want to say, in denying that God “caused” the calamity, is that God is not a sinner and that God does not remove human accountability and that God is compassionate. That is true – and precious beyond words. But for others, and for most people who hear this slogan, something far more is implied. Namely, God, by his very nature, cannot or would not act to bring about such a calamity. This view of God is what contradicts the Bible and undercuts hope.

How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). This “all things” includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son’s house, Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).

Oh, yes, Satan is real and active and involved in this world of woe! In fact Job 2:7 says, “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” Satan struck him. But Job did not get comfort from looking at secondary causes. He got comfort from looking at the ultimate cause. “Shall we not accept adversity from God?” And the author of the book agrees with Job when he says that Job’s brothers and sisters “consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him” (Job 42:11). Then James underlines God’s purposeful goodness in Job’s misery: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:11). Job himself concludes in prayer: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Yes, Satan is real, and he is terrible – and he is on a leash.

The other reason I don’t say, “God did not cause the calamity, but he can use it for good,” is that it undercuts the very hope it wants to create. I ask those who say this: “If you deny that God could have ‘used’ a million prior events to save 5,000 people from this great evil, what hope then do you have that God could now ‘use’ this terrible event to save you in the hour of trial?” We say we believe he can use these events for good, but we deny that he could use the events of the past to hold back the evil of September 11. But the Bible teaches he could have restrained this evil (Genesis 20:6). “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). It was not in his plan to do it. Let us beware. We spare God the burden of his sovereignty and lose our hope. All of us are sinners. We deserve to perish. Every breath we take is an undeserved gift. We have one great hope: that Jesus Christ died to obtain pardon and righteousness for us (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and that God will employ his all-conquering, sovereign grace to preserve us for our inheritance (Jeremiah 32:40). We surrender this hope if we sacrifice this sovereignty.

September 23, 2001 GEOFF THOMAS

Booklets: see “The Sovereignty of God in Providence” by John G. Reisinger (32pp., Chapel Library, Pensacola, Florida), which illustrations and fine blend of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility I have used in the above, with thanks.