Living by Faith, Not Feelings By Phil Johnson

By God’s own testimony, Job was a righteous man, “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (1:1)—”none like him on the earth” (v.8).

But in this cursed world even the most righteous people sometimes feel God is obscured by the darkness of grief and suffering. Job in particular suffered the loss of all his children and all his earthly possessions in a single day, after which his entire body was reduced to a festering mass of sores, and he was left without any earthly comfort whatsoever—while being besieged with bad counsel and false accusations.

In the wake of so many unimaginable, crushing, life-destroying tragedies and plagues, Job felt abandoned by God. He felt overwhelmed by grief and personal loss.

Few if any of us have ever suffered so much and to such a degree. Still, it’s not hard to understand how Job felt. We cringe at the thought of how much it hurt. And we can imagine how bitter the whole experience tasted. There are no words to describe such anguish, and no mere words can comfort a soul in the throes of such agony. Job 2:13 says his friends “sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.”

Here’s something to consider: Job’s suffering was no easier for him emotionally than it would be for you and me, no matter how righteous he was. He still felt the same kind of intense anguish and pain that you and I would feel if we suffered under such trials.

Just as human words fail to describe or to relieve such deep despair, human emotions don’t help us make sense of our miseries. If you want to sort through the problem of evil, you have to think sensibly, and theologically, and biblically, and not let your emotions rule your mind.

Job was a wise enough man than to know better than to respond by reflex on the basis of his feelings. If he had listened to his own heart and given vent to his passions (as the typical counselor today would advise him) he could easily been consumed with bitterness, self-pity, anger, and frustration. He might even have been tempted to take his wife’s advice: “Curse God and die!”

But Job’s very first reaction was the response of someone who knows something about God: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Job filtered his feelings through his theology. It still did not make sense to him why he had to suffer like this. (That is why Job is 42 chapters long; it records the dialogue Job had with his friends as he tried to sort this out.) Still in the wake of so much tragedy, even though he had no answers and was overwhelmed with painful feelings, his immediate response made no mention of those feelings. He didn’t voice any of the doubt or confusion he might have been struggling with. Instead, his very first statement was a bold affirmation of what he knew to be true about God.

Faced with the darkness of pain and loss, he didn’t go chasing his emotions or wallowing in his uncertainty; he stood firm and clung to what he knew for sure. He anchored his soul on theological truths he was certain of, rather than setting himself adrift on a sea of confusion and doubt.

This cannot be stressed too much: It was sound theology, not his feelings, that enabled Job to weather the immediate shock of the news that his children and everything he owned were gone forever. Here is a reminder of why sound theology is so important—and so intensely practical.

Notice what truths Job clung to and rehearsed in that simple affirmation of faith: the sovereignty, righteousness, and goodness of God. Those were the central certainties in his theology, and they were the very truths that anchored him all the way through his trials. From start to finish in the book of Job, amid all Job’s complaints and pleading, he never once let go of these simple, foundational principles.

1.    God is Sovereign

Job was a staunch Calvinist. He knew and confessed instantly that God was sovereignly in control of his life, even though Job had every reason to feel like his life was spinning out of control. As the book of Job unfolds, he raises all the same questions anyone would ask in a situation like this. He wanted to know why. He wondered if he had done something to deserve judgment. He wondered if God was angry with him for something. He had lots of questions.

But in that amazing, initial response, he simply affirmed what he knew beyond doubt: that God is sovereign and He therefore must have decreed what happened to Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” He knew the hand of God was in it.

He didn’t rebuke Satan or even mention him. Job’s focus was on God, and he knew this bitter providence could not have come to him apart from God’s knowledge and express permission. But even so, Job didn’t try to explain away God’s sovereignty by dismissing it as bare permission. He knew God had a purpose in these afflictions. God wasn’t a mere bystander, uninvolved and unconcerned. It is significant that Job used active verbs: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”

Job didn’t blame God for the evil in the act, but he did not for a moment imagine that God was a helpless bystander when tragedy struck. That is a healthy view of the sovereignty of God. Job knew that God controls providence. He is still in control even when it seems like evil has taken over. In other words, when God gave Satan permission to afflict Job, it was a willing permission, not an involuntary concession that Satan tricked or goaded God to allow against His better judgment. God Himself had a purpose and a plan in this. It was His plan—ordained by God’s decree—before the evil plot was ever hatched in Satan’s mind.

We know something of what went on behind the scenes in heaven because Job 1:6-12 describes it for us. Job didn’t have the benefit of knowing what Satan was up to and why God permitted it. Nevertheless, he trusted from the start that God was still firmly in control. Satan could touch nothing of Job’s without God’s permission. So if Job suffered, it could only be because God was allowing him to suffer. And that being the case, Job knew God had a good purpose in it. Job understood all those things even without seeing the scene in heaven, because he already had a right view of God’s sovereignty.

Furthermore, Job understood that God has a right to do with His creatures whatever He chooses. If He decides to allow us to suffer, He has every right to do so. In Job 2:10, Job tells his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” The same sentiment would be expressed centuries later in Lamentations 3:38-41, where the prophet Jeremiah wrote,

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That woe and well-being proceed?

Why should a living man complain,

A man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the Lord;

Let us lift our hearts and hands To God in heaven.

Even Jesus said to Peter on the night of his betrayal, “Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). So Job’s first reply was remarkably Christlike.

Where did Job gain such a clear perspective? It was not something that arose from the grief

and pain he was suffering at that moment, of course. But it was the perspective his theology had taught him. What he knew about God, not what he felt with his emotions, enabled him to endure this trial.

2.    God is Just

“In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:22).

What a remarkable statement! People often respond to disaster and loss by charging God with wrong. Job knew that God is just. So while acknowledging that God was sovereignly in control of all the tragedies that had befallen him, Job was careful not to blame God in any way.

That is a difficult balance to achieve. There are even some Calvinists—I’d call them hyper- Calvinists—who fall into the trap of blaming God for evil, blithely describing His sovereignty over evil in such a careless, ill-thought-through way that they make Him the efficient cause and instigator of evil. That is simply bad theology. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting your doctrine of divine sovereignty to be so exclusive that you portray God as the author or agent of evil. He is not.

Don’t ever imagine that God exercises his sovereignty over evil in the same active way he exercises sovereignty over good. Don’t ever suggest that God is the source or immediate cause of evil in the same way He is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He is not the “creator” of evil in the same way He is the Creator of good.

In fact, evil is not a created thing. Evil is a defect in something God created to be good. When God finished His creative work, He pronounced everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31), so evil cannot be something God created. Evil is not a substance or a created thing. It represents the marring of what God created good. The agents of evil are Satan, the demons, and fallen humanity. We are the ones responsible for damaging what God made to be good. God’s sovereignty does not change that fact.

Now, God certainly permitted evil. It isn’t something that caught Him off guard or took Him by surprise. He is not the helpless victim of evildoers. Evil was part of His plan from before the foundation of the world. He ordained it by decree. But He is not to blame for it. He is not the agent or author responsible for who deserves the blame for wickedness. He uses evil for His own wise and holy ends, but He doesn’t sanction it, condone it, or otherwise approve it.

Remember, according to Job 1:11, Satan challenged God to afflict Job. He said, “Stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” But God did not stretch out His hand and afflict Job. That was left for Satan to do. All God did was remove the restraints from Satan, and Satan was the agent of the evil.

It is quite true that Job suffered according to the plan and providence of God—but God was not the source of the evil; Satan was. Job fully understood that, and that is why although he knew God is sovereign, he did not blame God for the evil that befell him.

We’re not for a moment to imagine that God’s sovereignty makes Him blameworthy for the evil that occurs in a fallen universe. To entertain such a thought would be to curse God in our hearts—the very thing Job was determined never to do.

3.    God is Good

Once more, note Job 1:21: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In the midst of his trials, Job was blessing God—confessing that God is good. That is the

very opposite of what Satan claimed Job would do: “He will surely curse You to Your face!” (v. 11). Instead, Job emphatically blessed God’s name! He knew that even in the midst of this horrible calamity, despite all the evil that had befallen him, God was good.

Remember that Job did not yet understand God’s purpose. He did not know about Satan’s challenge. But he knew the character of God. That is why he was so tormented trying to figure it all out. But you can read all his complaints and protests, and you will see that he never once impugns the goodness of God. In fact, in Job 13:15, Job says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” He trusted that God was good.

This is the very lesson the book of Job is designed to teach us: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11).

Even this horrible trial was a token of the Lord’s mercy and compassion to Job. That is hard to grasp because of our human prejudices, but I am certain that when we get to heaven, we will hear testimony from the lips of Job himself about the great goodness and compassion of God that came to him because of his trial.

Don’t misunderstand; although Scripture says Job was a righteous man, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a sinner. It means he was a justified sinner.  Job was not sinless. He acknowledged his need for a Redeemer in Job 19:25. And at the end of the book, when He gets an even better picture of God’s greatness and sovereignty, Job’s response in Job 42:6 is, “I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”

Some have suggested that there was an element of overconfidence or self-righteousness in Job. But remember that even Satan had nothing to accuse him for in chapter 1. Job was a faithful man. He was forgiven. He was justified. He had devoted his life to the pursuit of holiness, and there was no gross or life-destroying sin in his life. His conscience was clear of any unrepented sin, and he outlines that argument in chapter 31.

So it ought to be clear that God did not afflict Job in order to punish him for his sin. God was testing him, proving him, and strengthening his faith. God’s ultimate purpose for Job was good, even though the immediate effect was calamity. This was not punishment for his sin.

Still, as a sinful creature, Job had no claim on any blessing of any kind. God could justly afflict him, because Job needed to be refined and strengthened. And the humility of Job’s first response to the trial proves that he understood those things, and he trusted the goodness of God.

Consider this: Job’s loss was temporary. All his afflictions were transient, passing afflictions that would eventually give way to an even greater weight of eternal glory. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Suffering is the price and prelude of glory. But while the suffering is temporary, the glory is eternal, and infinitely greater. That is our hope in the midst of suffering.

God eventually gave Job back more than he had lost. Here’s Job 42:12-17:

Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first Jemimah, the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch. In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days.

When I first read that years ago, I couldn’t help feeling that new sons and daughters would hardly make up for the children Job had lost. As a father, I cannot imagine the pain that would be caused by the death of one of my sons. A new child wouldn’t ease the sorrow of loss or make up for the pain of it. So my first reaction to this passage, years ago, was to think this was scant comfort for Job.

But remember, Job’s children were righteous, too. So when he died, old and full of age, he was instantly reunited when them for all eternity. Even now, they are together in the Lord’s presence. Job, from heaven’s perspective, can look back on that trial and say it was truly a light and passing affliction, and the Lord restored to him everything he ever lost, and more.

That is our joy and our confidence in the midst of disaster. It may be contrary to the feelings we experience when we suffer loss, but from an eternal perspective, it is a far more solid rock on which to anchor our hope than the way we feel in the midst of calamity. That’s why theology is so important. It teaches us that despite what we may feel, God is still in control; he is just and righteous; and above all, He is good.

That is just what the promise of Romans 8:28 says, isn’t it? “We know that all things work together for good.” How do we know that? Because we know that God is good, and so no matter what He does—no matter how painful or hard to understand it may be for the moment— we know He will use it for good.

It is the very definition of faith to be able to cling to that promise, no matter what. [1]


[1] Dave Jordan, M. E. Pulpit Magazine November 2012 Vol. 01. No. 2.

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