(2) The Collision of Dimensions

Satan and Job

Heaven and earth collide as soon as the dialogue between God and the Accuser has concluded. The enemy descends to the earth with a fiendish strategy to strip Job of every thing he values. And this he does. Behind the marauding caravan that steals and destroys every last animal of Job’s livestock is the prince of the power of the air (1:13-17). Incited by the evil one these men became tools in his hand to assault the faith of Job. Though Satan steps off the stage in Chapter 2, the reader of Job must recognize his crucial role in creating the situation of suffering.[1]

The book of Job speaks to us of a world where an enemy roams about seeking to devour his prey (1 Pet 5:8).  The shocking thing about this book is that God is his hunting guide. Leaving aside that enigma, the book of Job is a relentless assertion that we are not the sole inhabitants of this earth. There is an unseen community that directly influences our lives. Angelic activity, whether fallen or righteous, has consequences for our existence. Two realms collide when fallen angels assault human beings. Two realms converge when righteous angels serve us and defend us. The conversations of the heavenly court ripple out into our lives.

The collision between Job and Satan is one-sided. The enemy crashes into Job. He seems unaware that one other than the Sovereign is acting upon him. Job does not try to engage the evil one in any dialogue or legal contest. In fact, he does not even acknowledge his place in this entire event. Satan assaults Job and Job looks directly toward God. This book gives us lenses that challenge our view of reality.

Job and God

We also see this collision as God engages Job. The Sovereign deity inserts himself into this earthly realm and interacts with Job on three levels. His hand is discernible in the suffering of Job. His ear is ever present in the lament and petition of Job. And his presence is overwhelming in the whirlwind encompassing Job.

 1.     The suffering

There is tension and paradox in these first chapters regarding who is behind the calamities of Job. We see this in the event of fire falling from heaven (1:16). Clearly this is Satan’s intention and plan and yet we recognize that this feat is outside of his capacity. He is a maverick angel, not an omnipotent being. The text says the fire is explicitly “from God” and that “heaven” is its place of origin (1:16). We see a similar tension in the wind that takes out the house of Job’s children (1:19). This is clearly the prerogative of the Creator. When Job laments his situation he does not identify Satan as the ultimate cause of his suffering. He identifies God. It is God who has “taken away” (1:21), an assertion that God himself does not dispute (1:22). We see this same dynamic in Chapter 2 and Job’s physical ailments. We are left questioning whose “hand” is responsible for Job’s malady (2:5-7).

The book of Job tells us that both good and ill come from God. This is an inconvenient truth that most would like to deny. Doesn’t identifying God as the author of our pain only compound our pain? This may be so. But failing to identify the true source of our suffering also removes us from the one who can do anything about it. Living in denial about suffering is no way to deal with pain. The only way to deal with pain is to go through it. Sheltering sufferers from the extensive sovereignty of God is ultimately damaging. Job certainly teaches us this much. He looks his suffering in the face. He rightly, though incompletely, identifies its source. And he correctly walks in it and through it before the face of God. It’s actually his view of the absolute sovereignty of God that equips him to suffer well.

2.     The lament and petition

The heart of the book of Job is an extended and rigorous lament. As Job feels the assault of heaven he in turn besieges the celestial gates. He comes before God with nothing but his voice. He cries out to the Sovereign. When you step back and think of it, prayer is an audacious undertaking. It is nothing short of an invasion of earthly inhabitants upon heavenly soil. It is the bold acting of a creature upon his Creator. In prayer two realms collide. Communication takes place between two dimensions. This is simply remarkable.

Job teaches us much about the place of lament in dealing with pain. He shows us that open, honest, transparent language is the appropriate way to engage with God in suffering. He shows us that silent suffering is dangerous. Communication in suffering is the lifeline of the hurting person. Voice is Job’s one remaining possession after the barrage of calamity passes. His friends try to rob him even of this. This book teaches us that voice is integral to work through pain and suffering.

3.     The whirlwind

The realms crash into each other in dramatic fashion at the end of Job. All realm convergence to this point has been subtle and muted. Both the Sovereign and the Accuser have worked through secondary means. The whirlwind is an unmediated visit of the Almighty. No messenger. No angelic in between. No written communication. God shows up and blows Job’s mind. The whirlwind reveals and conceals the Creator. He wraps himself in it like a garb to protect frail Job. A glimpse through the storm into God’s glory would bring total ruin to Job. It also reveals something of his nature. It is a fitting revelation of himself to Job. He is a storm. His origination is not of man. His direction and decisions are not swayed by flesh. He will not be fenced. He will not be controlled. He is not safe. He is glorious and awe inspiring. He is the Storm Rider. The Sovereign. The King. Let all the earth tremble and quake before him.

The sheer magnitude and weight of God overwhelms Job. Suffocated by greatness and glory Job is silenced. The one-sided dialogue that ensues is breathtaking. With broad strokes God paints a masterful picture of his exhaustive sovereignty and unassailable wisdom. All of creation is called upon to bear witness to his wisdom and governance—from the mountains to the deserts, the sun to the rain, the leviathan to the rock badger—all created things. The testimony is a harmony of praise for the wise and intentional Creator. There is nothing outside of his carefully ordered providence, nothing without intention and design.

At the end of the day it is the sight of God that changes things for Job, not answers to his questions (42:5). Encounter, presence, nearness, and vision—all more valuable and transformative in suffering than understanding. This is one of the most important lessons of this book. Job was convinced that a trial, answers, and vindication would soothe the pain and bring about the needed solution to his suffering. Like Job, we don’t know what we need.

This whirlwind conversation is a rich resource for hurting people. A few of these gems are particularly noteworthy. We learn that God’s absolute sovereignty is a surprising source of strength and hope in tribulation. Job is in the storm of adversity. God shows up in a hurricane like wind. God is not hiding the fact that he is the God of the storm. He does not cover up his governance over Job’s situation. The truth of his sovereignty is not to be swept under the rug when adversity strikes. Ironically, the source of Job’s pain is also his only hope. Cutting the kingship of God out of the conversation on suffering is not only unwise it is precarious. Only a sovereign God can help.

We also draw from this dialogue that creation theology is foundational for suffering well. It is astonishing to observe God’s approach to Job. After a barrage of lament, complaint, and petition God sits Job down for a creation lesson. By drawing everything back to creation God schools Job in the most important and foundational truths of human existence. God is the Creator. We are his creatures. Affirming these two truths and living within them has profound implications for the human being. We give God his rightful place and take our own. We affirm God’s infinite capacity and ability and recognize our limits. In this arena our perspective and questions on suffering or anything else for that matter are placed in the appropriate context. When we live within creaturely boundaries and refuse to confine the Creator we are rooted in reality and wisdom is sure to follow. God’s questions to Job are absurd precisely because he is a mere creature. Knowing one’s place before God is vital for right thinking about suffering and pain.

One final thing that can be discerned from this give and take is God’s tremendous concern for his creation. Skill and forethought accompanied every creative activity of this God. His sustained care is expressed through his extensive knowledge and ample provision for all that he has made. He is a God that delights to bring water on a land where there is no man and feed the young of animals we rarely ever see (38:26, 39-41). Jesus viewed this loving providence as a baseline for understanding God’s care for human beings (Matt 10:29-31). If the “how much more” formula can be laid over top of these final chapters then we have a striking affirmation of God’s care for Job.

Stepping back, we have spent time considering the collision of dimensions in the book of Job. We saw that the realms converge when Satan acts upon Job to afflict him with suffering. We also saw this convergence in the relationship between God and Job. We have noted that understanding the heavenly dimension is vital for a proper reading of the book. This interaction of the two realms is of equal importance for a right understanding of Job.

[1] There is a good possibility that he makes another entrance in the form of Leviathan in chapter 41. This is the argument of Robert S. Fyall, Now my Eyes have Seen You: Images of creation and evil in the book of Job (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 20. “Satan is not simply a minor figure who has a walk-on part in Chapters 1 and 2 and then disappears from the action. Rather the battle with evil is a major motif in the book as a whole.”

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