The Providence of God
Bethlehem Baptist Church
I want to begin by reading for you a story that Kent Hughes tells about how his wife, Barbara, almost died in a surgery that was supposed to be absolutely commonplace, a simple surgery. And the way she didn’t die is so remarkable that her husband tells the story and chalks it up to the providence of God.
It was supposed to be routine surgery, but something went wrong and the life of my beloved wife, Barbara, hung in the balance by the thinnest thread. Early in the morning, I had checked Barbara into the hospital and settled back to wait. As I was reading the morning paper, I recognized a medical technician named Suzanne, and cheerfully greeted her. Suzanne had become friends with my wife’s niece when they both had worked in the hospital some years before. Barbara’s niece had long since moved away and it was quite unexpected to run into Suzanne, especially since she normally didn’t come to the waiting room area where I was sitting that morning.
Now, all that sounds quite irrelevant, but it will prove to be very providential.
My oldest daughter, Holly, joined me at 10 a.m. The surgeon met with us cheerfully and said, “Perfect — it couldn’t have gone better.” Barbara would be in the recovery room for an hour and a half and then we could see her. So, I went home and then came back a little later to find my daughter very worried. They had taken Barbara back into surgery. It was only supposed to take 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes stretched into five hours. We soon realized something was seriously wrong. They couldn’t stop the bleeding, and no one on the team of doctors could figure out why. The day stretched into evening without any answer, and thus began a very long, dark night.
Barbara sensed her life was slipping away. After her doctor’s visit at 11 p.m., matters only worsened. Nurses repeatedly changed the dressing, but Barbara continued to hemorrhage and kept growing weaker and weaker. At 1:30 a.m., I called our associate pastor to start a prayer vigil and got more than I’d asked for, as the whole staff of the church and several friends arrived within an hour to pray.
By the middle of the next day, however, it looked as if I was going to lose my beloved wife. By then she had lost two-thirds of her body’s blood. Her heart was racing, and she kept bleeding. As family members gathered around the bed, Larry Fullerton, my associate, commented, “You need to encourage her. She thinks she’s going to die. Her blood isn’t clotting.”
Remember Suzanne? She had seen me the previous morning, and now happened to stop by just at that moment to say hi and give Barbara some magazines. Shocked to walk in on a family in crisis, she felt like she really shouldn’t be there but stayed long enough to hear Larry’s comment about her blood not clotting. In that instance, Suzanne remember doing a blood test years ago on Barbara’s niece. When she had shown the results to a blood specialist, the niece was warned that if she were ever in a car accident or suffered a similar trauma, she could bleed to death. Suzanne ran to the lab, switched on her computer, called up the niece’s records, and compared them with Barbara’s workup. The pathology was identical.
Suzanne then ran to the critical care unit and tried to explain all this to the nurse. She then dashed back to her supervisor, who told her to go immediately to the blood bank. Barging into the doctor’s meeting with five pathologists, Suzanne told her story. Within an hour Barbara was given the medication for her rare blood disorder and her life was saved.
This is not a story about Barbara or Suzanne; it’s a story about God. What happened to my wife and Suzanne is a miracle of divine providence. There is no other way to explain it. It really started years ago, when two bored lab technicians ran tests on each other. And one, Suzanne, learned that the other, who happened to be my wife’s niece, had a rare clotting disorder. Then on the day of Barbara’s surgery, I ran into this lab technician, who normally doesn’t come to the area where I was, and mentioned Barbara’s surgery.
The next day, Suzanne stopped by to see Barbara at exactly the right moment to overhear Larry’s comment about her blood not clotting. Amazingly, Suzanne remembered the tests from years ago. Suzanne saved my wife’s life. But was it really Suzanne who saved Barbara? No, God did. It was God, in his sovereign care, who orchestrated the miraculous details of these events. But I would also say that if God had taken Barbara home to be with himself, he would have been just as involved in the events of the day, and just as faithful in his sovereign care.
So that’s a great testimony. That’s the way we need to tell the stories. That’s the way we need to end our stories when God works something so amazing as he did for Barbara Hughes down there in Wheaton. He does not do that for all. He has other purposes for why some live 12 hours and some live two years and some live 35 years and others live a long, long, long time.
Let’s begin with a little review here. Let’s read our definition again from the Heidelberg catechism. Let’s see how to get this over here. What is providence?
The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
I just did a little word search on my computer Bible program at home because I was reading Ezekiel 1–3 this morning. And twice in the first three chapters, Ezekiel says, “The Lord’s hand was heavy upon me.” “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” That image of God’s hand being on you is used here in this definition for some reason
Question: Why should we study this?
Answer: That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future [Which is the rest of your life, by the way, and the only part you have any concern in whatsoever. The rest is gone forever — not even God can change it.] we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.
I’ve called this lesson tonight, “Animals, Sickness, and Satan.” Last time, we talked about inanimate objects like weather and God’s providence over weather. Let’s just review briefly the weather or the inanimate things, like Psalm 104:14 says:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth.
So, if you’re a biologist, don’t think that this negates your study and all of the causality that you can perceive in photosynthesis and so on. This doesn’t negate that; it lifts it up so that you wonder, at an appropriate level — you worship as you study the processes that God is using to do what the Bible says he does.
The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33)
I illustrated that with dice-throwing. Every time you throw dice, God decides what comes up. That’s pretty thoroughgoing providence. So, you’re tempted to pray every time you play a game — and maybe you should.
This was a text we looked at last time that I wanted to recite again because of all the texts in the New Testament about the providence of God over our lives, this is one of the most powerful,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.” (James 4:13)
In other words, just ordinary planning for your day.
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:14–16)
Providence and ‘Chance’
What does it mean when the Bible refers to chance, which it does twice, I believe? And these are the two places.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31)
And the other usage of the word chance is Ecclesiastes 9:11:
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
Here’s what Michael Eaton in his commentary on Ecclesiastes says about chance: “On the lips of an Israelite ‘chance’ means what is unexpected not what is random” (Ecclesiastes, 82).
The word in Ecclesiastes 9:11 is used only one other time in 1 Kings 5:4, where it means event. It doesn’t translate as chance, which is why I didn’t include it. In the parable of the good Samaritan, chance means that from a human standpoint, things look very unexpected. These two verses are not theological statements about God’s being out of control and the world being run by random movements of molecules.
Providence and Animals
What I’m doing here in case you’re wondering what the sense of this order or this flow is gathering all the texts about providence that I could think of, and moving from the inanimate to the most animate and to the most moral — namely, our wills. That’s what we’re getting toward. I’m trying to save that, as we establish the providence of God at the inanimate level now, at the animate level, and in circumstances. And then we’re going to move to nations — national things, big movements in history — and pretty soon we’ll get right down on the human will, which is what creates the most theological problems for us. If God has complete control and sovereignty over the human will, then it raises questions that are different than animals.
But let’s make sure we understand animals and you’ll see why this is important in the Bible. Psalm 104:25–29 says:
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
That’s an amazing statement: you made this animal, whatever it is — big squid or something — to sport in it. He’s just out there, nobody ever sees him. Nobody, just God. And he makes him just turn around in the water. And God looks down and says, “That’s big. I like it. Look how big it is, look how strong it is. It’s strong.” And nobody’s watching, except maybe the devil and some angels.
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust. (Psalm 104:27–29)
So, there is an intimacy of involvement with the world that we mechanized, scientific, twentieth-century people don’t generally think about. We just think everything is happening by scientific, molecular causalities — everything just works, and God wound it up that way, or maybe God didn’t and it works. Whereas the writers of the Bible saw God much more intertwined with his creation. He gives them food, he opens his hand, he satisfies them. He hides his face and they’re dismayed, he takes away their spirit and they expire and go back to the dust. So, he’s out there working with all the zillions of bacteria in the world and all the fish in the sea and birds in the air.
Now to Job 38. God is challenging Job: “Come on, now. I you’re in a position to criticize me like you’ve been doing for some of your chapters, let me ask you a few questions about whether you can do what I can do.
Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food? (Job 38:39–41)
Who prepares for the raven its nourishment? Jesus is going to pick that up. In Matthew 6:26 Jesus says:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
So, right here, this little connection here, should alert us to why the Bible even bothers to talk about animals. Jesus expects and I think Job expected when he wrote his book and the Psalmist expected: if you look out in nature, and have the eyes of the Bible and see God at work there, it’s going to have an effect on your relationship with God; Jesus says it should. Your heavenly Father feeds the birds. So, every time you see a bird pulling up a worm or picking off mosquitoes through the air, say, “That is an amazing thing that God is doing there. God is working there.”
And then you’re to contemplate your covenant relationship with the Lord and say, “If he does that for birds, who are not created in the image of God and who have no relationship to him and will not live forever as a means to give him glory, then how much more will he care about me?” Matthew 10:29–30 says:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
This is the same kind of connection here. Notice this now: Your father feeds the birds. So, take heart: you’re more valuable than birds. Now, think of this. Picture some totally unpenetrated and uninhabited jungle of Africa or Papua New Guinea, and it’s filled with birds — zillions of birds, and they die. And when they die, they go clunk. But only by God. Only by God. So, every bird in Ecuador, every bird in Papua New Guinea, every bird in Africa falls dead by the will of God. God is that intimately involved with his creation.
Your Father’s Intimate Care
Some people try to solve the tragedies of life by saying, “Well, God just generally, generally oversees things, but he’s not involved in the specifics.” I think Jesus spoke like this to convince us that he is involved in the specifics. Not one hair turns white or black, apart from your Father’s will. Your hairs are all numbered. Here’s the logic: Now, he wants all of you in this room now to think like this. If you’re persuaded by Jesus’s words here, that God is so intimately involved in his creation, that no bird falls to the ground apart from your Father, and the very hairs of your head are all numbered — what’s the point of that?
Well, nobody in the world knows the number of the hairs in your head. Doesn’t matter if it’s few or many. You have no idea how many hairs are on your head. Nobody has ever counted the hairs on a human head, I don’t think. That’d be so hard to do. For God, it’s a piece of cake for him and he knows exactly. And the w hole point is his intimate involvement with you — intimate knowledge of you. And so, nothing’s going to happen to you apart from your Father. Nothing is going to happen to you apart from your Father.
You can’t say, “Yeah, but he doesn’t know me” or “He’s far from me.” He has gotten close enough to count like this: “One, two, three.” And he’s close, he’s close. And so this whole animals thing is not just curious and interesting; the Bible means for us to know our world and to see it in relation to God in such a way that it reflects right back on the intimacy of his relationship to us and the power that he exerts there, he exerts all the more to us, and we should take heart.
Providence and Satan
Now, I want to raise the issue of what you might call: links in the causal chain: Satan as a link in the causal chain of providence in inanimate and animate things. Now, I’m where was with Steve Nelson. In Matthew 8:26, Jesus gets waked up in the boat that’s about to be sunk by the storm.
And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Now, here’s a question someone posed to me: “What does that word rebuke signify? If God is so totally in control of all these inanimate things, why would God’s Son rebuke God’s instrument?” That’s a sharp question. I like questions like that. That’s the way to read the Bible. So, it raised the question about other wills besides God’s in nature — namely, (maybe) Satan. Did he have anything to do with the wind? And we looked at numerous texts that say God rules the wind. God opens his storehouses and sends the wind. But rebuke sounds like the wind was being unruly, not wisely distributed by our heavenly Father, but unruly — as though it were not simply the instrument of God, but of an independent power that the Son of God needed to restrain. So that’s the question here. That’s what we’re going to spend the rest of our time on: trying to understand now, between God and his absolute providential rule over the world, and the effects here, is there something in between that makes things a little more complex than what we’ve said — namely, Satan? So let’s make a go at it and see what we find.
Let’s first talk about sickness because, sickness, that’s what we care most about when it comes to inanimate stuff: sickness and getting hit by cars and things like that. There are several biblical texts that show Satan involved in sickness. And I’ve put them here and will read a couple of them. This is Luke 13:11–16:
And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit [a demon] for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. (Luke 13:11)
So, the effect on the on the material part of her body was it made her bend over. Whatever muscular or bone issues you could see, Jesus said, “The devil did it.” She was bend double and could not straighten up at all.
When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” (Luke 13:12)
She wasn’t possessed; it was a sickness caused by a demon. So, a demon is involved in the molecular activity of this woman. I don’t know how, but it’s involved there.
And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” (Luke 13:13–14)
But these poor, benighted Pharisees were really, really blind. We were reading, yesterday morning, John 11. Four days Lazarus is dead and Jesus stands there, there’s a crowd all around, and he says, “Lazarus, come out.” And he walks out of the tomb. And these people run off and they say, “They might believe on him and the Romans would come and kill us. We got to find a way to put them away.” Is that the craziest response you ever heard to somebody raising the dead? Four days dead. “Come forth.” Why aren’t they on their faces worshiping? They got such a vested interest in doing it a different way that they can’t see. They just can’t see. It’s scary.
Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15–16)
OK, there’s a lot of lessons in that story, but the one lesson I’m focusing on is: Satan, by one of his spirits, or directly is causing this sickness. So, you’ve got to ask now: If God controls every bird that falls in Africa and Papua New Guinea, and if God rules over all inanimate things and animate things, where is he? Well, how does he relate to Satan here? Is God doing it? Or is Satan doing it?
‘Oppressed by the Devil’
Before I go on and read another verse, I really should have established God’s involvement in our bodies more than I have. But let me read to you Exodus 4:10–12. You have to deal with both truths, not just one. You can’t go off on either direction, overstating your case. Moses is really nervous about being God’s spokesman. He says, “I can’t do it. I’ve never been able to talk.”
But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go.
And you can add a long list of diseases to that, like bent over for 18 years. So, I do not assume when I read that the spirit and the devil did this, that God isn’t there and somehow involved. So that’s our question: How do they relate? What does God do? How does Satan do it? And how then should we think about our own maladies? And how should we pray and so on? So here’s another text. This is Peter preaching at Cornelius’s place:
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
Now, I don’t know if you can take that text to mean that every sickness is by the devil. But it’s a pretty broad statement, isn’t it? Here you’ve got the devil involved in a lot of sickness. And Jesus goes after it, and he heals those who are oppressed by the devil.
Thorn in the Flesh
Now, here’s a text that relates Satan to sickness, I believe, and allows us to begin to get at the dynamic of how God might be involved. Second Corinthians 12:7–10 says:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
Let’s just stop there a minute. Does Satan want Paul to be proud or not? I think so. Satan doesn’t want to advance humility and protect Paul from the sin of pride. Who does? God does. So, who sent Satan? What I’m going to suggest is that Satan is a fool. And I hope he’s listening right now because I like to call him names. He’s a fool; he shoots himself in the foot over and over again. One of the clearest examples of his insanity is causing Judas to betray Jesus. It says in Luke, “Satan entered into [him]” (Luke 22:3). Do you know why that’s insane? Because at the beginning of Jesus’s life, in the wilderness, what was Satan doing everything in his power to divert Jesus from? The Calvary road. “Come on, you can have the whole world. You can skirt the cross. You can have the whole world, just bow down and worship me. Come on, show your power, jump off the temple. Come on, show your power, turn rock to bread. Come on, don’t suffer.”
So that’s smart. That’s smart because the cross was the end of Satan’s power. And he’s sometimes lucid, and then everything goes haywire in his sin-sick brain. And near the end, he was so cornered that he panicked, and he shot himself in the foot. He said, “OK, if he’s on his way to the cross, I’m going to really rub it in.” Every one of the sufferings that Jesus went through was lifting sin off of us, and sin’s the only thing Satan’s got to kill us with. It’s the only weapon he’s got. Satan cannot hurt you without sin. If you solve your sin problem, you solve your Satan problem. He can show you green things in the middle of the night and terrify you, but he can’t hurt you. He can’t hurt you eternally except with sin. If he can accuse you legitimately with sin, he can have you forever. If Christ saves you from your sin through the cross, he can never have you — never, never, ever have you again. So, he shot himself right in the foot in putting Judas on to Jesus.
Well, I think that happens all the time. So, I pray when I see evil happen in the world — physical evil and moral evil — I just start praying that it would just backfire all over the place in Satan’s designs, just totally mess up in his design and that God’s handling of Satan would move in a wonderful way.
So here in 2 Corinthians 12, you’ve got a messenger of Satan that’s being used to sanctify Paul. I just love this. Satan, the great sanctifier. How he must rage when God forces him into those roles. He forced him into the role of saving the human race, as he brought all the evil against Jesus, and then from time to time, he’s forcing him into the sanctifying role. Here’s another text that comes to my mind. Hebrews 12 is all about the discipline of the father to his children, right?
For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10)
Do you know what the discipline is in context. It’s persecution. Do you think Satan’s not involved in persecution? I think Satan’s involved in persecution. Well, it says in Revelation 2:10,
Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Satan throws people in jail. Well, now, if those people in jail read Hebrews 12:4–6?
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
Is it Satan throwing me in jail? Or is it God disciplining me for my holiness? And God would say yes, just like here. So Satan is the lackey. He’s the lackey of God. He can’t do anything without God’s leash being lengthened. And God can shorten it anytime he pleases. So let’s keep reading just to see the whole picture here.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–8)
So, I would say that anytime you get sick, or anytime you meet adversity, it’s OK to ask God to help you and remove it. And I hope you share the view of God’s massive providence over your life. If you’re sick, but it may be as in John 9, unto the glory of God that you get well (9:3). Or it may be that it’s unto the glory of God that you would be faithful unto death. But you’re a child, you go to your Father, and you ask him what you want. That’s what he wants you to do. “I want to get well.” So, you pray to get well. Well, God said no to Paul here.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
So this thorn in the flesh was producing an experience of weakness for Paul. I don’t know what it was. It’s good that we don’t know what it was because then we’d say, “Oh, it only applies to arthritis; it doesn’t apply to hernias,” or something like that.
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
The upshot of this text is so amazing: somehow or other, God uses Satan as an intermediary cause in some of the painful work that he ordains for our good. So, I don’t know that that’s what was happening with this wind that was about to sink the ship, but at least this would be a conception that would make sense. As the disciples were heading out to cross the Sea of Galilee, I think it was right after the feeding of the 5,000. They had just experienced some remarkable work of God and they were probably filled with expectation and excitement. And Satan says, “I’m going to get those guys. I’m going to wreck their faith.” And God let him have the wind. “OK, take the wind.” Now, we’re going to see this again in Job in just a minute. God let him have the wind. Maybe Satan goes to God and says, “They just trust you because they saw 5,000 people filled. But if they get into a storm, they won’t trust you.” God says, “Go ahead, try them.” That may be the way it worked.
Suppose you get cancer, and the whole church teams up to pray for healing — and it gets worse. And one night, the Lord just gives you the sweetest assurance that it’s time to die. He takes away all your fear and you just tell people, “Let’s just shift our praying over to peace and for the family.” Now, at that moment, there’s going to be a contentment that’s rooted in that sweet assurance that the Lord gave. Before that, there should have been another kind of contentment. And it would be rooted simply in biblical truth that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) and whether I live or whether I die, I want my body to glorify the Lord (Philippians 1:20). So, I don’t think he means to imply here that until he got this word, these three petitions — “Deliver me” — were spoken in a kind of, “I can’t have peace unless you take this away.” I don’t think so.
‘God of This Age’
Satan is called the god of this age. Which means he has an incredible sway still, even though his stinger according 1 Corinthians 15. Satan can kill, but he can’t kill ultimately, and so the stinger has been removed. So, he has been defanged in a remarkable way. However, his leash is really long. My hesitation in saying that that’s the main way we should conceive of the world — “It’s Satan’s domain and God intrudes here and there” — is that those texts that I read about not a bird falling without our heavenly Father and many others imply a lot more closeness of God’s involvement than that. So, I think the texts about Satan’s remarkable sway that he holds in the world are simply meant to say that: he has a lot of power, but God is right here, all the time, in his face, only allowing what he will, so that God is very close to us. He’s not distant, saying, “Well, Satan’s got you, but I’ll come penetrate in the nick of time here and there.” I don’t conceive of it that way. Jesus said,
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
So, all authority in heaven and on earth — that’s all angelic and all demonic authority — is Christ’s. And he’s with us to the end of the age.
Let’s look at Job. This is the last text but we’re going to look at, but we will look at a lot of it because Job is probably the closest thing we have in the Bible to an account of the behind-the-scenes dealings between God and Satan.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “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?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6–12)
Now let’s keep in mind these two things. Satan says, “You do it.” And God says, “You do it.” Now, who’s going to do it? That’s the question. And how should we talk about it when it gets done — when the tragedies come? And there’s a lot of tragedy coming here.
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:14–19).
Now, here comes the interpretation of this providence:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20–22)
Literally, verse 22 is: “Job did not sin with his lips. This is not a sin to say this. This is not a sin. This is not blaming. This is simply humbling yourself under the providence of God. But God said, “Satan, put forth your hand on him.” So, if that’s what happened, and Job did not sin and lie when he said this, then my conclusion is: the Lord was in charge of Satan; the Lord controls Satan. Satan blew the wind and knocked the house down and killed the kids, and God could have stopped him — could have pulled the leash in. And so Job could have said, “Satan, I hate you, and I hate your murderous ways with my kids.” And that would have been a true statement and a legitimate emotion. But Job just jumped over that step in the grieving process and he said, “God rules Satan and I simply bow and acknowledge God.” Here’s the next chapter. Satan’s not done with him because he hasn’t touched him yet. He hasn’t touched his body.
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “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? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (Job 2:1–3)
So was Satan the cause, even immediately? “To destroy him without reason” — without reason, but not without purpose, which you see when you get to the end of the book, and you see in the book of James when he sums up the story of Job (5:11).
Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:4–6)
So, he loosens the leash this much, but now we get a different statement of what the causality was. Watch this:
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:7–9)
In my Job poems, I rescue her. I’m real hopeful about such pain — words for the wind. Words for the wind. Now, here’s Job’s unbelievable interpretation:
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10)
So here is Satan doing it, and here his Job saying God brought the adversity, and here’s the man who put this book together saying that it is not a sin to talk like that. That’s worship. So in answer to our question at hand: Satan is alive and well in the world. He has a lot of leash given to him; he does much damage, but he does nothing outside the control of our Father in heaven. And for the children of God, every evil that he permits Satan to do on us, Satan designs it for destruction and God designs it for holiness according to Hebrews 12 and other texts. All your pain, you may legitimately fight and you may legitimately rebuke up to a point, but you should never do it with the spirit that, “God, you’re not there. God, you don’t care. God, you’re out of control.”
And that will be very hard at times. That will be really hard at times because the pain will absolutely be excruciating. I mean, when I think of the torture that has happened in the world, to Christians, I’ll tell you, I hope — I make no presumption — that my faith, as it stands now would be sufficient for those moments. To watch my child tortured by a Gestapo would put my faith in the providence of God to an ultimate test.
End in Sight
Now, we had someone ask about whether Satan knows his future demise. I think he does, and the reason I think he does (which just adds to his insanity) is that when Jesus went to cast out the demons in Gadara, where he encountered the Gadarene demoniac, they saw him coming, and they were terrified that the Son of God was about to come. They said, “Why are you here to torment us before the time?” What does that mean? I think it means, “We know our days are numbered, and we are just so thoroughly evil, that we are here to do as much damnable destruction as we can. And you’re not supposed to cast us into the fiery lake until the judgment.” And so he cast them into pigs and they went.
So that little phrase — “Why are you here to torment us before the time?” — that the whole demonic world is insanely aware of its end and never thinks of repenting. That’s how evil they are: that the fallen angels are so far gone that they know hell is coming; it’s been prepared for them before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:41), and they don’t even think about repenting, as many humans don’t do.