Why did God allow Satan to rain such destruction upon this innocent man, Job? And what purpose did it serve?

When we look at the question of why God gave Satan permission to bring such terrible trials on Job, we find that the book of Job itself contains no answers. Yes, we see that Satan asked permission. But why did God allow it?

As an author, I approach this as a literary production, as a narrative. If this were a work of fiction, one would ask “Who is changed?” You see, for a story to be a story it requires certain elements. First of all, any real story has some sort of conflict. That’s easy to see in this case. There’s plenty of conflict. There’s a conflict between God and Satan, conflict between Job and his wife; there’s conflict between Job and his so-called comforters. But conflict is not enough: to be a story the conflict has to have meaning, and in a story the meaning is determined by what changes take place in the characters, if any.

There are three basic kinds of stories. In the first type of story, the hero or protagonist struggles against something — another person, circumstances, whatever. At the end of the story the protagonist has been changed. In the second type of story there is a protagonist and an antagonist, the hero and villain, if you prefer. In the type 2 story, the protagonist and the antagonist struggle and one of them, usually the antagonist is changed. But there’s a third type of story in which neither the antagonist nor the protagonist change. In that case it is the observer or audience who is changed.

So as we look for meaning in the story of Job, we ask, “Who is changed?” And the answer is… unresolved. God does not change; that would be antithetical to the entire message of the Bible. Satan does not change. The fact that he fails to persuade Job to curse God and die does not end his rebellion. Although terribly persecuted under intense trial Job remains faithful to God. If Job’s wife changes we’re not told of it. And Job’s comforters, although they are somewhat reproved, do not appear to change. This makes an already perplexing story somewhat more perplexing.

Why did God let Satan visit these terrible trials upon Job? What is the point of the story? Job endures the trials, but he learns little from it all. He is never informed that his trials are the result of the heavenly encounters that the reader sees. In fact, Job never gets explanation from God. Essentially, what God says to Job is, “You have no idea what I’m involved in.”

Job’s comforters see his trials, but they show no evidence of having learned anything from it. The accusation against God, that Job serves him only because God bribes him to do so, is not known to those on Earth. In fact, the rationale of Job’s comforters actually mirrors Satan’s accusation. They see serving God as a straightforward exchange: you serve him, he blesses you; you don’t serve him, he punishes you. The events in the heavenly court demonstrate that this is false — but not to Job’s comforters!

So let’s list everything so far:

  • God — does not change
  • Satan — does not change
  • Job — does not change
  • Job’s wife — does not change
  • Job’s “comforters” — do not change

Have we left anyone out? Yes, the “sons of God.” In the whole book of Job, they are never heard from one way or the other. But they are the only ones, other than God or Satan, who know what this whole story is about. As we said, Job doesn’t know — he’s never told. In fact, none of the characters on earth are told. But both of the times that Satan is shown accusing God are on a day when “the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord.”

The only ones who are changed — and this is a very subtle change, not directly stated — are the “sons of God.” How are they changed? The “sons of God” are the only ones who see the accusation made by Satan. They’re the only ones who understand why the trials come upon Job. The more we analyze this narrative, the clearer it becomes that this whole drama is for their benefit. They see, demonstrated by Job’s faithfulness, that Satan’s accusations are false. The “sons of God” are the only characters in the narrative who can benefit from it.

Of course, you and I, who read the book of Job, can also benefit from it. But all that does is reinforce the conclusion that this is a type 3 narrative, where the observers are the ones who are changed.

Seventh-day Adventists call this idea, that there are witnesses elsewhere to the conflict between God and Satan which is taking place on this earth, the Great Controversy. But we are not the only ones to have seen it. C. S. Lewis expressed it this way: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.” Still, this doctrine of the Great Controversy is part of our DNA as Seventh-day Adventists. It is part of who we are, our identity. And it is one of the reasons why I choose to be a Seventh-day Adventist.

Within the narrative, no change is explicitly demonstrated. In fact, the whole book lacks resolution. But then, we also know that the Great Controversy has not been finally resolved. And I believe that is why the book of Job is not resolved. Although the story of Job provides strong evidence concerning who is right and who is wrong in this great controversy, it is, and was, only that: strong evidence. It was not the final say; it was not the final verdict. The book of Job is not resolved because the Great Controversy goes on. How it must come to an end is another distinctive doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist church. I will take that up in a later blog.

Next time, however, I want to talk about one of the other unique features of the book of Job and what that tells us.

Read other posts from this series on Adventist Identity.