Job is the story of a righteous man whom God allows to be attacked and devastated by Satan. Satan takes away all of his material possessions, kills all of his children and gives him a painful skin disease. His friends who come to “comfort” him end up arguing that he must have done something wrong to warrant such disaster. But Job resists this way of thinking. He knows he hasn’t done anything to compromise his righteousness—nothing to deserve this fate. The bulk of the book of Job is the dialogue between he and his friends. In the end, God shows up, interrupts their moralizing, and asks Job a litany of questions. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up to the beginning—to the most oft-quoted verse from the book. After the disasters strike, Job’s wife tempts him to curse God and die, suggesting that all of his religious practice and integrity have amounted to nothing. Job replies,
Job 2:10 “‘Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (NIV)
Before Job (the events of the book) happened to Job, Job didn’t know Satan even existed. He didn’t know there was a cosmic force of evil set against him. It’s easy to miss this because as the readers we see Satan’s involvement from the opening chapter. Job, however, did not have this omniscient point of view at this point in the story. He couldn't see behind the curtain, so to speak, that his torment was actually coming from Satan and not God. Therefore, his response, "shall we receive good from the Lord and not evil," reveals not an unshaken confidence in the sovereignty of God but an ignorant assumption that God was the only real player in the spirit realm. The revelation that the book of Job opens up to us is this: Satan exists. It is not trying to tell us that God sometimes wants to give us good and sometimes evil. Wait a sec! but what about what Job just said about accepting both good and trouble? Again, we must realize that we, the readers, are let in on what’s really going on, while Job—the main character—is in the dark.
Understanding that Job is unaware of why, how or from whom these disasters came, we can assume that Job’s famous quote is spoken in ignorance. The second half of the verse supports this assumption: “…in all this, he didn't sin with his mouth.” In other words, Job spoke innocently as a child without complete understanding of the dynamics involved. The rest of the book of Job makes that clear. But let’s start at the beginning. What, exactly, are we let in on backstage?
In chapter one, like flies on a very curious wall, we are thrown into an interesting conversation between God and Satan. God, full of a father’s pride over his son Job, brings him to the attention of Satan as if to show him off. Then, Satan makes an accusation that insinuates the only reason Job (or anyone) would worship God is because of God’s blessings, his gifts and his protection. With this accusation hanging in the air, God reluctantly gives permission to Satan to have his way with Job under certain restrictions. What? Excuse me? What’s going on here? It appears that God is willing to appear to betray Job. Why?
This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: someone had to write this story down. Was it Job? Maybe. Or one of his friends? Possibly. Whoever it was, by the end of the book, had gotten the full picture. At some point, whether God literally told the writer word for word what happened pre-Job’s-disasters, or there was an ‘Aha’ moment of understanding, the person writing this story knew what was going on and it was significant enough that they wanted to remember this spiritual lesson for posterity’s sake.
But before we move on, a note should be made on the nature of spiritual warfare. There is much confusion on the dynamics between dark spiritual forces and God and his angel armies. A competition between God and the devil would be no competition at all. It isn't an equally-sided dualistic world. God and Satan aren't fighting each other (as if that would be a fair match). They are, however, both trying to influence people: one by wooing (love letters, promises and revealing truth); the other by deception (lying, blinding and concealing truth). The cosmic battle isn't a war with the weapons of this world. It is more like a wager provided each side can only interfere through words and cooperation with people. The terms of this wager are revealed through the book of Job. God wants to show that he is worthy of love, worship and service implicitly—for no other reason than that He is God and he is good. This is God’s answer to Satan’s complaint towards him and his accusation of unfairness. God intends to show that he can still win.
But isn’t Job chapter 1 proof that Satan must ask God for permission before he does anything? Absolutely not. God is not a president signing into legislation every event and circumstance of our lives. Not everything crosses his desk. Just as everything that happens in America doesn’t cross the desk of our president. This is vitally important to see: It is God that brings Job to Satan's attention. It is not, as popular teaching sometimes portrays, Satan asking God for permission.
Let’s go back to the scene: Satan accuses God’s relationship with Job as being one-sided, utilitarian, false, and flimsy. He says to God, "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?" (We are led to believe that Satan has tried to attack or harm Job’s family before, but couldn’t because of this hedge of protection.) Surprisingly, at risk of appearing to be a divine betrayal, God allows Satan in through the back door. God puts boundaries on what Satan was not allowed to do. He did not prescribe or micromanage what Satan would do nor approve what Satan had in mind to do. Satan’s methods are a result of his fallen, wicked imagination; they are not marching orders from God. Can God anticipate Satan’s schemes? Of course, he can. So can we (2 Cor. 2:11). But in this story, allowing Satan to do his stealing, killing and destroying was setting Satan up for a fall, not Job. God sees the evil the enemy does. He doesn’t sit back unmoved by human pain. He is intimately aware. He doesn't just see our pain and sympathize; He empathizes with our weaknesses, our physical pain and even our death. That, I believe, is the whole lesson of Job: he and his friends can't make sense of it all because the only paradigm they are aware of is: There is a karmic balance and all things come from God…therefore, Job must have deserved it.
Yet throughout the story, Job defends his innocence. They respond: “But none of this would have happened if you hadn’t sinned." When God comes on the scene, he implies through questioning that there are paradigms and realities that Job is totally unaware of. By asking all of the rhetorical questions, God isn't trying to prove that he is the cause of all things. Job and his friends were already operating from that premise. He is asking, "Do you know how it all works? Do you know the mechanics behind all these things you see?" The unspoken but obvious answer is, No.
And then God spends half of his monologue describing to Job the “behemoth” and the “leviathan.” In fact, all of chapter 41—the last of God’s recorded words to Job—is devoted to describing leviathan. The descriptions of behemoth fit a kind of large dinosaur, and leviathan sounds very much like a medieval dragon. But some scholars believe that the leviathan God is describing is the devil himself—that God pulls back the curtain for Job to give him a greater perspective into the spirit realm. Effectively, God tells Job, “You see Job, there are many things about the natural realm that you don’t understand. There are even greater things that you have no clue about that are behind the circumstances of your life.” God rebuffs his friends who spoke ignorantly, exonerates himself before Job, describes Satan and then ends his speech abruptly. It is interesting to note that he never corrects Job for believing in his own righteousness.
To put it simply: The devil wants bad things to happen; God wants good things to happen. We must be convinced that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of heavenly lights. We must be convinced that occasions of evil or personal harm never come from him. While we can say, "the Lord will turn even this into good for me," (Rom. 8:31), we are not allowed to say, "the Lord meant it for good,” and imply that he caused the evil. So, shall we accept good from God and not trouble? is the wrong question. Trouble doesn’t come from God. Only good comes from God, for
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” -James 1:17