Holding on to Your Faith in the Midst of Suffering

The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina

If you have a Bible, please take it and open it to the book of Job, which is near Psalms in the middle. Job, Psalms. Before we look at chapters one and two tonight, I want to lead in with five observations, five preliminary observations to set the stage for what we are doing.

1. Job Is Inspired

Paul warrants Job by calling it Scripture by calling it Scripture, and then describing Scripture as inspired in 1 Corinthians 3:19.

Job is quoted once clearly, probably more times, in the New Testament, namely in 1 Corinthians 3:19: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” And what is peculiar about this and very relevant is that it says for it is written. It is very important because it shows that Paul is quoting Job as Scripture. For it is written and then he quotes Job 5:9 or 5:12, 5:9 is quoted probably in Romans 11. But this one is for sure. Job 5:12 quoted in 1 Corinthians 3:19. We know what Paul believes about Scripture from 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable.”

So I just say that the apostle Paul quotes it as Scripture, and then he defines Scripture as that which is inspired by God. Therefore, we, have at least apostolic warrant for saying that what I say is from a book that is inspired by God. I believe the whole Bible is inspired by God, but if you need a particular reason for why our would say any particular book is, there is a reason. Paul warrants Job by calling it Scripture and then describing Scripture as inspired.

2. Job Is Built on the Foundation of Jesus

In Job 42, at the end when it is all said and done and Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have done all of their bad theologizing and have sinned against God’s servant Job, God tells them to go to Job and ask Job to pray for them that they might not have any bad consequences come. He doesn’t use the word forgiveness, but that is the essence of it, that they might be forgiven for their sin against Job. And he does that making a burnt offering for them.

“Ground your faith in God’s sovereign goodness so that when the waves break over you, you can handle them.”

Now I point this out because from the New Testament — in particular, Romans 3:25-26 — we are told that Christ Jesus is put forward by the Father as a demonstration of God’s righteousness and he did this because “he had passed over sins done beforehand in order that it might be seen that God is righteous,” that is, “both just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus”. It was a great theological problem that God had forgiven sins in the Old Testament.

Most Americans have exactly the opposite problem with God, namely, things go bad for them. Paul’s main problem with God is that things go well for sinners. This is a very big problem for God. How can a just God just say to sinners: I forgive you, no penalty, no hell, no jail time. Any human judge that acts that way, we unseat him and get a new judge that puts people in jail when they are supposed to go to jail. So this is a huge problem from the justice and God. And you know the answer. It is the cross.

And so I want to put Christ clearly, explicitly Jesus, underneath Job as the foundation of this book, because it is not about him explicitly. And I want to say explicitly at the beginning it is all built on Christ. But I am not going to talk about Jesus and the cross a lot, but I want you to remember everything good that comes your way through the book of Job was bought by Jesus Christ.

3. Job Is About Sovereign Mercy

This book is 42 chapters long and I have four hours.

Do you know, does anybody know how many sermons John Calvin preached on the book of Job? You got it, 159. It is almost there, 159 sermons. I get four. And as I was thinking about this afternoon, I thought: That is about right, because It might still be an overstatement that this brain is about one-fortieth of Calvin’s brain. I think it is ok that I get four and he gets 160, roughly. So just understand we can’t take every verse. We are going to try to go for gold. We are going to go for the root. We are going to go for the essence in the center.

We do have some help in that from the New Testament, James 5:11. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings that the Lord is full of compassion and merciful. So if you ever doubted what the point of the book of Job is, read James 5:11. It is all aiming towards 42, towards chapter 42 and the display of a God who is sovereignly merciful and compassionate in the lives of his suffering saints.

So we are going to try to talk about sovereignty and mercy and compassion and suffering and, thus, be faithful to the New Testament observation that this is what it is all about: purposeful sovereignty, patient faith in the enduring prophet, he is called, and the glory of God’s mercy.

4. Job’s Message Is Opposed Today

We are in a day — it is not new at all, but it is aggressive — where the teachings of this book as I understand them are militantly resisted and denied by evangelicals. And I will quote you several so that you will know I am not making this up or overstating the case. And I will tell you who they are because they might have their books downstairs and if they do, read them, critically just as you read mine critically.

First, a voice that is not contemporary, William Barkley. William Barkley wrote so many commentaries before he died here some years ago and most pastors of the generation just before me fed on those. Evangelical pastors fed on those liberal commentaries because they were so practically useful. Barkley was so practical that you could go to almost any pastor over 55 and find William Barkley and he would be using him. Now he was a liberal and his view of the atonement and his view of the Bible and his view of suffering were atrocious in my judgment and it is a shame that we are so undeserving that he would be staple in our preparations, I think. Let me read you what he said. He wrote A Spiritual Autobiography and I get this quote from that:

I believe that pain and suffering are never the will of God for his children. I cannot conceive that it is the will of God that anyone should be run over by a driver under the influence of drink or that a young mother should die of leukemia or that someone in the first flush of youth should face increasingly helplessness of arteriosclerosis.

Well, I am a pastor and I have been in a church now for 20 years, and if that were my message, I would quit in a minute, because I did bury a 38-year-old mother of four after breast cancer and she, on a video like these screens, spoke to us about some weeks before she died.

She had a very different theology to carry her through to the end and thank God for her cancer as she had her little bandana on, with no hair on her head in the hospital bed that was in her living room. She died there some weeks later with her children around her and people.

It was not an easy death. It was God Almighty and her confidence in his loving, purposefulness for these kids though that and not in spite of that, that kept her going. And right now I have a man in our church who is about 36 or so who has Parkinson’s disease and he comes to the prayer meetings in the morning. We are not talking 66 or 86 here, but 36. And he wrote a six-page story about it and he called it, “Park incense offered to God.” And he writes songs about it and he goes up on mountains to offer God his park incense.

There is a different theology at our church. You must weigh weather this theology that I will try to unfold for you from the book of Job is true or not, but it is not that. Open theism is the most contemporary challenge these days. It is called open theism and it is represented by people like Clarke Pinnock and John Sanders. Greg Boyd is the most popular writer, Letters from a Skeptic, God at War, God of the Possible.

And here is a quote from John Sanders’s book, The God Who Risks, published a year or two ago:

God does not have a specific, divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil. When a two month old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is a pointless evil. The holocaust is a pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is a pointless evil. The accident that caused my brother’s death was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences. I think that is wrong. Quote from Greg Boyd:

When an individual inflicts pain on another individual, I do not think we can go looking for the purpose of God in the event. I know Christians frequently speak about the purpose of God in the midst of tragedy caused by someone else, but this I regard to simply be a piously confused way of thinking.

That was from Letters from a Skeptic. This is from God at War:

Neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. The Bible does not assume that every particular evil has a particular godly purpose behind it.

So I point that out as the fourth observation by way of preliminary so that you know the issues we are dealing with here are not of remote theological significance. They are immediately theological and personal and practical and pastoral significance and they are opposed in many places.

5. Suffering Is Appointed for Every Christian

My fifth and last observation will catapult us now into these first two chapters. I come to you as a pastor and my goal pastorally is the same goal I have for my people. I would like to prepare you in your mind for the way of thinking about God and in your heart with a way of embracing God for your calamity because it is coming. It is going to come. Yours will come. It has come for some of you and you have made it and another one will come. Some of you are in it and others of you will have to wait some time for it.

If you come into the room feeling God has been so good to me. I have never had a day of sickness in my life and I have never been persecuted significantly, you will be. Especially if you want to be obedient, you will be. That is what Paul said. You desire to live a godly life, will be persecuted. And you will get sick. Those who have the Holy Spirit groan inwardly, Romans 8 says, awaiting our adoption and redemption of our bodies. We are all under the curse and we are all under the fall and we all groan and we will die. This outer nature is “wasting away,” Paul said (2 Corinthians 4:16). It wastes away in all kinds of horrible ways for all of us and you will have your calamity.

In the first five messages that I gave at Bethlehem, I tried to give some very practical, radicals as you would say, or roots of my theology so they would always know where I am coming from with regard to these kinds of things. And one of the things a pastor needs to put on the table immediately is a sermon called “Christ and Cancer.”

So I preached probably the fifth sermon I preached in my church was “Christ and Cancer,” so they would know what I say when I come to their hospital room right after they have been shaving and they suddenly feel something a little strange here and they go to get it checked out and their life is never the same. Maybe they have six weeks. Maybe they have six years. Maybe it is six months, and they wonder what I think about that. Is this the devil? Is this sin? Who sinned that this man was born blind? Neither he nor his parents sinned, but it was that God might get glory.

So there are answers and I will give you my answers in these next four hours together, but my goal is that pastorally I would, for those of you will agree and will have it, build into your mind just a little more firmly a vision of God — of heaven, of life, of hell, of suffering, of Christ, of the ways of providence that will establish you so deeply, so that when the wave breaks over you, you won’t lose your footing and get mad at God.

The Anger God Hates

So many people are mad at God and so many pastors are telling them it is okay. It is never okay to be mad at God. That is, it is ok to say you are mad at God if you are mad at God. In other words, don’t compound the first sin with hypocrisy. The psalmist didn’t and Jeremiah didn’t. Never right to be mad at God. It is right to say you are mad at God if you are mad at God. And then repent twice. Well, once. Twice if you don’t say it.

It is never right to be angry at God, as hard as that may be. And the only way not to get angry at God is to have your faith in his sovereign goodness so massively grounded that when the waves break over you, you already have categories in your mind and affections in your heart that can handle that. Put your hand upon your mouth and kiss the rod (see Psalm 2).

Setting The Scene

So let’s go now to Job 1. So if you have your Bible you want to come to Job and let this writer speak. You know, I am not going to talk about when it was written and who wrote it and where because nobody knows these things. I just bought a new commentary so I could get up to speed again on some introductory matters and see if anything new had been seen since I last worked with this five years ago when I brought it to my people. And, no, nothing has.

We still don’t know anything. Nobody knows who wrote Job. Nobody knows when it was written. Nobody knows where it was written. And there is probably a divine intentionality about that. It is universal. It is timeless. It is meant for you now. No particular time, no particular place, no particular kind of author. It is just there and we don’t quite know how it got there. We just know that the apostolic authority is on it. It coheres with the rest of the Bible and we embrace it as Scripture, as God’s Word and then we try to understand it.

Job 1:1

Job 1:1 introduces the man Job. He was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. In other words, if you are looking for a candidate for suffering, he is not a good one. That is the point here. He is blameless. He is upright. He is one who fears God. He turns away from evil. He is known for his reverence to God.

Job 1:2–3

Verses two and three describe the way God had blessed him. So you add a statement of his reverence to evidences of God’s favor in his life. He had seven sons you see there and three daughters, huge numbers of sheep and camels and oxen and servants. It says he was the — last phrase of verse three — he was the greatest of all of the men of the east, an indefinite location, but great. So a blameless man, a God fearing man, a reverent man. God had blessed him with animals and servants.

Job 1:4–5

Verses four and five describe a specific instance, now, I think, of Job’s fear of God. Let’s read it:

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” And thus Job did continually.

Dads, what a model. He had two concerns, two massive concerns that every father should have. One is the glory of God. They may have cursed God. Nobody curses God and gets away with it. Vindicate God and somehow repair the injury done to God. I must do something in order to lift up the name of God as what I believe it is, infinitely valuable and worthy. And second, he loved his kids. He didn’t want them to perish. He didn’t want them to come under the judgment of God. So here is a specific instance of this fear of God and his blamelessness and his uprightness, his vigilance for the name of God.

Calamity Comes

Job 1:3–13

All right. Now there is the man. Drop down to verse 3 and here comes the calamity. We are coming back to what we skipped in just a moment, but we will come back for a specific reason. Verse 13 the calamity comes. It was one of those feast days. All ten of his children were gathered in the same home of the oldest brother.

Job 1:14–15

Now the first calamity is this, verse 14 and 15. A messenger comes to Job and tells him that foreign Sabeans had attacked and stolen all of his oxen, asses and killed all the servants. That is blow number one.

Job 1:16

Verse 16 is blow number two. Messenger comes and says that the fire of God — this is probably lightning — the fire of God — notice God. We will talk about how it relates to Satan, but notice, the fire of God. He could be mistaken. Maybe he got it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t the fire of God, but we will check that out and see what Job thinks and whether the writer of the book agrees with Job, but right now the assessment is this is the fire of God that has fallen and destroyed all the sheep and the servants with them.

Job 1:17

Blow number three is in verse 17. Another messenger comes and says that the Chaldeans had raided the camel herd and taken them all and killed the servants.

Job 1:18–19

And now comes blow number four in verses 18 and 19 that all the children, all of them were crushed to death when a tornado or something like it caused their house to collapse. Two calamities are done by evil men, we see them there, Sabeans and Chaldeans in verse 15 and 17. And two calamities come by what insurance companies would call — at least they used to — acts of God or nature in this case, lightning and fire and a tornado, wind, in verses 16 and 19. And all of his prosperity and family except for his wife are gone in one afternoon, all of it.

He goes from being the greatest man of the east to being stricken. He has no herds. All the wealth of a man evidently in this culture was defined in terms of his servants and his cattle and sheep and his asses and his camels and they are gone and his children are gone. Imagine ten children and all your wealth. This is huge.

God’s Glory, Satan’s Scheme

Job 1:7

So the question is: What in the world is going on? And you can’t figure it out if you only have the world. What in the world is going on, there is no answer. Something we skipped over is going on and it isn’t in the world. What in the world is going on is not the only question to ask. It is: What in heaven is going on. What in heaven’s name is going on! Now let’s back up and see what is going on. Verses 6–10 describe a meeting between God and Satan. Verse seven. Satan says he spends all of his time going to and fro on the earth, moving around from the earth. 1 Peter 5:8 says Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour faith. God puts on display a trophy that he delights in very much.

Job 1:8

Let’s read Job 1:8: “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Now, this is very strange of God. Suppose you are a jeweler and you have a jewelry store and you come back late at night and you walk in there is a thief there and you say: Oh, by the way, have you seen the big diamond in the front window? That is exactly what is going on here. Let’s make sure we don’t miss how strange this is. He comes from roving around this lion, this hateful murderer, liar, deceiver from the beginning. And God in some inscrutable way admits him into some kind of conversation and he says:

Have you considered Job as a target? 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? Well, there is a nice diamond in the front window if you haven’t noticed.

Now God is not a fool and he is not a bumbler. He is not: “Oh, I didn’t know you are a thief. I am sorry. I didn’t know you were the devil. I didn’t know you were the one who kills people and hates people and deceives people.” God is not a fool. This is not a mistake. God is not bumbling here. He is setting Job up for terrible calamity. He is manifestly proud of Job. God exults in Job’s reverence in God. If you have ever wondered how those several texts in the New Testament like Romans two and, I think, 1 Thessalonians 1 where it talks about God’s praise coming our way. Every man’s commendation will be from the Lord.

“Satan’s aim is to destroy our joy in God and, thus, belittle God.”

How can that theologically be? Praise goes that way, not this way. And God is very pleased with Job and the reason is that Job’s faith and Job’s reverence is an echo of the glory of God which is the thing God loves most. So if you have a heart disposition of child-like trust and delight in the glory of God, it is such a magnificent mirror of the glory of the Lord that when he looks down and sees his face shining back to him in your faith he says: I like that. I affirm that. I like that about you. And that is what he saw in Job. He is very, very proud of this man.

Well, Satan is not impressed with this declaration. And he insinuates in verse nine — you see this — he insinuates that Job is no great specimen of reverence for God. And the way he insinuates it is by saying: Well, who wouldn’t if they have camels and asses and cows and sheep and servants and health and ten kids and the greatest man in the east. Get off it, God. You are not his treasure. Those are this treasure.

Job 1:11

Now that is a great assault on God’s glory, a great assault on God’s value in Job’s heart. And so verse 11 Satan says:

Put forth your hand now and touch all that he has and he will curse you to your face.

“Just take away what he is leaning on, knock the crutches of prosperity out of his life and he won’t fall on you in worship, he will curse you to your face.” Now God does not need to prove anything to anybody. God knows the heart of Job. But God loves to put his glory on display for the angels and for the devils and for the world by having his people show where their heart really is, namely in God rather than in things and health and things.

Think about Lazarus. John 11. The word comes, “My brother is sick. Come!” Jesus intentionally waits two more days. The word comes he is dead. He says: “Good, let’s go.” And they question him, “Why did you wait?” And he said: “Because of your faith.”

He would rather have him dead if it would produce more faith than keep him alive it would produce less faith. Now he is going to bring him back, but he wouldn’t have had to bring him back.

Sober Theology

In other word, Christ’s priorities about what he wants for you 400 folks in this room is so different from your priorities, probably, that if you don’t begin to get your mind saturated with his way of thinking, like commending as Job to this horrible marauder named Satan, then you won’t be able to make sense of the pain in your life. You will tend to get angrier and angrier because your priorities are if he loves me he will do — and then you put your list and it is not his list.

It is not the way he thinks because what he values is hearts that are so enamored with him that that shines more clearly when everything we were leaning on is gone. That is what he really values. That is scary theology because it seems to set us up to have to lose things in order to show our real metal. And that is true. You can do it voluntarily, all you rich folks. You can strip down to a wartime lifestyle and start spending yourself for others instead of padding yourself with more and more riches and more and more houses and more and more cars and more and more vacations and fatter and fatter retirement. You can do that so that God doesn’t have to do it as severely. And I invite you to, like Jesus.

We were riding to our little cabin up there, this little four-year-old who is not here anymore and we read the gospels to her over and over and over again every day and we said, "Maybe you will see a deer!” And she said, “Maybe I will see a fox in his hole.” I said, “Yes!” Because you know what she is quoting, don’t you? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Follow me.” (Matthew 8:20–22)

She says, “Foxes have holes.” And I hope she grows up wrestling like I am sure you do. Wrestle with whether to live in a hole — or a nest, or a certain kind of house, or how much money to give, and what to keep. it is not an easy question. Spare yourself some discipline and keep it simple.

God’s Value on Display

God doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. But God cares very much about public displays of his value.

Job 1:12

“Behold,” God said, “all that he has is in your power. Only upon himself do not put forth your hand.” And then come the calamities that we have already seen. So God gives Satan permission to unleash upon Job some terrible, terrible calamities. And God is in the process now, it seems, of demonstrating to Satan and to the heavenly host and to anybody who has eyes to see that God himself is paramount in the heart of Job, not his cattle, not his children.

That is your question tonight: Are your children more precious than God? Will you become a rebel against God if you get home and they are all dead? What will you say to God? We will now look at the triumph that Job got on the first test.

Mercenary Reverence

Job’s reverence, it turns out, is not mercenary. This is one of the reasons I don’t like the health, wealth and prosperity gospel. It tends to be mercenary. It tends to cause people not to lean more on God, but to lean more on the gifts of God, to always be thinking in terms of the blessings of God not as I commune with God, but as a having of what God gives and we become addicted to it and we want more and more of it.

We are always thanking God but it isn’t God we love. It is stuff. And we develop ways of justifying more and more stuff because God gives it. So we are thinking mainly in terms of gratitude, when we ought to be thinking mainly in terms of adorationaffection and delight and trust and the preciousness of his personal communion, which is what we will have the minute we die when we lose everything else. And if that isn’t more precious to us than what we lose, what have we got in our Christianity?

Job 1:20–21

So how does he do when hear hears of his loss? Let’s read verses 20 and 21:

Then Job arose. He rent his robe. He shaved his head. He fell on the ground and he worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb. Naked shall I return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

I just want to die and go to heaven when I read that. I am just so thrilled with that answer. When I see that in my church I feel a little teeny piece of success, a little teeny piece of pastoral success.

To me growing a big church is no big deal. Carnal people grow big churches. Adulterers grow big churches. But to see a saint lose a wife, lose a husband, lose two kids, weep their eyes out, tear their shirt, lie on the floor and not curse God and say with all the pain and no hypocrisy and no easy believe God anyhow. Praise God anyhow. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.

So I just want to produce Jobs in this room like that, like that. That is what I want right there. That is the goal of this book. Blessed be the name of the Lord in the face of ten dead children. The superior worth of God. Does it not shine?

“God’s worth shines in a powerful way to the world when in the midst of suffering we still don’t curse God, but bless him.”

I mean we could have worship services like mine, for example, they celebrated my twentieth anniversary and all my kids came home. I have got five kids and guys lined up there. Oh, I loved seeing my boys on the pew with their mom and little Talitha beside her, because they are scattered. One is in Ukraine and one is in Guatemala and one is in Chicago and two are at home and we got them all there. And it is just all Godward. Yes, amen. Thank you for twenty years. Thank you for the family. They all grew up here. They love you. They love the church, except for one, pray for one. He is right on the brink.

So the point is: yeah, that shows God. But do you know what would show God that much more? The funeral. If they all had been killed and Noel and I are standing there at the front with five coffins and I stand up with shaking voice and having to hold on to the pulpit and say: God is great. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. That would be bigger.

It is great to celebrate and we ought to celebrate the positive, glorious gifts of God. Don’t feel guilty about that. That is good. I don’t feel guilty at all about that twentieth-anniversary celebration. But the worth of God shines in a powerful way to the world when in the midst of suffering we still don’t curse God, but say: Blessed be the name of the Lord. He worshiped.

All right. That is test number one. Now on the heels of ... and you just can’t believe this, can you? And many of you know this. When it rains it pours, right? They come in batches. I don’t know why. This is a little illustration. You stub your toe. You reach down to caress your toe. You stand up and you hit your head on the cabinet door. Why back to back? Well, for the head bank on one day and toe stub on the other day. They come in batches. I mean little troubles come in batches. Big troubles come in batches.

Job 2:7–8

Job 2:7–8. You see what I am doing? I am skipping over the heavenly scene to the calamity here. It says Job was afflicted with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head and he took a potsherd — a little broken piece of pot — with which to scrape himself and he sat among the ashes.

Now let’s get a picture of this. These are not little measle type sores. These are horrid, boil like sores that open, run with puss. He scrapes them. He doesn’t know anything about hygiene, zero. As far as he knows mud helps. I mean, it helps bee stings. Why wouldn’t it help boils? So he scrapes himself with this dirty thing and worms begin to grow in it.

You say: How do you know there are worms in it? Because in Job 7:5 it describes it this way. There is dirt. There is worms. There is opening, seeping of these sores and they are from the top of his head in his hair, on his face, on his neck and chest, on down to the bottom of his feet. It is horrible. It is just horrible. If you saw it, you would probably want to throw up. It is just horrible. It is not in a romantic suffering. We will sometimes romanticize suffering. There is nothing romantic about suffering as a rule.

Job 2:1–3

So what in the world is going on? Why this second? So let’s go back now and figure out what is happening in heaven. Look at Job 2:1–6. God says in verse three:

Have you considered my servant Job that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God, turns away from evil? He still holds fast to his integrity, although you moved me against him.

That is a very interesting phrase. “You moved me against him.” So maybe Job wasn’t so far off when he said, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,” even though God had said to Satan, “he [Job] is in your power.”

See the circularity of this? He is in your power. Lighting is called it “the fire of God,” (Job 1:6) although Satan is to blame has acted.

Job says, “the Lord took away.” And now God says: “You [Satan] moved me against him.” Now, God is the one who gave him into Satan’s power! Heavy things going on here and we will get them clarified in a moment.

Have you considered my servant Job? He still holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him to destroy him without a cause.

Job 2:4–5

It wasn’t sin that brought this down on Job’s head. And, again, Satan challenges the authenticity of Job’s reverence. Here is what Satan says, verse four:

Skin for skin. All that a man has he will give for his life. You put your forth your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, — in other words, not just his kids and his cattle, his bone and his flesh — and he will curse you to your face.

So again it is the worth of God that is at stake. Is God more valuable or is health more valued? That is the issue in Job’s life.

Job 2:6–9

Here is what God says: “Behold, he is in your power. Only spare his life.” So “You can do with his body what you want.” And now what happens? How is it described? Satan, it says, afflicts him with these boils. And his wife caves, which is so understandable. Let’s not be too hard on this woman, because she has now seen all of her husband’s wealth evaporate and she has barely begun to grieve over ten crushed children and now her husband gets a disease that is so horrid she can’t touch him. And she simply loses it. And in verse nine she says: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.”

Job 2:10

Now I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt here and interpret him this way. He said to her: “You speak as one of the foolish women.” Meaning, you are not one of them, are you? You are not really one of them. This is not in character. You are speaking like a foolish woman. I don’t know if that is the nuance of this sentence or not, but given the situation, I am eager to help her out.

And I am hopeful that she will come back, though little is said. You are speaking like a foolish woman. Shall we receive Good at the hand of God and not receive evil? You kind of want to shake Job here and say, “No, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t talk like that. Satan did this. Don’t talk like that.”

Should we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil? Now I think in heaven at this moment just before those words were spoken as she said: “Curse God and die,” a great smile came across Satan’s face. And all of tens of thousands of angels watched to see if both of them would fall.

“Satan is a lion on a leash and God pulls it according to his sovereign will.”

But when they heard Job say: “Shall we not receive evil at the hand of God as well as good?” Twenty thousand arms, angelic arms went up. “Yes, Job! Yes! God is more valuable than your health. Thank you. Thank you for holding fast to your God and to your integrity!” And Satan’s countenance falls and that is the last we hear of him in this book. Never again is he on the scene in this book. He doesn’t get one more mention in the whole book.

Three Huge Truths for Sufferers

So there is the scene. Chapter 1:1 through 2:10. That is all that we are going to cover tonight. So we are going to step back now and draw out truths. We are going to generalize for a few minutes. We have seen the text, get the lay of the land here. Let’s draw out some truths and then some application.

1. Satan Belittles God By Destroying Our Joy

Satan’s aim is to destroy our joy in God and, thus, belittle God. Satan’s aim is to destroy our joy in God. You can use another word if you want. You can use trust in God or satisfaction in God or delight in God or rest in God. Satan is after our joyful faith in God and if he can ruin it, he will make God look worthless to the world. Every time somebody forsakes God for the world or gets mad at God when part of the world is taken away from them, they highlight the world as valuable. Every time somebody stays with God when the world is taken away and praises God when the world is taken away, they highlight the value and glory of God.

There are two ways that Satan assaults the glory of God in our lives: pleasure and pain. He uses pain to make us feel that God is powerless and hostile and he uses pleasure to make us feel that God is unnecessary. Got all the pleasures you want? You have got your car. You have got your house. You have got your 911. You have got your health insurance policy. Who needs God? And that is Satan’s success, soil number three in the parable of the soils. The pleasures of this world choke out the Word of God.

So whether it is pain in your life today or pleasure in your life today, Satan is after you and God is after you. God’s purpose for pleasure is gratitude to him. God’s purpose for pain is trusting him in spite of it so that he shines as more valuable than what you have lost. God has got designs in pleasure. Satan has got designs in pleasure. God has got designs in pain. Satan has got designs in pain and they are the opposite designs in both cases.

Life is war whether things are going well and life is war when things are going bad. In fact, in America, I would say life is war more when things are going well. America is dying because things are going well, not because things are going badly. Sudan, differently. Life is war there because kids are being sold into slavery and Christians are having parts of their bodies cut off and being branded — suffering horrendous things.

But which is the harder war? Well, Sudan’s is harder in terms of physical pain. This is harder, probably, in terms of spiritual vitality and in terms of keeping our kids from being destroyed. Far more kids are destroyed by pleasures than pain, far more. I would rather have a dead kid any day that believes than a live kid who doesn’t. And I have said that to all of them. You go to the mission field and die at 36, I will have 10,000 times more joy than if you lived here till 86 and you died an unbeliever. Give me a dead kid on the mission field any day than a life, carnal unbeliever at home who is wealthy and prosperous with grandchildren until they are 90. So that is the first point. Satan’s aim is to destroy our joy in God and, thus, belittle God.

2. God Works For Our Joy in Him

God aims to magnify his worth in the lives of his people who treasure him above everything else. This is the reason you were created. This is the reason the universe was created. God created the universe to display his glory in the lives of his redeemed people who cherish, delight in and treasure him above everything. Sometimes you can see it when they are living lives of gratitude in prosperity. You can see it even more clearly when they are living lives of joy in suffering. Rejoice in suffering Paul says in Romans 5:3. So we cleave to him and when we cleave to him in the face of suffering we are a mirror of his worth.

3. God Limits Satan’s Power

God grants to Satan limited power to cause pain. “Behold all that he has is in your power. Only upon himself do not put forth your hand” (Job 1:12). “Behold, he is in your power. Only spare his life” (Job 2:6).

God is not frustrated by the power and subtlety of Satan. Satan cannot make one move apart from the permission of God Almighty. He is a lion roaming around trying to destroy the Saints, but he is on a leash and God gives it and he pulls it according to his sovereign will. There are secondary causes in the world, not just primary causes and Satan is among those secondary causes and behind them are primary causes, which is why after God says, “He is in your power, Satan.” Job says, “The Lord has taken away.”

That is not a contradiction. The reason we know it is not a contraction is because in Job 1:22 it says, “In all this Job did not sin or cause God with wrong.” This means what he said in verse 21 is not sin, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.”

That is the inspired writer’s interpretation of where this ultimately came from — God. So the writer is endorsing Job’s interpretation of the death of his children. Sure Satan was involved somehow. God said, “He is in your power. Do what you want.” And sure, Satan is involved in our lives big time harassing. We should resist him firm in our faith (1 Peter 5:9). Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

But when all is said and done and you are crying and tearing your clothes and shaving your head and putting ashes on you, you rest with this ultimate truth. Not that there are two great truths, I mean, powers in the universe. It is not, “There is Satan and there is God, and they are vying for me, and I sure hope eventually God wins.” That is not what Job teaches.

Job teaches: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” — or, as it says in chapter two — “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord and not receive boils?” Even though it is crystal clear here that Satan afflicted him with boils. It says so. Satan afflicted him with boils. And Job says: “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord? Look at all of this prosperity we have enjoyed.”

You know, sometimes I have thought about that. I have been kneeling at my prayer bench in my study. I am 54 and I have vowed I have enjoyed 31 years of wonderful marriage, sexual delights, a friend of my soul, a woman who stands with me, edits my books, raises my children, is willing to let me go out and do things. She has been my all. And I said: If she dropped dead today, Lord, I right now should be so thankful for 31 years, why should I expect any more?

Who is John Piper that I should expect 33 years and not just 31? Who would have thought I’d get 31? I am a sinner. Isn’t it amazing I have had her for 31 years? That is just amazing. I am a sinner.

C.J. Mahaney has got a wonderful way when somebody asks him: How are you doing? His favorite response is: “Better than I deserve.” And the reason that is so good is that it forces him into a constant frame of gratitude. It is no accident. Shall we receive 31 years of good marriage at the hand of the Lord and not receive ten years with cancer? So when it comes, should I not remember the 31 years as an absolutely undeserved bounty instead of getting mad that he should have given me twenty more of a healthy body or a healthy wife?

You see, we Americans, we are so rights driven that we transfer it to God as though he owes us anything. You know what? A little piece of news for you. God owes you nothing. Your life is a gift. You have it on loan from God. You are trustees of every breath you take, every movement of a healthy muscle. You are a trustee while you have it. And you will not have it much longer. And you don’t deserve to have it at all. And therefore when God takes it he is doing you no wrong.

Three Personal Implications

I have no more time. And I am going to summarize my last three points in three minutes. Anyway, three personal implications. Number one, say them real quickly. There is real plain. You can draw them out for yourself and we will pick them up tomorrow.

1. Affirm God’s Sovereignty over Our Suffering

Personal implication number one. Let us join with Job and affirm with all of our hearts the absolute sovereignty of God in our suffering. Let’s join with Job. We don’t need to have all the answers. I don’t presume to give you all the answers. We just see the truth. Let’s join with Job and embrace the absolute sovereignty of God. Let’s say with the psalmist: Our God is in the heavens. He does whatever he pleases. Only Daniel 4:35. He does according to his will in the hosts of heaven and month the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay his hand or say to him: What are you doing?

2. Weep When Calamity Strikes

Personal implication number two. Let your tears flow freely when your calamity comes. Please, do not hear me as teaching a theology or a pastoral strategy that says: Well, I guess we can’t cry if that is true. I guess we can’t rip our clothes. I guess we can’t pull our hair. I guess we can’t shave our heads. I guess we can’t throw ashes on. I guess we can’t scream. Don’t hear me that way. Weep with those who weep. Here is the... you say: aren’t we supposed to rejoice in tribulation? Aren’t we supposed to count it all joy? Yes. But did you know? Yes, you do know, especially if you are older, that joy and weeping can exist simultaneously in one heart? Don’t you know that? My mother was killed when I was 28 in a car accident and I discovered it real quick that joy and weeping can exist simultaneously in one heart, heaving sobs, heaving sobs can exist simultaneously with thank you, thank you, thank you for her life. Thank you for her faith. Thank you for my faith. Thank you that my dad is still alive. Thank you. This is all kinds of reasons to have deep, unshakable joy while you are heaving with sobs. You know that. This is not a contradiction to say count it all joy and say rejoice in tribulation and to weep your eyes out when your kid goes wrong. Or the love that is discovered or whatever. That is not ... so I just say let’s join in the weeping. Learn to cry. Learn to cry much, especially with others.

3. Trust and Treasure God’s Goodness

Last implication. Trust the goodness of God and let him be your treasure and your joy. Psalm 63:3. I mentioned at the beginning. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life. And if the steadfast love of the Lord, experientially, now in this world and fully in the age to come is better than life, then we don’t lose it when we lose life and we don’t lose it when we lose everything that life can give.