Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2:10)
Job is a really awkward story. If you’ve never read it, frankly I don’t blame you. It’s really long and somewhat tedious. Trust me on this: It’s really awkward. When one reads the first part of the Old Testament, the Torah, one learns that when the people put their trust in God and walk in his ways, he will bless them. When the people turn from God he shall punish them. It’s a pretty simple notion.
When we look through the pages of Job that theology is challenged. The premise of the story is this: Satan challenged God that Job only believes in him and worship him for all the blessings God has showered upon him. Indeed, Job is a very blessed man. He owns a lot of land, has a big family and is well respected. More importantly, he walks according to God’s law. That means he gives to the poor, lends without demanding interest and is altogether loving to his neighbour.
So, Job is living a life pleasing to God and enjoys all the blessings associated with it. If you know Proverbs at all, you’ll notice that Job is always quoting them, showing this man to be wise.
Anyway, in a rush of confusing and contradictory ideas, Satan is in the presence of God and God allows Satan to take everything away from Job. This raises several questions about God, namely: Isn’t it a bit underhanded of God to use Satan to do his ‘dirty work’. Additionally, one could ask is not God breaking his covenant with Job by cursing him when he should be receiving blessing? These and many other questions I shall ignore. I don’t think that’s where the text goes.
So, we are left with this awkward tension. Naturally, being me, I really enjoy Job.
This man who walks aright before God has been hit by the most astonishing, brutal suffering. The loss of his business, his family, health and reputation. In all of this he does not forsake God.
Now, Satan thinks that Job fears God because of the blessings God has given to him. It’s a legitimate complaint – if someone offered you a free car for being their friend, wouldn’t you hasten to be that man’s best buddy? One of the ways the covenant can be interpreted is as some kind of Karma: If we are good, God owes us good. Job shatters that notion. This story takes a righteous man and has him receive all the curses promised to the unrighteous.
Worse still, God allows this to happen!
To my mind, Job asks the question “How do believers interact with personal suffering in the light of God’s sovereignty?”
His initial response to suffering hints towards the right way to deal with suffering:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
“…Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
I wonder if you have ever been around Christians who believe that God doesn’t ordain suffering? I’ve heard stories of people being rebuked because they thought it was God’s will that someone should die from cancer. Indeed, when I am praying with others for the grace of physical healing, it is common to hear people speak against doubt – as if God’s blessing is somehow proportional to how much we believe. In some churches, they emphasise ‘declaring’ God’s blessing against things which are not desirable.
Yet the righteous man, Job, does not react in this way. He doesn’t ‘declare’ anything against the suffering he has endured. He accepts it as directly from the hand of God. He doesn’t accept that he has a lack of faith. He is astonished when his friends rebuke him.
I think the tendency of all people is to view suffering as an assault on their kingdom – their lives which they have spent much time and energy building up. As Christians we are instructed to abandon our own kingdoms in favour of participating in God’s. Yet, the way we can react to suffering and trial and loss indicates that we do not believe the kingdom to be God’s. When we perceive death and disease to be totally outside the sphere of God’s reign, we make God smaller and ourselves bigger. Just because something seem disastrous to us does not mean God sees it that way.
Indeed, if we only accept the good things of life as being from God we are suggesting that God is some sort of ‘cosmic cash machine’ from which we can withdraw all the time. God then becomes our servant. Our magical shower of blessing.
This is not how the Bible portraits God.
Of course it is equally tempting to assign the blame to God for our suffering and then walk away from him. For me, that has been a real struggle. Sometimes I have been so angry with God that I thought it a small thing to act in an abusive way towards others and myself as a way of ‘getting back’ at God.
Again, I was on the throne of my life and expecting God to do as I commanded.
The faith of Job is far deeper than this. His faith interprets his life as being in the hand of God.
For Job, God is God and is worthy of blessing in the midst of blessing and in the midst of loss. God has granted Job favour and he had blessed the Lord. The Lord allowed Job to lose everything, and still he had blessed the Lord. If we only bless God when things are going well for us, have we truly beheld God as the Almighty ruler who sits upon the throne?
I think what it means to walk with God is this: That God is on the throne and we must see our reality as though everything that happens is somehow ordained by the Lord. This is never an easy idea to accept, yet to me it seems biblical. When we accept all circumstances as being from the Lord, we see something more of his glory and his vastness, and maybe even discern something of his purpose for our lives.
He gives. He takes. Let us forever bless the Lord.