Today we have an incredibly thoughtful and detailed question from a concerned dad. It’s anonymous. Here’s the question.
“Pastor John, my 14-year-old daughter read through the book of Job for the first time this year, and she is really struggling with how God is portrayed in that book. She has heard all of her life that God is loving and just, and cannot understand why God would allow Job and his children, wife, and servants to suffer such devastation. She’s deeply disturbed by the fact that God pointed Job out to Satan intentionally, thus drawing his attention to this righteous man, allowing Satan to take away nearly everything Job had. And for what purpose? Merely to prove a point to Satan and the host of heaven that Job’s reverence for God was unshakable.
“How would you explain this to a girl who understands the gospel intellectually, but who may not have had it applied to her heart? To her it seems that God was arbitrary and almost cruel to allow Job and everyone around him to suffer to ‘prove a point,’ or to perfect a man who was already more righteous than most of us. She wonders about the collateral damage to Job’s wife — including her faith, who suffered the loss of everything Job did, with the exception of her personal health. It does not bring her much comfort to think that following God could result in such devastation.
“I’ve talked with her about the fact that death and suffering is part of our human existence since the fall, and is a direct and indirect result of sin. We’ve talked about the fact that it was Satan’s cruelty that was the actual instrument of suffering, although within the sovereign will of God. And that this life and its suffering here on this earth is nothing compared to glory in eternity. We’ve also talked about how God himself has suffered on our behalf and bore our sins on the cross, and that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, although our sins grieve him. Pastor John, what else would you say?”
Well, I certainly want to commend this dad for the kinds of things he has patiently shown his daughter. That’s an amazing list of insights that he has shared with her. If he hadn’t asked me, “What else would you say?” I would have said what he said. Those are all solid biblical truths that he highlighted there at the end of his question. So what else — that’s what he’s asking — what else would I say? And keep in mind that if I knew her, I would try to take into account how to say them. But I don’t, and so I’ll do the best I can.
1. Recognize God’s superior value.
First, I would try to help her see what only a divine miracle can make her see — namely, that the value of God and his glory is infinitely greater than the value of all human beings who have or ever will exist. Until a person believes this and feels this — the superior value of God himself — much of the Bible will make no sense, including Job.
I’m thinking, for example, when I talk about this principle of the ultimate value of God, of words like Isaiah 40:15, 17. God says,
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales; . . .
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
Now stressing this infinite difference between the worth of God and the worth of all other reality is not contrary to the love of God. It is what makes the love of God amazing. If you try to enhance the love of God by reducing the distance between his value and ours, you wind up replacing reality with imagination and destroying grace.
2. Begin with God’s priorities.
Second, this means that when we make judgments in this world about good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, just and unjust, we should never — this is what I would try to help her see — we should never start with our own sense of the good and right and beautiful and just, and then use them to judge the acts of God. Rather, we should start with the acts of God revealed in the Bible, and think our way out from there to what is truly good and right and beautiful and just.
I remember during the years 1979 and 1980, I wrestled for months with the logic of Romans 9:14–15, which goes like this:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
And I just sat staring at that for months, saying, “How does that work? How does that logic work?” I wrestled month after month with biblical logic, saying, “I’ve got to get my head fixed. I’m not going to fix this text; this text is God’s word. My head is the problem, not this text.” And the second book I ever wrote, called The Justification Of God, was my answer to that one question — two hundred pages to answer that question. And it was driven home to me, “You will never grasp the truth of God, you will never understand the Bible, John Piper, if you start with yourself and judge God, instead of starting with God and judging yourself.”
3. Realize what we really deserve.
Third, hand in hand with this biblical, God-centered approach to reality goes the heartfelt conviction that human sinfulness — my sinfulness in particular — makes us all liable to God’s just judgment, or as Paul says, makes us all “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). In other words, every breath that every human takes is undeserved. It is another moment, another gift, of grace, and no suffering that any human receives from God in this life is more than what we deserve —ever.
“Until we feel the depth and horror of sin, much of the Bible will simply make no sense to us at all.”
Therefore, no injustice from God is ever done to any human. On the earth, everyone is treated by God better than we deserve — everyone. On the horizontal plane, in relations between humans, there are horrific injustices, which God hates because God hates sin. But we have not yet fathomed the greatness of our offense against God if we think that any suffering from his hand is undeserved.
This is why God was perfectly right and just to drown every single human being on the planet, old and young, except for eight people, in the flood of Genesis 6. He did no one any wrong; he was perfectly just in that judgment. Until we feel the depth and horror of sin like this, much of the Bible will simply make no sense to us at all.
4. Trust your benevolent Father.
Fourth, Job is in the Bible, like all other descriptions of suffering of the righteous, to help us be ready for our own suffering with confidence that it is not ultimately owing to caprice or to nature or to sinful man or to Satan, but it is in the hands of our all-wise, all-powerful, all-good Father.
This dad says of his daughter, “It does not bring her much comfort to think that following God could result in such devastation.” And my response to that sentence is this: God doesn’t expect us to be comforted by the suffering that following him will bring. He expects us to be comforted that all the suffering he appoints for us will be for our ultimate good, for the advancement of his wise purposes, and that he will keep us for himself through them all.
But it sounds like this young lady has not made peace with the promise that if Jesus suffered, his followers are going to suffer. That’s a promise. I’ve been struck with this again recently as I’m working my way through 2 Thessalonians for Look at the Book. Paul is speaking to new Christians — baby believers, several weeks old as Christians — in 2 Thessalonians 1:5, and he says this: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.” Paul had said to these brand-new Christians in 1 Thessalonians 3:3 not to “be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.” And now it has happened, and he calls it “the righteous judgment of God” to fit us for heaven.
“All the suffering God appoints for us will be for our ultimate good.”
Oh, how pastors and youth leaders need to teach the biblical doctrine of the necessity of Christian suffering in obedience to Jesus. They need to say to young people that Christ is not calling them to an easy life but to a life of serious joy, not silly joy, and that most of the things young people live for will vanish like mist in the face of real life — especially life in the service of a crucified Messiah.
5. Pray to see as God does.
So the last thing I would ask of our young friend is that she would pray with me, and with her father, the prayer that we all need to pray every day — namely, that the Lord would enlighten the eyes of our hearts to see God and to see the world and the way God does things in the world, in order that we might make wise judgments the way he does.