Providence and Evil

“The church has not been spending its energy to go deep with the unfathomable God of the Bible. Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil. The popular God of fun church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand, The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like land mines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty”.  John Piper: The Sovereignty of God in Suffering

Piper’s comment was addressing the church’s shallow and weak response to the terrible events of 9/11. The church of today simply does not think or sink deep enough into the truth of God’s Word to display a God great enough to rule even over the calamities like 9/11. In our entertainment, fun-oriented church, we simply have not taken the time or the discipline to mine the truth hidden deep within the Scriptures. Consequently, our God is too small. He simply is not the God “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” [Eph 1:11-12]

9/11 was a shock to America. It was not just the magnitude of the tragedy, but it was where it happened. It happened in our homeland! We have always been safe from foreign attacks. It took down two proud symbols of our success and left them in a heap of ruins. It killed 3000 of some of our most gifted and prominent Americans. It was indiscriminate in its destruction. It took professionals and blue collar workers; young and old, rich and poor, believers and non-believers.

It did not take long for us to determine who was responsible and how they did it. But we struggled to know why it happened. It was here that the Christians offered their answers. For some it was simple: “It was an act of God’s judgment.” Others came up with less harsh answers like, “God didn’t cause it. It was done by evil men for evil purposes.” But important questions still persist. If God knew about it, why didn’t he stop it? Or, how can he be good and great and still permit such a tragedy to destroy so many lives in a premeditated act of raw evil?

Clichés and shallow answers won’t do. For those who believe in an all powerful God, “whatever” won’t work either. It think it is doubtful whether we will come up with a clear reason for this horrific evil, but if the Bible is God’s Word, and if it deals with all of life, both good and evil, it must have something to say to us. And, this is not just a scholastic study, for all of us in our lifetime will likely have a 9/11 event invade our world that shakes our faith and hope to the core. So, we need to know, does the Bible give us rock solid truth that will enable us to survive such devastating events and give us a peace in the midst of such evil storms?

That is why we should thank God for a book like Job! Job lets us see behind the scenes. It enables us to see things that even Job was not privy to. It is important because it helps us to go backstage of our own story and see the Author of our life, planning, directing and controlling, every act of our drama. Even though we cannot understand the exact reasons we suffer, the Scripture reveals that God is there, fully in charge, exhaustively and meticulously working through the details of our lives to bring us joy and him glory.

The opening lines describe Job as a wealthy man, blessed in every area of his life. He is also a person of integrity and uprightness for he has “feared God and shunned evil.” [3] The evil that is to befall him is not the result of the sinfulness in his heart, just the opposite. As is often the case in God’s history, people like Daniel, Paul, Wycliffe, Luther, Wilberforce, Lincoln and Jesus Christ, suffer, not because they have done wrong, but precisely because they have done right.

We see this in the first scene where all of the angels and Satan gathering before the Lord to report on their activities. [That is important! God is sovereign over good and evil forces. They must report to Him] The Lord specifically asks Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan replies, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” [1:7] Implied here. is the idea that Satan, our adversary, has been roaming the earth, “seeking whom he may devour.” [1 Peter 5:8]

Then, the Lord says to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” [1:8] God seems to be saying, “In all of your roaming and pouncing on the righteous, have you overlooked my servant Job?” If I were Job and was able to listen to this exchange, I would be getting a little uncomfortable now. It sounds like God is drawing a big red bull’s eye on Job’s heart and saying, “Take your best shot.”

The plot thickens when Satan retorts: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.” [9-10] In other words, Satan suggests that the only reason Job remains righteous is because of the health and wealth God has given him Then he adds this challenge: “But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” [Job 1:9-11]

Now probe a little deeper with me here. What is the issue at stake here? Why has God singled out Job? And, why has Satan challenged Job’s motives? Isn’t the underlying issue the glory of God? Isn’t Satan suggesting that it is not the love of God, nor the beauty of God, nor glory of God that keeps Job faithful? He simply loves the gifts of God? And, is not that the central issue of our lives? Why do we follow God? What motivates us? Is it the gifts or the Giver that we love and serve? Do we trust God because we are safe, comfortable and prosperous? Do we trust him simply because he is predictable and meets our expectations? Is our faith in him shaken when evil strikes? That is the kind of questions Job asks of us.

The first scene ends with these words: “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’” [Job 1:12] God has given his permission to Satan to test Job with pain and suffering, but he is still limited in what he can do and under God’s control. The battle is on.

For all of us who suffer from evil and don’t know why, this is crucial for us to know. God is sovereign over all things. He reigns over every power, good and bad. All things serve Him, all things! He is the One who “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. [Eph 1:11] He is the one who works “all things,” “for the good of those who love him.” [Rom 8:28]. His sovereignty is exhaustive and meticulous.

Even Satan’s worst actions fall under God’s control. He is not free to do whatever he wants. That is why Luther called him “God’s devil”. The devil can do only what God permits and God only permits that which will ultimately result in good. That is what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers: “You intended it to harm me, but God meant it for good.” [Genesis 50:20]. That is what Peter meant when he declared to the Jerusalem crowds: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” It was God’s “set purpose” to have his Son crucified by wicked men. But it did not end there. Peter adds: “But God raised him from the dead.” [Acts 2:23-24]

I pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to understand what Job and Joseph and Peter are telling us? God is in control even when the greatest tragedy and the vilest of winds blow against our house. You may question that statement and even call it unrealistic and wrong, but that is what the Bible says. We still may not know the “why” but we can know the “Who.” Deuteronomy 29:29 declares, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

God may do things in our lives that are similar to what he allowed in Job’s life. It may seem like all hell has broken out and God has deserted us. We may think that what has happened is beyond the redeeming power and love of God. Don’t let those thoughts rule in your life. Go to your knees. Open the Bible. Dig into the depths of God’s Word and “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” [2 Cor 10:5] The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will turn Satan’s worst into God’s best in your situation. If you really know the God of the Bible you can say in the midst of the most fiery of trials, “Though God slay me yet will I hope in him.” [Job 13:15]

Reporters once asked Albert Einstein’s wife if she understood her husband’s theory of relativity. She answered, “No, but I know Albert and he can be trusted.” We may not know why God is allowing painful things to happen to us, but, if we get our information from the Bible, and build our lives upon God’s promises, we will always find that he can be trusted. The devil is too evil and life is too hard to build your life on light and shallow thinking. Study! Think! Pray! Trust! Obey! Hope! Rejoice!