The Old Testament book of Job is one of the most mysterious, yet comforting books in all of the Bible. It is mysterious because we see a horrific series of catastrophes happen to a godly man and his family. It is comforting because we get to listen in on conversations between Job and four of his friends as they try to make sense out of what happens. As they struggle with some of life’s ultimate questions, we don’t feel so alone as we wrestle with the same questions thousands of years later.
Reading Job is a challenge; studying and interpreting it is even tougher. But for the steadfast student of the Bible who takes time to dig into this fascinating book, there are a number of certainties that we can cling to in uncertain times.
Certainty #1 – God is absolutely in control, even when it feels like our lives are swirling out of control.
I start with this certainty because it is the most certain of all certainties. We see this at the beginning and the end of the book. God is the One who presides over the counsel of angels, including Satan, at the beginning of the book. After Job and his friends banter back and forth throughout the book about the meaning of life and suffering, in the end God speaks again. He says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4). In that simple question the Lord establishes that He existed before the earth, and all the troubles of this earthly life, came into existence. It is only when God speaks from his eternal vantage point that all the confusing mess of Job’s life finally comes to make sense. That is why in uncertain times we need to seek to listen to God as He speaks in His Word.
Certainty #2 – Satan desires our harm, but he ultimately answers to God.
As we face the question of why suffering and evil exist, the answer includes the presence of a malevolent, personal force known as Satan or the Devil. We are not told of Satan’s origin in Job, only of his evil existence. In Job 1-2 we see that Satan’s desire is to inflict great suffering on Job, but he can only do so after having been given permission by God. Satan does not have the freedom to do just anything he wants to do. His power is limited by the providence of God. Satan is allowed to inflict only such pain upon Job as the Lord knows He will use for redemptive purposes. All other actions of the evil one are banned. God is able to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28), even the hideous devises of Satan.
Certainty #3 – Bad things happen to good people.
The book of Job opens by introducing Job as “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Of course Job was not sinlessly perfect, but he was a good man. In the course of the book Job comes to understand that whatever goodness he possesses doesn’t earn the grace and mercy of God. We should not marvel that bad things happen to us; we should marvel that God in His grace and goodness allows good things to happen to us.
But Job is still a good man … and bad things happen to him. We who follow Christ are not exempt from the effects of living in a fallen, sinful world. It all started when Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden of Eden, but we live in solidarity with our fallen ancestors as we are sinful as well. The existence of sickness, natural disasters, violence and death all reminds us that we live in a world that is awaiting redemption, just as we are.
Certainty #4 – God always brings good out of the bad that happens to His people.
This may be beyond belief, particularly in light of the tragic losses that Job endured. Throughout the book Job wrestles with himself, with his friends (and their attempts to comfort him) and with God. He pours out the deepest doubts and questions he has about God. But God isn’t shaken by our lack of faith. When we are faithless, He remains faithful. Slowly Job’s faith begins to emerge in places like Job 19:25-26 where he says: “I know my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” Job gradually begins to understand how God brings about good from such terrible circumstances. “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). There you have one of the great things God does when bad things happen to His people … He purifies the gold of our faith, which is the most valuable thing we have (I Peter 1:6-7).
In the end, and on the earth, God eventually restores all of Job’s fortunes. The Lord blessed him like never before in his life. We are not always guaranteed that, but in this instance God was so gracious to let Job again see His goodness in this world.
Without question the greatest good that Job gained out of this entire ordeal was a grander vision of the glory of God. In Job 38-41 the Lord takes center stage and begins to speak. When He does, Job and his friends have to sit in awestruck silence as God takes them into the inner workings of his power and providence. God reveals His glorious power in creation. The Creator creates and controls the created. Nothing in the universe happens by accident; ultimately everything will turn out for the glory of God and the good of His people.
So when bad things happen to you – when everything is shaken in your life –cling to the certainties of God’s Word. In the end you will see the faithfulness to God.