The Cosmic Conflict
God claims every inch of the universe, and that claim is attacked and challenged by Satan. Behind the “seen” of human history and our lives is a cosmic conflict between God and the evil one. It’s not really a contest. Satan is in no way God’s equal or even his rival, although he bitterly opposes all that God does. We are rarely aware of how that invisible drama touches our lives, but the truth is that our lives are part of a bigger story than we can imagine. And the unique thing the book of Job does is to allow us to stand in the throne room of heaven and understand the heavenly backdrop to earthly events. We are allowed to see what Job never saw and to know what he was never told. The story unfolds in dramatic form, and we need to be careful about pressing the details in a way Scripture doesn’t intend. What is clear is that our world is the stage for the enduring conflict between God and Satan; that’s the bigger story. Job’s story calls us to recognize the mystery of life, and reminds us that many of the explanations we attempt to give are profoundly shortsighted (job 1:6–12).
We are told very little in the Bible about how the heavenly realm operates. But the book of Job presents us with a remarkable (and rare) glimpse behind the scenes: Angelic beings came into God’s presence, and Satan was with them—but not as one loyal to God. Elsewhere in Scripture we meet Satan as “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night” (revelation 12:10). It seems that Satan has access to the presence of God, where he opposes God’s work by attacking and accusing God’s people. Why God permits this we are not told.
However, it was in that setting that God took the initiative by issuing a challenge to Satan: “Where have you come from?” The Lord was not asking for information; he was calling Satan to account. Satan’s response was ambiguous: “I’ve been wandering around the earth, everywhere in general and nowhere in particular.” This was met by the Lord’s direct challenge—an amazing affirmation of Job: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (job 1:8). We should not pass over this too quickly. There is a profound fact about human existence found in these words. God’s purpose is to magnify his worth and glory in and through his people. Of all the features of his creation he could use to shame Satan, the Lord chose someone who feared him. The importance of this for every single Christ‑follower cannot be exaggerated.We bear the name and reputation of our God, not only before the world but also before the “principalities and powers” (see ephesians 3:10 nkjv).
If God’s purpose is to magnify his glory, Satan’s purpose is to defame God and to deface God’s glory. Satan’s counterchallenge strikes at the heart of a believer’s relation to God. You can hear the sneer of contempt in his words (read job 1:9–11). Satan’s words are a tremendous insult to God. In effect he is saying that God is not worth serving simply on the basis of who he is. Instead, Satan implies that God needs to buy the loyalty of Job and the rest of mankind, and that the only reason anyone would choose to worship God is self-interest.
The central question of the book of Job is not, Why do the righteous suffer? but, Why do the righteous serve God? Human beings are sinful, and the corrupt motives of people say more about us than about God. Nevertheless, Satan raises an issue that every Christian must deal with: Why do I follow Christ? Do I love God for his gifts or for himself?Would I still love him if he asked me to or made me walk the path of suffering and sacrifice?
Warren Wiersbe sums up this issue well: “Satan’s accusation cuts at the very heart of worship and virtue. Is God worthy to be loved and obeyed even if He does not bless us materially and protect us from pain? Can God win the heart of man totally apart from His gifts? In other words, the very character of God is what is at stake in this struggle.”1 God’s glory is at stake in the way we respond to situations that enter our lives. The issues we face are often far bigger than our own peace and happiness.
Suffering Has a Place
Suffering falls within the sweep of God’s sovereignty. How a sovereign, all‑powerful God relates to the suffering of a fallen world is an enormous mystery. Yet Job did not make the mistake of assuming that if he could not understand it, God must not have anything to do with it. Job did not deny the truth of God’s ultimate sovereignty because of his frail understanding. Neither must we. Satan does what he does, but not outside the boundaries of God’s control. The evil one is not free to act autonomously. He could touch Job only with God’s permission (job 2:5–6).
Our God remains sovereign even in the inexplicable events of life. One important message from Job’s story is that there is such a thing as undeserved suffering. Some suffering is due to God’s punishment and some to the consequences of sin in our lives. But not all suffering is the result of personal sin. That is a concept Job’s friends utterly failed to grasp in the central section of the book (chs. 4–37). Their theology—whatever a person reaps, he has sown—is as clear as ice and twice as cold. They were sure that Job must have committed some deep, hidden sin to experience such dire consequences, and they were relentless in their accusations. But they were wrong. The opening chapter makes it clear that Job’s sufferings occur not because he is sinful but because he is righteous. There is mystery here, and that is precisely the point. We are not in possession of all the facts, and we need to be humble before claiming to know the mind of God.
The why of his suffering remains a mystery to Job, as ours often does to us. But I am sure of two things. First, suffering is not always a consequence of direct personal sin, but it is always the result of living in a fallen world. None of us are exempt from the effects of that fallenness.
Second, suffering may be undeserved, but it is never purposeless. Job says it beautifully: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (job 23:10). God uses even undeserved suffering to refine us and to produce in us a growing likeness to Jesus, all for his glory and for the good of others.
Suffering presents us with mystery. As Job pours out his feelings and thoughts, it becomes clear that he thinks God is, for some unexplained reason, angry with him (job 3–31). He is wrong. In fact, God is proud of him. Throughout their discourse, Job and his friends see his situation as a problem to be solved. Only in the end does Job realize that it is a mystery. A mystery not to be unraveled, but one that must be surrendered to an all-wise, all‑powerful God.
It has helped me immeasurably to realize that my fundamental concern in stormy times must not be, How can I get out of this? but, What can I get out of this? That is not passive resignation. Job struggles mightily to understand and barrages heaven with his questions. God actually approves his desperate quest for answers even as he rebukes the rigid orthodoxy of Job’s friends: “You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (job 42:7). But in the end, Job is reduced to silence before the mystery of God’s sovereign purposes. And Job’s final response to his suffering? Job holds his course, even in the midst of catastrophic storms. How? He has a North Star, and he takes his bearings from a reference point that is fixed and certain.
1 Warren Wiersbe, Why Us? When Bad Things Happen to God’s People
(Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1984), 41.