Many books and articles have been written about the book of Job and the pain and suffering he endured, trying to analyze how we should deal with pain and loss. But the book of Job is only secondarily concerned with the problem of pain. It is really about God’s problem. It may seem strange to think that God could really have problems, considering that He is the sovereign Creator, all-powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere. However, the book of Job shows that God not only has a problem but a dilemma.

The book starts with a brief sketch of Job. He is blameless and upright, besides being very wealthy. Despite his great wealth he fears God and ministers diligently to his family and community (Job 1:1-5, 29:12-17).

Unknown to Job, a great council is taking place in heaven as the “sons of God[1] gather. But there is a discordant element—Satan appears among them. In answer to Gods question, “From where do you come?,” Satan says that he has come from planet earth, and that he in fact is the ruler of earth, going where he pleases and doing what he pleases.[2] This of course is not what God created the earth for—when He created man He gave him dominion over the earth, to rule it and subdue it (Genesis 1:26-28). But at the dawn of creation Satan stole the earth from Adam and Eve[3] and became their ruler, infecting them with his sinful character.

However, God is not willing to concede that Satan completely and exclusively rules the earth. He points to Job who is “a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). We see here that God does not have a problem with Job. He is not seeking to develop his character or teach him lessons—God is answering a serious challenge by Satan. If God were to concede the earth to Satan (and presumably end His involvement in its affairs), the suffering that we now see would be nothing in comparison. Therefore He tells Satan that He has someone who has not submitted to his evil principles, that planet earth still has humans who are loyal to God.

Satan does not accept the evidence of Job’s character and behavior. He accuses God of buying Job’s loyalty by blessing him with wealth and protecting him from harm—“So Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

This creates a dilemma for God. He can protect His friend Job, in which case Satan will claim that he was right, that the earth really does belong to him, despite the presence of a few “good" people that God has bribed into serving Him. Or He can remove His protection, in which case Satan will unleash his destructive rage upon Job to prove that Job doesn’t really serve God out of anything but self-interest.

Because the stakes are so high—the whole human race—God allows Satan to move against Job, although He still puts some limits on how far he can go (Job 1:12, 2:6). Satan acts quickly, first destroying all of Job’s possessions and children. Then, after demanding from God permission to touch Job’s body, he destroys his health and leaves him in abject pain and misery (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-10).

The majority of the book consists of dialogues between Job and his “friends.” At first they are shocked and silent, but little by little they develop their core argument—that pain and suffering come upon those who sin and rebel against God, and that Job’s affliction proves that he is a wicked sinner, whether he admits it or not.

Job consistently maintains that he has done nothing to deserve the kind of suffering he is experiencing. On the one hand he expresses faith in God—he knows that his Redeemer lives and that even if God slays him he will still trust in Him (Job 13:15, 19:25-27). On the other hand he accuses God of hiding from Him and beseeches Him to come tell him what he has done and why he is being punished (Job 23). His three friends are not able to overturn Job’s insistence that he is innocent. At this point a younger friend, Elihu, speaks up in God’s defense, telling Job that he is wrong to accuse God in order to justify himself (Job 32-37).

Then God Himself shows up to speak to Job “out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1). Although this is one of the most extensive narratives by God in the Bible, many readers have been frustrated, expecting God to say things related to the issue at hand, which is that He has allowed Satan to devastate Job’s life. But at first glance it seems that God ignores Job’s pain and complaints, and simply tells him, “I am the Creator, I am wise and powerful, I have made many amazing animals and you can’t understand Me. I know what I’m doing and you need to simply submit to my sovereignty.” Although this is all true, it is not very satisfying. However, a careful reading shows that God in His answer to Job actually gives important insight into the issues of the great controversy and the reasons for the pain and suffering that fills the earth.

God begins by pointing to His creation, that was so perfect and wonderful in the beginning that “the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:4-7). He describes how He maintains the order of the universe, keeping the sea in its place, causing the sun to rise and bringing light to the earth, controlling the seasons, keeping the heavenly bodies in their orbits and providing rain at the right time and in the right amount (Job 38:8-38). In effect He says to Job, “You can’t imagine what chaos there would be if I were not constantly controlling My creation”

Then God comes to the heart of his message to Job about His great dilemma—that the creation has been defiled by the effects of sin that resides in the hearts of the creatures He loves. To illustrate the problems He uses specific animals as examples. He points first to two animals that kill other creatures and eat dead bodies—lions and ravens. That this is not a part of God’s plan is made clear by the fact that in the new earth “the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:7) and “there shall be no more death” (Revelation 21:4). But even though these creatures have been warped by the effects of sin and live completely out of harmony with God’s plan and intention in creation, they are still totally dependent upon Him. He still opens His hand to “satisfy the appetite of the young lions” and “provide food for the raven when its young ones cry to God” (Job. 38:39-41). God, in love and mercy, gives life and provides for His creatures which do not do what He wants, and this includes sinners and even Satan! Jesus underscored this amazing truth with His statement, “[God] makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” Matthew 5:45.

God then gives a description of six animals that have the very characteristics of humans that make it difficult for God to reach them and bring them out of sin and into harmony with Him. Wild goats and deer hide so effectively that one cannot know where and how they bear their young. The wild donkey is so independent that it scorns the care of a human owner, finding its own food in the desert. The wild ox refuses to submit its great strength to a master. The ostrich is so stupid that she can’t even care for her own young. The horse has no fear, and is even attracted to the battle that puts its life at risk. And finally the eagle loves blood and dead things, and makes its home on high where she cannot be reached. (Job 39:1-30).

These are the characteristics of sinful humanity. We hide from God, we reject His offers to care for us, we refuse to submit to His sovereignty, we are blind to our own stupidty, we are not afraid of the dangers that can kill us, and we love the things that lead to death. God challenges Job to tell Him how he would relate to sinners if he were God and had the infinite power that God has at His disposal. “Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor and array yourself with glory and beauty. Disperse the rage of your wrath; look on everyone who is proud and bring him low; tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together, bind their faces in hidden darkness” (Job 40:11-13). Is this how Job would handle the problem of sin and sinners? God has not done this; instead of overwhelming us with His “majesty and splendor…glory and beauty,” He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant…He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:7,8). Instead of “treading down the wicked in their place” He “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Job, in His complaints against God, has questioned God’s judgments and actions, and God asks him the pointed question, “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?” (Job 40:8).

Now God comes to the real dilemma—behind the rebellion of sinful humanity there is the originator of sin, Satan. It is Satan who has brought sin and suffering into the world, and he is the direct cause of Job’s problems. By presenting two creatures that do not now exist on earth God shows the difficulty of dealing with “the ruler of this world.”[4]

Behemoth is “the first of the ways of God” (this invites a comparison with “Lucifer, son of the morning” Isaiah 14:12). He has a “tail like a cedar, bones like beams of bronze, ribs like bars of iron…the river may rage, yet he is not disturbed; He is confident, though the Jordan gushes into his mouth, though he takes it in his eyes or one pierces his nose with a snare” (Job 40:15-24). Job should consider how difficult it would be for him to move Behemoth out of his place in the river. God has a similar dilemma; Satan has taken up residence “in the river” of this earth, and most of its inhabitants are his loyal subjects. It is no simple matter for God to get rid of him, especially since His goal is to save as many of Satan's followers as possible.

Finally God points to Leviathan, a creature most like the fire-breathing dragon of mythology whose “breath kindles coals, and a flame goes out of his mouth” (Job 41:21). God first reminds Job that Leviathan cannot be controlled (can you put a reed through his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook?…Lay your hand on him; remember the battle—never do it again!” Job 41:2, 8). He cannot be reasoned with (“Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak softly to you?” Job 41:3,4). He will not cooperate (“Will he make a covenant with you? Will you take him as a servant forever?” Job 41:4). He is dangerous to be around (‘Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you leash him for your maidens?” Job 41:5). On the other hand, if you decide that you want to get rid of him he is hard to kill (“Can you fill his skin with harpoons, or his head with fishing spears?…Indeed, any hope of overcoming him is false” Job 41:7,9). There are no chinks in his armor (“His rows of scales are his pride, shut up tightly as with a seal…that no air can come between them;[5] they are joined one to another, they stick together and cannot be parted” Job 41:15-17). There is no chance of changing his heart (“His heart is as hard as stone, even as hard as the lower millstone” Job 41;24). He is not afraid of anything (“On earth there is nothing like him which is made without fear” Job 41;33) and he leads a host of others who are like him (“He is king over all the children of pride” Job 41;34).

For us, like Job, it is easy to say, “Why does God allow evil? Why doesn't He put an end to pain and suffering?” God’s answer is that it is not as easy as it seems, even for God. He has a world full of people like the animals He mentioned, who hide from Him, who think they don’t need Him, who refuse to submit to him, who don’t think clearly, who foolishly have no fear of the consequences of their actions, and who love the things of death. And planted firmly in the midst of the river of humanity is the great rebel, “the king over all the children of pride.”

It is tempting to think that God should just exercise His sovereign power and put a stop to it once and for all. If this would bring an effective and final end to sin, no doubt God would do this. But knowing what it really takes to rid the universe of sin, God has utilized a different strategy. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10).

No one wants sin and suffering to end more than God, and in the end “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away…Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21;4,5). Until then, we who find ourselves suffering from the effects of sin should ask God to help us see things from His perspective. If we could gain some insight into the reality "behind the scenes," we might share in Job's experience. After hearing God's words, he finally said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:3-5).

Continue to next section: APPENDIX 9

[1] Job 38:4-7 reveals that the sons of God are heavenly beings who existed before the creation of the world.

[2] Job 1:6,7, 2:1,2. In Ezekiel 28:14 we see that the phrase “walking back and forth” indicates occupying a rightful position.

[3] Satan alluded to his ownership of the earth when he offered to give it to Jesus (its Creator!) if only He would bow down and worship Satan (Matthew 7:8,9).

[4] John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11

[5] The word for air is spirit, showing that Satan is impervious to the influence of the Holy Spirit.