Chapter 3: The Goodness of God (Job 2)
C. S. Lewis likened every child of God to an original hand-painted portrait in progress. The Lord is the Master Artist and we are the canvas upon which He creates His pleasure. Our portraits are a statement of His eternal intent. He begins by stretching us like a canvas over a frame. The tension must be just right. He is careful not to stretch us too tight, lest we break. Then He takes out His brush and pallet. The picture He has in mind is known only to Him. Every stroke of His brush is an expression of His love and grace. Sometimes He scrapes and rubs the paint with his trowel firmly into the fabric to get His desired effect. Because there will be one and only one portrait of His beloved subjects, He attends to it throughout our appointed years with the love of a man for his wife or a mother for her child. One can imagine that the canvas wished the artist would not be so dedicated to His task. The canvas would gladly settle to be a quick thumbnail sketch rather than a masterpiece. Then Lewis concluded, “In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had destined for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more but for less” (Lewis, 35). God will not settle for less glory with a hasty thumbnail sketch of our life. Instead, He is determined to present every child of God as a beautiful and perfect portrait painted in the likeness of His beloved Son. Sadly, all too often we would gladly settle for temporal and spiritual mediocrity. In order to produce a most excellent portrait, God often uses the instruments of pain and suffering to awaken us to our destinythat which is most worthwhile and enduring. God never settles for less than what is good and glorious, for Himself and us.
In his day, C.S. Lewis was considered the premier apologist for the goodness of God. He saw his sound theological construct, however, severely tested when he watched his beloved wife slowly and painfully suffer and die with bone cancer. He said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death.” During this time of extreme hurt, he coined the phrase, “Pain is God’s megaphone” (Lewis 93). By this he meant God uses physical, emotional, and relational pain to awaken us to His love and grace. Sometimes personal affliction teaches lessons that never can be learned in prosperity. It can have the effect of either driving us into or away from God’s arms. In God’s good providence, He uses every test and trial to create in us an intimacy with Him that can be learned in no other way. This is where our sense of God’s goodness is tested and tried. That is why it is essential to have an adequate and appropriate understanding of what the Bible means when it says, “God is good” (Psalms 73:1).
Let us clarify a few basic doctrinal truths about God’s goodness before we return to Job. Providence is God’s continual perfect guidance and provision for all of His creation by which He accomplishes His good pleasure through the power of His sovereign will. God’s providential plan is good because God is good. Man cannot adequately define the goodness of God because we are inclined to explain our notion of His goodness by what seems good to us. For example, we praise God when we see answers to our prayers. But is He still good if He does not answer them the way we asked? Those with a faith in the goodness of God will answer “yes” because they believe there is a greater good being worked by Him that we may not know or understand. Their faith is in God and not in their capacity to comprehend the reason for everything. His goodness never changes, for his kindness is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Fortunately for us, His kindness is rooted in Himself and not in our goodness or merit. He is tenderhearted, sympathetic, and unfailing in His attitude toward the righteous. Sometimes His goodness comes to us with severe mercy through adversity, heartbreak, and pain. That is why we must have an adequate theology of the goodness of God to better understand how He uses suffering, loss, and pain for His good and ours. It is with this brief theological sidebar that we return, now, to Job.
So far in Job, we have learned that God is holy and sovereign. The curtain of the first scene in Job opened on the earth. God in His good providence blessed Job with unparalleled years of prosperity. The curtain closed with Job offering sacrifices for each of his beloved sons and daughters on their appointed days.
The second scene opened in heaven. On an appointed day unbeknownst to Job, while he was living a blameless, upright, God-fearing life, events took place in heaven that would dramatically and painfully alter his life forever. Satan came amongst the sons of God to present himself to the Lord. This “Slanderer” came to test God and Job. He argued that the righteous obey and worship God only because of their self-centered interest in what they get from God. He asked the Lord, “Why wouldn’t Job love You after You have been so good to him?” Therefore, he wagered with the Lord, “Now stretch out your hand and strike down all the works of Job’s hands and he will surely curse you face to face!” (cf. Job 1:10-11). He predicted Job would curse God when his world crashed down around him. The Lord agreed to the test and granted Satan the power to strike everything in Job’s life except Job himself. As the curtain closed on the second scene in heaven, God was sovereignly ruling from His eternal throne allowing both evil men and fallen angels to bring about His greater good and glory through their acts of enmity against the righteous.
The third scene opened on the earth. On an appointed day, Satan struck Job with a rapid display of power. He made Job penniless and childless. In spite of overwhelming grief, Job knelt down and worshiped the Lord. He was convinced that God is the very definition of goodness and not himself. He added, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Through all his trials and tribulations Job did not sin or curse God. God’s work in Job had prevailed. The curtain closed on scene three with Job’s faith steadfast in God’s goodness.
His story did not end with the epitaph, “And Job lived happily ever after.” The saga had only just begun; there were still more good purposes awaiting Job. The Divine Artist once again stretched out the canvas of Job’s life and prepared to paint. The curtain opens now on the fourth scene in Heaven unbeknownst to Job in Job 2:1-6.
Satan Serves God’s Holy Purposes
Again we learn that in God’s providence even Satan serves God’s holy purposes and our good. In poetic symmetry, we see that God is supreme over all created things (Job 2:1-2). The curtain opens on another appointed day like that mentioned in chapter one when, “the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord” (Job 1:6). They were required to report their activities and duties on the earth to the Lord. This time, notice the text says, “Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord” (Job 2:1). He came to give a damage report on Job. There is no sense of sorrow, regret, or repentance for striking Job and failing. The Lord knew before He asked that Satan had been considering Job again. But Satan would not admit his evil intent. He was back again to prove man’s faith in God was based only upon what man gets out of the relationship and not a true love for God Himself.
The Lord reaffirmed His pleasure in the righteous (Job 1:8; 2:3). Like an artist who proudly displays his artwork in an art studio, the Lord takes infinite pleasure in each and every portrait He paints of His righteous (cf. Psalm 5:12; 34:15; 37:25; 55:22). He upholds and sustains them with His invisible hands. He is near to the brokenhearted even if they do not sense His presence. His eyes and ears are always open to their cry for deliverance. He never forsakes them because He sees them as He sees the beauty of His Son. The righteous are tempted to question God’s goodness in troubled times, yet He remains unchangeable in His goodness. Satan had struck Job by using the intent of evil men and the forces of nature to work his ill. Yet Job’s integrity held fast, even though he suffered without cause. The paint God used on Job’s portrait did not peel or fade. His portrait of Job, however, was not complete.
With poetic symmetry, God again heard Satan’s complaint (Job 2:4-6). He still could not comprehend why the righteous would retain their integrity when God, in His providence, dealt them low-numbered spades. He argued like a stubborn attorney, “skin for skin!” (Job 2:4). He borrowed this phrase from the marketplace of the day. It is likely that Job, who sold animal hides for a living, learned to barter. In the same way, Satan believed Job would barter off or trade away his faith if his skin or health were touched. Satan believes the righteous will trade away their integrity and faith when they are faced with pain and death in an emergency room, a chemo ward, or a trash landfill. Like before, he asked the Lord to strike Job. Remember Job, in our story, had no knowledge of these scenes in heaven. All he had was a faith in the goodness of God the same faith that is available to us today. How do any of us know what has been agreed upon in heaven? Will Satan be granted power to take our possessions, our loved ones, or our health? Only God knows the answer.
Without any argument, the Lord confidently agreed to let Satan test Job’s faith by touching his skin and bones, but He would not permit him to take Job’s life. It is fascinating to see that Satan knows just how far he can go to inflict sickness and pain upon the righteous without causing their death. The Lord was not finished with the portrait of Job’s life (Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:15; 1 John 3:8). The Bible tells us God will not allow Satan (or anything) to even touch us unless it serves His holy purposes and our ultimate good. That is why Christ entered time and space, in order to destroy the power of death and to release men who have been in bondage all of their lives to the fear of death. He disarmed the principalities and powers of darkness when He publicly died on the cross. It was a day of triumph every child of God can look back to. The goodness of God was demonstrated as never before, and was also defined that day in a way words alone could not express. The cross was a living portrait of God’s love and goodness displayed for all to see. That day Satan’s head was severely crushed but his appointed day of death had not yet come. A wounded serpent is still very dangerous and he still shakes his rattles and bears his fangs in a pitiful attempt to thwart God’s pleasure and purpose. The curtain of scene four closes with God still on the throne and Satan hurrying off once again to inject his painful venom into Job’s body.
Sickness Even Serves God’s Holy Purposes
The curtain of scene five rises on earth and we see in God’s providence even sickness serves God’s holy purposes and our good (Job 2:7-10). Satan struck Job with boils over every inch of his body. The symptoms of his disease resemble leprosy or elephantiasis. Throughout the book, we are given numerous gruesome details of Job’s disease which included inflamed ulcerous sores and tumors over all his body outside, as well as inside. His skin turned black and became swollen and infected with worms. His legs and face became deformed making him unrecognizable even to his friends. He was covered with oozing sores, flaky itching scabs, loss of appetite and weight, bodily weakness, restlessness, shortness of breath, foul breath (evident of decay), depression, fever, and of course, continual pain (Job 2:7-8; 2:12; 3:24-25; 6:11; 7:5; 9:18; 16:16; 19:17; 19:20; 30:17; 30:27; 30:30).
The volume of God’s megaphone was turned to the highest of decibels. If that was not bad enough, his condition made him a contagious social outcast. People probably ran and hid from his presence. He had to cry out when others approached saying, “Unclean! Unclean!” His only refuge was hiding in the shadow of rocks, in the tombs of cemeteries, or in the trash dump outside the city gates. He sat in ashes, garbage, and dung. It was the worst possible environment for healing open wounds. To make his crisis even more embarrassing, leprosy was considered God’s curse on sinners (Deuteronomy 28:27; 28:35-37). So not only did he experience physical pain and social isolation, but he faced public scorn and condemnation, not unlike those who suffer today with AIDS (autoimmune deficiency syndrome). As Job sat in the midst of ashes, he tried to relieve his pain and discomfort by scraping his sores with broken pottery and glass. As he did, he only further inflamed his skin and caused greater infection. Job was in a living helldeath would have been a welcomed gift from God.
Still not satisfied, Satan also struck him through the frustration of his wife (Job 2:9). She questioned why her husband would still hold on to his integrity. She reasoned that it would be better to curse God and die, rather than face this painful fate. Her words were spoken as if Satan were speaking through her (Job 1:5; 1:11; 1:22; 2:5).
Understandably, Bible commentators have not treated Mrs. Job very well. One said, “Job has lost his children but his wife God retained, for he needed not be tried by losing her; he was proved sufficiently by having her.” I will briefly come to her defense in that she had just lost her home, as well as any income to sustain herself and her husband. She was watching her husband suffer with a hideous disease. It is not surprising to hear people agonizing in their grief, saying things they might later regret. Let us lighten up on the lady for in the end she shall see the goodness of God. But that is a story for another day.
Job responded with acceptance of God’s good providence He rebuked his wife for her folly by saying, “You speak as a foolish woman” (Job 2:10). But notice he reminded her of the many good years they previously enjoyed together under God’s good providence, with their ten children, limitless wealth, and vital marriage. He asked her, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). This was an affirmation of his faith in God’s good providence. He believed he did not deserve the former years of prosperity any more than the days of adversity he was now experiencing. Regardless of his pain, he was grateful for God’s goodness in his life. His theological conviction that God is good by nature, brought him comfort when nothing else did (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 52:1; Romans 11:22-23). He was satisfied in knowing God is especially good to the righteous (Exodus 33:19-20; Psalm 31:19-24). He also believed God works all things together for the good of the righteous (Romans 8:28). He will later affirm his hope that God’s goodness follows the righteous forever (Psalm 23:6). The curtain goes down on one of the darkest days in any man’s life, but through it all, Job’s faith held true when tested by Satan. God’s sustaining hand had proven sufficient once again.
How Should Job’s Story Affect Us?
The record of Job’s sufferings awakens in all of us a sense of fear and hope. Only the Lord knows what any of us will face in the future. Will it be bankruptcy or prosperity? Will it bring sickness, dementia, paralysis, or years of good health? Will we soon lose the most precious people in our lives? Or will we live to enjoy many more years with our family and friends? These uncertainties remind us that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (cf. Proverbs 9:10). As we face an uncertain future, we who trust in God through faith in Christ, know God is good and His providence is good, regardless of what He allows to enter our lives. He will remain good no matter how dark the night and how great the pain. Everything serves God’s holy and perfect purposes.
So, much can be learned from those whose faith is like that of Job. I am amazed at the faith of a woman I know whose name is Jan. She has been living with the effects of paralysis for many years. Attendants are needed to watch over her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Virtually the only control she has of her body is with her eyes. She speaks through the movement of her eyes. When she arrives at my midweek bible study, I am so in awe of her faith! There is no bitterness, only a mind seeking to know her Savior better. Her life is a constant reminder of the goodness of God in my own life. Would any of us think Him less good if we suffered such adversity as Jan?
I see others with this same kind of faith. There is “Lisa” who has endured almost ten years with a cancerous brain tumor. She, her husband, and children have endured hardships that I can only imagine. They make any of my frustrations or difficulties pale in comparison to theirs.
Then there is “Lavilla,” who called me and her family to her death bed three weeks ago, after suffering with years of radiation and chemo. I called her this week to see how things were going. From her bed, she was attempting (by phone) to help her husband move into an assisted care facility, as well as clear the way for medical insurance. In the midst of recounting to me her many efforts, she added, “By the way, I didn’t die!” “Really!” I said.
All of these people have one thing in common; a conviction that God is good in spite of the suffering and adversity they endure. Their hope is that God’s goodness will follow them all the days of their lives. They would agree with T.S. Elliot when he said, “I had far rather walk, as I do, in daily terror of eternity, than feel that this was only a children’s game in which all the contestants would get equally worthless prizes in the end.”(Elliot)
May we remember that every child of God is an original hand-painted portrait in process. The Lord is the Master Artist and we are the canvas upon which He creates His pleasure. Our portraits are a statement of His eternal intent. His work is not finished until His good providence is complete for each of us. Until then, we must be convinced of God’s goodness and the goodness of His providence. Let us not settle for becoming a thumbnail sketch but strive to be a “Masterpiece” for God’s glory. May we seek more and not less out of life! God is good!
“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Chris” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).