When God Permits Evil

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As we continue into the story of Job (we’re still in chapter one), we see God as the great restrainer of chaos and evil. God places a hedge of protection around his loved ones and the only harm that happens is because God permits it. Job presents us with Satan in a divine audience. Satan goes about seeking opportunities to undermine mankind. Job chapter one shows Satan permitted to use enemy attack and natural phenomena to destroy Job’s wealth. Once unleashed by God, Satan hits Job within the bounds placed upon him. God moved the proverbial hedge of protection in closer, leaving some things outside. Satan could take away Job’s family and wealth, but had to leave his body untouched.

Satan struck four areas of Job’s life. The story leads us to conclude these were simultaneous attacks and the messengers arrive almost together—“While he was still speaking another messenger came [. . .].” In each report we see the same formula: a catastrophe happened, Job’s possessions were lost through theft or destruction, servants were killed, and only one survived to report the loss. Job lost his children, domesticated animals and servants. When it was over, Job’s property was reduced to his wife and his health. Perhaps this is where we get the old saying, “At least you’ve got your health.”

Blessing or at least protection is portrayed as coming straight from God’s active intervention in the affairs of man, but destruction, though permitted by God, was here seen as accomplished by another agent released or hindered by divine command. While it is easy to say that since God has the power to restrain, his choice to not do so makes the destruction at least consequent of his action. While true, notice that in Job, God did not send lightening, the wind, the Sabeans or Chaldeans. There is an active effort on the part of the inspired author to show this evil as not the direct work of God. God is the ultimate authority of course, and evil as well as good must be part of his plan, or it would not be permitted. Don’t take this too far, because there are times when scripture speaks of God sending destruction or evil in his own agency. God actively hardened Pharaoh’s heart; scripture says God sent the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish his people, etc. But in this case, it is interesting that so much effort is used to show God as hands-off in the affliction. We are looking at Job’s view of God, not the full revelation of God’s nature demonstrated through the rest of scripture. Could it be that Job, though needing this scourging for his own good did not deserve it? In the end we discover Job, who was so holy and upright, still had a problem—self-righteousness. He believed God’s actions against him were unjust. God answers Job, but never gives a reason for his action. In this case being God “means never having to say you’re sorry.” You can’t be sorry, if you can’t be wrong. God was right to scourge Job to drive self-righteousness from him.

We often look at the friends of Job, and I will go into more on them later, but we forget that there were four friends and not three. Three friends were rebuked by God—they were the ones who accused Job of some secret sin bringing the wrath of God. The fourth friend rebuked Job for what he was saying about God. The fourth friend did not get rebuked. God told the other three to ask Job to pray for them—Job who had made sacrifice for his children was to pray for God’s hand of punishment to be restrained from them—their false accusation were no less sinful just because they were defending God. The fourth friend received nothing at all. He had hit the nail on head—God may have sent it, but God cannot be unjust—Job either deserved it or needed it. The indicator of justice is not guilt, but divine choice.

There can be at least five reasons why God would permit evil in our lives: retribution, correction, redirection, strengthening, or preparation. With retribution there is a correlation between the evil and some sin—sinful practice brings divine punishment. With correction there may be sin or some other error involved. God can allow evil in our lives to correct us and bring us back onto a proper course. With redirection, God may use evil in our lives to change our course and cause us to go a direction we either never considered or perhaps never wanted. For example, God got my attention years ago when my little girl was born with a heart defect. With strengthening, God may permit things in our lives to make us stronger. Once we suffer our way through an ordeal it makes us stronger to face them again. With preparation, God uses things, including evil, in our lives to prepare us for better service. For example there is the death of my son. This was terrible and we suffered greatly by losing a child. Years later, when ministering to a couple who had just lost their son, the mother said to us, “You are the only ones here who know what we’re going through.” This was true. Part of God’s allowing this in our lives must have been to prepare us to minister in other’s lives. We were prepared through suffering.

So God was allowing evil in Job’s life to correct a self-righteous mindset. He should see God as ultimately just and right, no matter what God allows. Could the inspired author be setting us up for later? God permitted the evil that Job had not earned, but did not perform it. In this way God is insulated from the false charge of injustice. He had the right to permit the evil on Job—and could have even performed it had He elected to—but he stayed hands-off.

This is one of the problems of the old Question of Evil. It assumes God can be compelled to take, or to refrain from, certain actions. However, God is such that the justice of His actions is not determined by why he acts but by His action alone. If God acts it is a just act simply because it is a divine act. God is not restrained by or accountable to some external sense of good or evil, right or wrong. God defines good and evil, right and wrong. The only restraint on God is God’s own nature. If He does something it is just, because His doing it proves its justice. If He permits something it is right because his permitting it proves its rightness. The act performed by another may be evil—as Satan’s striking of Job was—but God’s permitting it was right. So the question of evil shows itself to be based on a giant error. It assumes God is restrained to act in a particular way. Nothing restrains God, but God himself.

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