When I was a kid, my pastors and school teachers had a very hard time teaching me the story of Job. To the non-Christian, Job is one of the oldest books of the Bible, so it is understandable that it sounds more mythological than most of the other books — kind of like old Greek myths with Gods making wagers with each other and descending upon the sphere of men to play their games.
But to an evangelical, who believes every word of the Bible is true, Job poses a rather difficult problem. In the book, God is seen making a wager with Satan. The result of that wager is that all of Job’s children are crushed to death, his property and wealth is seized by raiders, his physical health deteriorates, and his own wife tells him to curse God and die. All for a game between God and Satan.
“Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
‘A man is conceived.’” – Job 3:3
Now, if you had the rather holy-roller upbringing that I did, you probably believe a version of Christianity known as Arminianism by theology geeks. You may be a Pentecostal, Methodist, or Baptist, but they all believe a form of Arminianism. Arminianism, to briefly sum it up, states that man has the free will to choose his own eternal destiny, and that man, regardless of God’s wishes, can choose heaven and Jesus, or hell and sin.
God, according to the Arminian, wishes that we all got saved, followed Jesus, and went to heaven. But, sadly, God isn’t going to get his way, because of a pesky thing called human free will. Because so many humans will choose death, of their own free will, only a handful of Christians who walk the “straight and narrow” will ever reach paradise, which apparently places God in the position of a grieving parent who has lost his prodigal sons forever.
Since humans have free will (according to the Arminian), it would be unfair for God to cause tragedies, like the kind found in Job. For example, if God killed the mother of a young boy, one could say that the boy’s free will has been violated, and his choices from then on were far from free. Because his mom was killed, he was placed in the foster care of a drug addict who got him addicted to cocaine. He therefore never graduated high school and now makes his living begging on the sidewalks and digging used needles out of a garbage can. Had his mother lived, he would have had a vastly different life — thus, in order to respect free will, God doesn’t intervene.
In order to explain the death, pain, and misery we find in the world, Arminians give God a passive role in the world. God doesn’t cause these terrors. Instead, he protects us from them. You see, because we sinned and rebelled against God, death and eternal damnation are what we all deserve and it is simply by grace that we see any joy in this life at all. When bad things happen, God isn’t actively causing them. He is simply removing his protection, usually due to our own sin.
This brings us back to the pesky book of Job. In the book, God specifically allows Satan to inflict the worst torments a man can experience upon Job, in order to see if Job was really as faithful as he appeared to be. God’s only restriction was that Satan could not kill Job. So, Satan does just that, and takes everything from Job — his family, his health, his wealth, his reputation, and his friends.
“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.” – Job 1:12
You can see where evangelicals, like me, who believe every word of the Bible is true, have a tough time with Job. If God allows Job to be tormented and robbed, it must be because Job sinned. However, God describes Job as a good and righteous man. Indeed, this whole game came about because God was bragging to Satan about how holy Job was. “Look at my servant Job”, God says. As a reward for Job’s righteousness, God allows him to be smitten by Satan.
“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘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?’” – Job 1:8
I have heard every sort of explanation out there for Job. There is the classic, “Well, that’s just the Old Testament”; the go-to crutch when an evangelical doesn’t understand an Old Testament verse. I’ve also been told by ordained pastors that Job’s sin was that he was a bad parent. The argument goes that Job’s children were not simply feasting in the stone house that Satan leveled to crush them. They were in fact getting drunk. I even had one youth pastor tell me that the siblings were engaging in incest. Job’s sin, then, was that he was a bad father who raised rotten kids, and this sin forced God to remove his protection, allowing Satan in to wreak havoc.
Of course, none of this is in the Bible. Every last bit of it is a guess — an addition to the Bible, which is strictly forbidden in Revelations. The simple truth is that the Bible recounts no sin on the part of neither Job nor his children, nor anyone else in his family. Instead, we see an omnipotent God who owns Job, and can do with Job as he sees fit in order to further his own Glory. And so he does.
“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” — God, Job 41:11
Which is why we’re talking about it to this day. It worked. By throwing all of Satan’s tricks at Job and causing him more grief than most humans will ever bear, God proved that men can survive anything the devil throws at us, and still love Jesus. By doing what he did to Job, he proved to the universe that man loves God, not because God is good to man, but because God is God, and man was designed to love and serve God. Through Job, God’s own glory was magnified, and that was the point of it all.
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “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.
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” – Job 1:20 – 22
By killing Job’s family, God didn’t passively remove his hand of protection from Job. He actively gave Satan orders to destroy Job and everything he ever loved, sparing only his life. In the book of Job, we don’t see God as the blind and deaf ancient wise man depicted by popular Christian myth, who loves the whole wide world and wants to save every last one of us because he’s just the nicest guy. Instead we see a divine and omnipotent ruler who is master of all, including Satan, and is praised by even the most afflicted on earth. We see a vibrant God in the might of his own glory, defeating Satan and getting the last laugh.
“Then came to [Job] all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” – Job 42:11
Who brought the evil? God. God is all powerful. God is an active God. He doesn’t just allow things to happen. He makes things happen. Tragedies don’t occur because people were sinning and God removed his protection. Tragedies occur because God wills them to occur, so that he, in the end, will be glorified. This is the clear message from the Bible in every last book of it.
Take Saul, the Christian slayer. The man voted to kill Christians, and persecuted them at every opportunity. Then one day, God appears as a beam of light in the sky and knocks Saul on the ground, blinding him, and changing his name to Paul. “Rise and go into the city,” says God “You will be told what to do.” Where is Paul’s choice in that? “You are a chosen instrument of mine,” says God. Again, where is Paul’s choice? As Paul clearly writes in Romans, we are the clay, and God is the potter. He can make us as he sees fit, and then use us for his own purposes. Paul did not become a Christian because he wanted to. He became a Christian because God made him.