(1) The Heavenly Dimension

God and Satan

Chapters 1-2 take place in a realm that is foreign to Job. The heavenly throne room is the setting for the first scene of the book of Job. The main characters in this scene are God, Satan, and some other angelic onlookers. This scene is completely hidden from the sight of Job and his friends. They are never given any word from God or anyone else that this conversation went on. We the readers are granted this perspective. We, the readers, see the heavenly logic behind the earthly circumstances. This insider’s perspective is crucial to keep in mind as we read the book of Job.

As the heavenly scene opens, Satan is strolling into the throne room of the Almighty to give an account of his wanderings on the earth. He is a creature and like all creatures he is subject to the will of the Sovereign. Even his rebellion is placed in the service of the King. The conversation that ensues between the Accuser and the Almighty is shocking. God initiates the dialogue about this unique man named Job. He asks the enemy if he has considered this man. Apparently it is the vocation of the enemy to “consider” (1:8, 2:3) God’s faithful servants. But in this situation it seems his lack of omniscience had hidden God’s prized possession from his eyes. God calls Satan’s attention to this unique man from the East. There was not a man like him in all the earth. Job was a righteous, God-fearing man.

It seems that God’s boast of Job is nothing short of a challenge to the enemy.  Satan gladly takes up the challenge. He insults the Maker with his assertion that Job’s faith is fundamentally utilitarian. Satan is confident that praise will be replaced by curses as soon as the gifts of God are removed from Job. God grants authority over everything belonging to Job. His only demand is that Satan refrain from harming Job’s body, everything else is fair game.  In the second dialogue between Satan and God the ban is lifted and Job’s body is no longer off limits.

For Job, he was broadsided with wave after wave of suffering. For the reader, his suffering directly corresponds to an ongoing dialogue in the heavenly realm. Job was oblivious to this conversation. It is clear from this dialogue that God initiated and authorized the suffering of Job. It is also clear that Satan initiated the suffering of Job and under the authorization of God enacted it. The reason for the suffering is not clear from the text. In fact God says that Satan incited him to destroy Job “without reason” (2:3). The what, and who behind the suffering of Job are clear, but the why is not. The reader is in no better shape than Job on this question. Other testimonies in the canon assure us that God’s purpose and intention in Job’s suffering was not whimsical, but laced with compassion and mercy (James 5:11).

The reader must learn from these first two chapters that there is always a heavenly dimension to the various circumstances and events occurring in the earthly realm. The reality is, however, that we are like Job and his friends. We do not know what is behind the curtain. And for the most part (apart from Biblical revelation) we are not privy to that information. It is futile to try to search this out. It is also futile to try to interpret what God is doing or saying through his providential arrangements. This point is implicit in the earthly dialogue between Job and his friends. The text does invite us to understand that the earth is a battlefield. We have an enemy that roams the earth and “considers” how to best ravage its inhabitants.

The text also invites us to trust in the true God, not our perceptions of him. Most of us would like to cut out the first two chapters of Job. At the very least, we would like to edit God’s script. In these chapters we see God initiating a conversation that will undo his creature and servant Job. Job was not on Satan’s radar before this conversation! We see God granting the enemy authority to annihilate his property, destroy all his wealth, kill his entire family, and take away his health. How can God speak like this? How can God act like this? How can he give permission to the enemy to do this? If you let the text speak—astonishment and dread will grip you. If you dismiss the book of Job as an old covenant relic that’s mistaken in its portrait of God then you can go safely on your way. The truth is, there is no animosity between the testaments in their sketch of God.

Here is an immensely free and sovereign deity. Here is a God who is accountable to none but himself. Here is a God who does not explain himself. Here is a dangerous God, One who is unthreatened by our finite notions of him and unmoved by our feeble attempts to corral him. He is clearly infinite in his being, comprehensive in his dominion, and unfettered in his actions. Such a lofty God invokes reverence and awe in his creatures. This admiration will only increase when we realize that this same God used his freedom to bind himself to a body, suffer death on a tree, and conquer the sovereign grave. It is not another deity revealed in Jesus Christ. No, the God of Job is the Carpenter of Nazareth.

Like Job, when we come to terms with the expanse of his person we will put our hands over our mouths. Like the disciples, when we come to terms with a crucified King we will do away with our safe conception of discipleship. The nature of God revealed in his sovereign activity is intended to humble his creatures and inspire them to worship. These unveilings also have a way of destroying our ideas about him that we may reconstruct a proper view of his majesty in our hearts. In this regard, Job is a bulldozer.

The heavenly scene is a significant challenge to our naturalistic and mechanistic worldview. In the West, we rarely consider the possibility of a supernatural explanation for a fire, a theft, an attack, a house collapsing, a sickness, or a death (1:13-19). These are natural events that happen to people by chance.  Job helps us understand the overlap of realms that provides the context for our existence. He helps us see the ripple effects of one simple heavenly discussion. What then has been the earthly impact of other heavenly events (think for example of Revelation 12:1-17)? This does not mean we always know what is happening, but it does guard us from thinking we can explain every event that occurs.

At the end of the day, the heavenly dimension of Job teaches us that the terminal cause of all things is God. Job presents the reader with a staggering vision of the sovereignty of God. Job is correct in his assessment of the situation: “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (1:21). Satan is merely a link in the chain of events. God is the creator and holder of the chain. This is why Job is also correct in his approach to his suffering. God and God alone must be pursued, argued with, lamented to, and worshipped—for he is the bringer and reliever of the pain. Walter Brueggemann has made this point well. “The lament form [of psalms]…gives expression to Israel’s most fundamental conviction, namely, that Yahweh is sovereign over the present situation and can work good out of it.”[1] The lament of Job that forms the heart of this book is the logical and correct response to his doctrine of God. Lament, not silence, is the touchstone of a robust belief in God’s unqualified rule over all things.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Psalms and the Life of Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 77.

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