“If you’re suffering, you must have done something bad. God must be punishing you.” That must be one of the oldest lies in history. Here’s another. “God is using these hard times to teach you humility.” These lies can be traced back to one of the oldest and most misunderstood stories in the Bible – the story of Job. As I’m sure you know, Job was a man who lost everything. The Book of Job is not mainly about his loss, but how he tried to process his loss with the help of three religious friends.
When I wrote my Job post a year and a half ago I had no idea that so many Christians would get upset by me telling them that God does not take away his good gifts. (To be honest, I wasn’t the first to say that. I stole that revelation from Romans 11:29: “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” So if it makes you angry, take it up with the other Paul.) If you missed that post, here’s the short version; God does not give and take away. The only thing He’ll take off you is your sin, shame, and sickness.
I also had no idea that Tom Tompkins was writing a little gem entitled Understanding the Book of Job. In his book, Tompkins places the blame for Job’s woes squarely at the feet of the Devil:
Much of what Job’s friends told him exactly what we hear to today… While Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did not condemn God, they did accuse and condemn Job. They were wrong to do so as it was not God or Job’s fault that the terrible events had taken place. Let’s not forget that none of these men had a revelation of the Devil. If the name “Satan” had been mentioned to any of them, they probably would have responded with “Who?” (pp.86,95)
“How convenient to blame the Devil,” you may say. “Surely God could have stopped Satan. Surely God set Job up by boasting about him.” Actually neither is true. Read the Job account in a literal translation such as Young’s and you will see that Satan came gunning for him:
And Jehovah saith unto the Adversary, “Hast thou set thy heart against My servant Job because there is none like him in the land, a man perfect and upright, fearing God, and turning aside from evil?” (Job 1:8, YLT)
Satan had set his heart against Job. “So why didn’t God stop the Devil?” Good question. We might also ask, “Why doesn’t God stop earthquakes or famines or wars?” The answer is, not everything that happens is God’s responsibility. He left the planet in Adam’s control and Adam handed it to the Devil. Satan went for Job because he could. When God said, “All that he has is in thy power” (Job 1:12, see also 2:6), He wasn’t handing Job over to Satan – God doesn’t do deals with the Devil! – He was simply stating a fact. The whole unredeemed “world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Joh 5:19).
You have it better than Job
Job wasn’t saved. He wasn’t filled with the Holy Spirit. He had some understanding of God but he was also a fearful and superstitious man filled with self pity and not a little self-righteousness (see Job 32:1).
Don’t ever compare yourself to Job! Jesus didn’t die on the cross to give you Job’s life but His life. It is Christ who lives in you, not Job. As Tompkins explains in his book, God does not inflict death and sickness on us to teach us stuff. God is more than capable of disciplining (i.e., training) us through His Word (2 Tim 3:16).
One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, reasoned that Job was being afflicted on account of his sins. This same line is often heard today. When things go wrong we pray, “Lord search me and see if there be any wicked way in me.” When there are problems within the church, we hunt for “sin in the camp.” Do you realize how absurd this is? If God really judged us according to our sins, who could stand? If God was in the business of punishing sin in the camp, there wouldn’t be any camp!
Only a man ignorant of Jesus and His work on the cross would say that God punishes us for our sin. Eliphaz was such a man. God said of him, “You have not spoken concerning Me rightly” (Job 42:8). Anyone who says your hardships are God’s punishments is, like Eliphaz, not speaking of God rightly.
Later, Eliphaz suggested that Job would receive the blessings of God if he was worthy of them. Indeed, Job began to think exactly this way. “Look at all I’ve done.” This is equally absurd. God is not beholden to any of us. God blesses us in accordance with the riches of His grace, not the merits of our performance.
Why is Job’s story in the Bible? It is not there so we can look to him as a role model (we have Jesus!) but so that we might learn from his example. Those who don’t learn by example tend to learn by experience and experience is a harsh teacher. For those of you who would rather not learn the hard way, here’s the lesson: It is always Satan’s intention to harm us; it is always God’s intention to bless us. When you confuse the latter with the former, your reality will be defined by a lie making it virtually impossible to receive all that God has for you.
If you relate to God on the basis of obligation and performance, then you will falsely interpret life’s hardships and spiritual attacks as works of God. Instead of submitting in faith to the unconditional love of the Father and resisting the devil, your unbelief will lead you to submit to the devil and resist the One who loves you. It’s a recipe for disaster that is played out a thousand times every day by those who relate to God as Job did – with superstition and fear.
God does not desire your sacrifices
For as long as Job lived in fearful religion, trusting in the sacrifices of his own hands, he was setting himself up for disaster. “Those who cling to idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” But when he finally shut up and repented of his stupid theology, he opened the door to the blessings of God. The lesson we take from Job is worth repeating: the Devil is bad but our Father is good and He loves us and desires to bless us. This book will help you see that.
– Does God give and take away?
– The Christchurch Earthquake: 4 questions Christians can answer
– see all E2R’s book reviews here