January 10 – Job 1:6-12
This week is the start of an eight-week series in the book of Job. Job is all about suffering, among other things, and should help us process the difficulties of 2020 as a church.
This week and next week we’re looking at the setup to Job’s story. The book of Job is a big prose-poetry-prose sandwich, with some narrative at the beginning and end and 38 chapters of poetry in the middle. Here at the beginning we get a glimpse into the heavenly courtroom of God, where the angels (“sons of God” 1:6) are presented before God. But in their presence was an enemy, the Enemy in fact, Satan himself. Stopping right there you might be wondering, how in the world can Satan be in God’s presence? Shouldn’t he be, like, smote? This passage probably challenges a lot of our cultural expectations of God and Satan’s relationship. We tend to think of them as cosmic enemies locked in an eternal, Hatfield-McCoy-style feud. But that gives Satan too much credit. Taking God’s omnipotence into view we can conclude, as the Bible does here, that God ultimately rules over everything, including Satan, and can restrain Satan at any point (we see him give Satan “rules” to follow in 1:12). God holds Satan on a leash, as several theologians have summarized it, and that’s a good way to understand this strange appearance of Satan before God. He’s there only at God’s discretion.
During this divine audience God addresses Satan directly, since he obviously doesn’t belong there, and asks him to consider Job, who God describes as “blameless and upright.”(1:8) From this we see two things, first, that Job’s trial was God’s idea, and second, that God himself considers Job blameless. This latter point will be important later in the book, when Job’s friends try to tell him that he’s suffering because he must be sinful. But that first one poses some theological challenges. Deuteronomy 32:4 tells us, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, just and upright is he.” James tells us that God tempts no one because he cannot be tempted to do evil (James 1:13). So the Bible maintains that God cannot commit evil or do anything wrong. But if God is sovereign over suffering, and yet allows suffering to occur, does that make him responsible for it? In other words, can the God of the Bible be just?
This is a question Job asked in the midst of his suffering (in 19:3 he flat out says the God has wronged him). This is a question that people have been asking for millennia. And this is probably a question you have asked sometime in the last year, with pandemic and election season and public outrage swirling around us almost non-stop. That’s one reason we’re turning to Job here at the start of 2021. Though that question might leave us in some tension, let’s keep it in our minds as we progress through this sermon series; weeks 6 and 7 (February 14 & 21) should help us consider it more in depth.
Now, back to the text for this week. God praised Job’s faithfulness, but Satan theorized that Job was only faithful because God had blessed him with prosperity. Take those things away, Satan says, and Job will curse God. By saying this Satan also challenges the character of God, implying that people only love God for what he does for them. So God let out Satan’s leash and allowed him to afflict Job. God is out to prove that prosperity and faith and sin and suffering are not interdependent. And yet the book of Job keeps some of the reasoning here a mystery. The book never addresses the ultimate reason for suffering; all we get is this quick glimpse into the courts of God. But in Job’s story we do see that God works in and through suffering, and it calls us to reflect on our own response to suffering. Satan claimed that Job’s faith was just self-interest. When we suffer, that same question can be posed to us: do we only love God because of what he’s given us? Will we still love him even when he takes away our joy, our security, our family and friends, our health, even our life? Or is our faith just self-interest?
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Job 1:6-12 for us?
• What was surprising to you in this passage?
• How can this passage help us understand suffering?
• What do we learn about God’s control over Satan and suffering here?
• What is Satan claiming about Job?
• How does this claim make you think about your own beliefs?
• How does this passage help you think about following Jesus in the midst of suffering?