God Is Great; God Is Good
by Phil Johnson
love Job’s immediate reaction to the first wave of tragedies that rocked his life, robbed him of his possessions, and took the lives of his children, all in one single, horrific day: “He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'” (Job 1:21).
It’s a response rooted in the very doctrines most people today associate with Calvinism. Job was confessing that God is sovereign; that every good thing Job ever had in the first place was a gracious gift from the Lord’s hand; and that by definition, Job had no rightful claim to any of God’s blessings.
Even more important, in the throes of a grief greater than you and I have ever known, Job was confessing that God is good. It was the very opposite of what Satan claimed Job would do (verse 11): “He will curse you to your face.” Instead of cursing, Job blessed God’s name. He knew that even in the midst of such unthinkable calamity—despite all the evil that had befallen him—God is good.
Job did not understand God’s purpose, of course. He knew nothing of Satan’s challenge (vv. 9-11). 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.
Did you realize that in the New Testament, James says that is the very lesson the book of Job is designed to teach us? James 5:10-11: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Even this horrible trial was a token of the Lord’s mercy and compassion to Job. I know 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.
See, although Scripture says Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1, 8), that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a sinner. It means he was a justified sinner. His conscience was clear of any unrepented sin (and Job himself outlines that argument in chapter 31). 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. He was justified. He was forgiven. He had devoted his life to the pursuit of holiness, and there was no glaring, gross, or life-destroying sin in his life.
Still, Job was not sinless. He acknowledged his need for a Redeemer in Job 19:25. And at the end of the book, when He begins to have an even greater understanding of God’s greatness and sovereignty, Job’s response in Job 42:6 is, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
But let’s not miss the point: 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.
Bear in mind on the other hand, however, that Job, as a sinful creature, knew he had no claim on any blessing of any kind. God could justly afflict him, because Job needed to be refined and strengthened. And God’s ultimate purpose, as James 5:11 says, was compassion and mercy.
Consider this: Job’s loss was temporary. All his afflictions were transient, passing tribulations that would eventually give way to an even greater weight of eternal glory. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, Our “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Suffering is the price and prelude of glory. For Christians, the suffering is always temporary, and the glory is eternal, and infinitely greater. That is our hope in times of trouble.
God eventually gave Job back more than he had lost: Job 42:12-17 gives the end of the story:
And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, 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 loss of one of my sons. And a new son 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 consider this: 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, God’s goodness is a far more solid rock on which to cast our anchor 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 precisely what the promise of Romans 8:28 teaches us, 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 how hard to understand it may be for the moment—we know He will use it for good. And it is the very definition of faith to be able to cling to that promise no matter what.
In the words of Psalm 31:19, “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!”
Help us, Lord, to trust what we know, even when we cannot see it in the dark.