Who Caused Job’s Suffering?

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

This week we wrapped up a study of the Book of Job where I preach. Toward the end of the book there is a passage that presents a bracing view of God’s role in Job’s suffering:


Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold. (Job 42:11)

“All the evil that the LORD had brought upon him.”

Wait – I thought Job’s suffering was caused by the nebulous figure described in the opening chapters as The Accuser. Why does this text claim that it was the LORD who caused Job’s disasters?

This is not the only time in the book that responsibility for Job’s adversity is ascribed to God. In the second chapter, after Job’s initial set of catastrophic losses, the LORD asks The Accuser:

“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 2:3)

Here, God says that he is the one who destroyed Job.

What are we to make of this language? After all, the straightforward reading of the text indicates that the immediate and direct cause of Job’s suffering was The Accuser. Notice the interplay that takes place in these exchanges between God and the evil one:

“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. (1:11-12)

And again-

“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 2:5-6)

In each case, The Accuser challenges God to stretch his hand against Job, and the LORD replies by telling The Accuser that Job is in his hand – within certain parameters.

This interaction between God and The Accuser gives us a glimpse into the interplay between two profound truths in Scripture: the sovereignty of God and the freedom of creatures. On the one hand, God permits The Accuser to do harm to Job, even as he sets out clear boundaries that constrain what The Accuser can do. On the other hand, The Accuser has the freedom to do harm to Job, within the limits carefully defined by God.

So, who is responsible for Job’s suffering – God or The Accuser? The answer is…both, but in different senses. The Accuser is immediately and directly responsible for Job’s catastrophes, but God is ultimately and finally responsible since The Accuser could only do what he did by God’s permission.

This is true not only of The Accuser’s actions, but of all evil choices made by creatures. The Bible teaches that all of us live, move, and have our being in God (Acts 17:28). Every moment of every creature’s existence is dependent on God. But obviously, what we as his creatures actually do with this gift of existence is not always in keeping with God’s expressed preferences. Just as God permitted The Accuser to do evil, God also permits us to do evil as well.

Really, then, the questions raised about God, The Accuser, and Job are merely reflective of the deeper questions that believers have pondered since time immemorial – why did God make the sovereign decision to grant human beings (and angels) freedom,  even when we could do evil things with that freedom? Why does God permit us to rebel against him and do harm to others?

So far as I’m aware, Scripture never systematically answers this question in the way that we’d probably like, but I do think there are some basic points we can set forth that help us grapple with the question.

First, the decision to grant creatures the gift of freedom was God’s sovereign choice. No one made him do this. God freely chose to create human beings and angels with free will.

Second, the freedom that God has given to creatures is not absolute. God remains sovereign, and in that sovereignty maintains control over his creatures. Just as The Accuser could do only so much to Job and no more, all of God’s creatures remain “on the leash” of his permissive will.

Third, since we know that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that the greatest commands are to love God and man (Deuteronomy 6:4; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:34-40), we can surmise that an important reason – maybe the reason – God gave his creatures free will is so that they can love him and others. It is difficult to imagine any meaningful definition of “love” that does not involve freedom of the will, after all.

Fourth, because God is sovereign, even though he permits his creatures to make evil choices, he also has the power to make good things happen in the face of that evil. Job is one of the paramount examples of this in all of Scripture. Through Job’s suffering God brought Job to a clearer vision of God (and discredited the baseless slander of The Accuser in the process).

Fifth, since God is sovereign, he has the power to bring all evil and all suffering to an end. We get a glimpse of this at the end of the Book of Job, when the LORD restores Job’s health, prosperity, and family. We get an even grander vision of this at the end of the Bible, with its promise of a new creation.

God is willing to “take responsibility” for Job’s suffering, and for ours, for all of these reasons. It is not always easy to work out the dynamic give and take of divine sovereignty and creaturely freedom. But God doesn’t expect us to do that, anyway. What he does call us to do is to trust him, to look forward to the day he makes all things new, and to care for each other in the meantime.

In other words, God calls us to faith, hope, and love.


“I Know That My Redeemer Lives” – But Who Is it?

“Oh that my words were written!
    Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
    they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:23-26)

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

The most memorable phrase from the Book of Job is Job’s declaration, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” It is one of the few hopeful statements found in Job’s speeches with his friends. And it is the inspiration for several great hymns still in use today.

But just exactly who did Job have in mind when he expressed this confidence? In the context, who is Job’s “redeemer”? Continue reading

A Note on Job 2:3 – Did Satan Incite God Against Job?

This quarter I am teaching a class on one of the most difficult books of the Bible, the Book of Job. It is not a book filled with easy answers. Instead, it unflinchingly confronts the tension of evil and suffering in a world governed by God. One of the most puzzling verses in the book is Job 2:3-

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.” (ESV)

What does this text mean? It almost sounds like God is saying that Satan bullied or cajoled him into doing harm to Job. Is that how we are supposed to understand this verse? Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Book of Job Roundup

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

I thought I would place all of my blog posts on the Book of Job in one place in case any of you missed one of them. I would also like to recommend this commentary by Gerald Wilson, and this series of blog posts by John Mark Hicks. Both are helpful guides through the book.


Part 1: Reaping What You Sow

Part 2: The Key Question of the Book

Part 3: Are God and Satan Playing a Game with Job’s Life?

Part 4: The “Triangle of Tension”

Part 5: Job’s Breakthrough

Part 6: What Job Wants

Part 7: What To Do with Elihu?

Part 8: The Lord’s First Speech

Part 9: The Lord’s Second Speech

Part 10: Did Job Repent, or Was Job Comforted?

Part 11: The Conclusion of the Book

Reflections on Job, Part 11 – The Conclusion of the Book

While the dramatic climax of Job is the Lord’s appearance, the narrator concludes the book with an epilogue (just as he began the book with the prologue of the first two chapters). This final section of the book raises several interesting points. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 10 – Did Job Repent, or Was Job Comforted?

 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
 “I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, ESV)

One common understanding of the dramatic conclusion of the Book of Job is that God’s speeches are a rebuke of Job’s impatient and presumptuous challenges to God to defend himself in a lawsuit. According to this view, Job’s response is contrite repentance. God is all-powerful and all-wise, Job is not, and Job learns to be quiet.

I have already indicated that I believe this understanding is inadequate. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 9 – The Lord’s Second Speech

The first speech of the Lord drew Job’s attention to God’s constant wisdom, power, and care for creation. Job feels abandoned by God, but the Lord’s survey of his providential care for even the most isolated of animals showed Job that he was wrong in assuming God was no longer watching over him. This leads Job to retract his “lawsuit” against the Creator- Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 8 – The Lord’s First Speech

We have come now to the climax of the Book of Job, the speeches of the Lord. There are actually two speeches, the first in 38:1-40:2 (with a brief reply by Job in 40:3-5); and the second in 40:6-41:34 (with a brief reply by Job in 42:1-6). Even though these speeches are the dramatic centerpiece of the book, there is widespread disagreement as to what the the Lord’s speeches actually mean. A common view is that the Lord is essentially rebuking Job, asserting His incomparable power and wisdom, leading Job to repent for his rash, ill-conceived accusations. I hope to show that this understanding of what the Lord says is crucially inadequate. But first, let’s look at these speeches in the context of the book. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 7 – What to Do with Elihu?

The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

One of the greatest mysteries in a book filled with mysteries is what to make of Elihu. He seems to appear out of nowhere, and after his speeches conclude, there is no further reference to him in the book. It’s almost as if someone from the street stumbled onto the stage of a musical, decided to sing a few songs, and then leave!

What are we to make of Elihu? Should we look at his four speeches as fundamentally different in tone and content from the friends? Does he add any new insight to the book? Does he get the reader a little closer to the truth about Job’s predicament? Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 6: What Job Wants

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

Throughout the course of Job’s speeches, both in his dialogues with the three friends and in his final monologue, there is one thing that Job repeatedly says he desires: an audience with God. Job believes that God is punishing him unjustly. Given his commitment to the Principle of Retribution as the mechanism of God’s providence, that’s the only conclusion an “upright and blameless man” like Job could draw. While his confidence that the Principle of Retribution is the comprehensive explanation of God’s governance does begin to waver in his later speeches, Job’s desire to bring his case beforte God does not.

Here’s a selection of these requests for redress with God.

Continue reading