Does God play games with our lives?
Job 1 certainly makes it seem that way. Job is a man of faith and integrity, but just a few tempting words from Satan and God seems to be manipulated into a betting match that will destroy Job’s life.
“Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (Job 1:9-12 ESV)
This is a difficult picture no matter what angle from which you look at it! But, surely God is not being duped… surely he’s not using Job as a pawn to prove a point… is he?
I don’t believe so…
The book of Job is dripping with two key components that help us interpret what is going on here: sovereignty and sarcasm. First, sovereignty…
A surface level reading may make it look like Satan is manipulating God for his own purposes, but Job 1 has been carefully written to reveal just the opposite…God is using Satan for his own purposes. God is the one who initiates the conversation and draws Satan’s attention to Job. This is not by accident! God makes no mistakes…he is pointing Satan towards Job for a reason and Satan plays right into his hand.
Satan claims that Job only worships God because he is paid to do that with extravagant blessings and security. If these things were removed…Job would curse God, not bless him. Basically, Satan says Job’s joy isn’t really God…it’s all his stuff. He wants to destroy Job’s joy and defame God’s glory.
But to do this… he needs permission.
Satan himself highlights the sovereignty of God by revealing that he is under the Lord’s authority. He cannot do anything that God will not allow. Satan may be a lion, but he is a lion on God’s leash… and God sovereignly chooses to let out some slack within limits he sovereignly sets.
Why?… Why does God do this?
He is not giving into temptation! God cannot be tempted with evil (Ja 1:13)! He must have a sovereign, good purpose… but what could that be? Is he just trying to win a game with Satan? I don’t believe so and I’ll explain why in a moment, but let’s assume that is what is going on for just a moment. Let’s pretend the entire point is to prove Satan wrong. Why does that bother us? Why does it bother me?
Truth be told… it bothers us because we believe that God should hold us as a higher priority than himself. Deep down, my selfish heart wants God’s top priority to be my well-being and happiness as I define it! Therefore, for him to act in a way that reveals anything else as a higher priority than me… well I think that’s a problem!
I’m especially bothered by his action in Job 1 because the higher priority seems to be his ego! I mean… it is ok for me to be selfishly-self-centered and want God to be all about me, but it is not ok for God to be selfishly-self-centered!
This type of thinking, which is so common among Christians, is completely out-of-sync with the God who is revealed to us in Scripture. It assumes that if God holds himself as his first priority… that makes him self-centered. It does not. We believe in the triune God. One God who is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the trinity eternally glorify one another. The son selflessly glorifies the father, the father selflessly glorifies the son, the Spirit selfless glorifies the son, etc.
The trinity makes it possible for God to be completely selfless and yet centered on himself simultaneously!
If that doesn’t make your head hurt… I don’t know what will! God being about his own glory is not him being an ego-maniac!… it is him being loving within the trinity! This is why God IS love!
God is the only one like this… he is the only being for whom it is right for him to be all about his own glory! Not only is it right, but it is also good for him to be about his own glory! If he was about anybody else’s…whose would we have him be about? Yours? Mine? If God lifted up anyone or anything as more glorious than himself he’d be lying… he’d be in the wrong! He wouldn’t be good!
It is right and good for God to reveal himself as the most glorious one… and it is good for us! We want God to give us the best, but when we define “best” we always get it wrong! The true definition of best is HIM! For God to give us the best, most satisfying, joy-filled, glorious thing in all the cosmos means he must give us himself!
This is what is being revealed through the book of Job! God is showing, not just Satan, but ALL CREATION that he is more satisfying than possessions, wealth, family, relationships, health, etc. Job will lose all of that and still cling to God because he is the greatest treasure!
This is no game! God is revealing the deepest truth of the universe to Job and all of us, namely, that nothing will satisfy and save our hearts other than himself.
Satan may be treating this like a schoolyard bet, but God does not play games with the lives of his people! Satan is aiming to defame God’s glory and destroy Job’s joy, but God will display his glory and deepen Job’s joy. What is happening here goes well beyond merely proving Satan wrong.
We know that because Satan disappears after chapter 2. If the whole point was to prove Satan wrong, then that is accomplished by 2:10 and the book should be over… case closed… bet won!
But this is not about a “bet.” Satan being shamed is only the beginning of God’s sovereign, deeper purposes. Satan gets credit for all the evil and the wrong, but God gets credit for the deep good he is working… much of which Job never sees… much of which we cannot see.
All throughout the book, Job will ask the hard “why” questions we have all asked at various points in our lives. And, like Job, we want God to answer! We want to know… God what are you doing?!?!
After much silence… God will answer, but it won’t be what Job was expecting or hoping for. The Lord speaks with some sovereign sarcasm…but not the kind designed to cut down…no…the kind meant to bring comfort.
Let’s briefly see the second thing that helps us interpret this book… sarcasm.
The book of Job is filled with Sarcasm. It fills the speeches of Job and his friends, but it actually begins and end with God himself.
In chapters 1 and 2, we see sarcasm in the way God speaks with Satan. We especially see it in 2:3, “[Job] still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.”
Now, I made the case that God was not being manipulated by Satan or giving into a temptation…yet these words seem to say the opposite. But, before we jump to quick conclusions, we must remember that the clearest thing in chapters 1-2 (even in God’s interaction with Satan) is God’s absolute sovereignty.
Again, in chapter 2, God is the one who begins the conversation and turns Satan’s attention toward Job. Again, Satan is shown to be on a leash. Again, we are not seeing God giving into Satan, but the other way around. When the Lord tells Satan, “you incited me against [Job] to destroy him without reason,” the key phrase is “without reason.” What reason was given in chapter 1 for destroying Job? The reason Satan gave was to prove that Job’s worship was mercenary and selfish, but that failed!
God’s words “without reason” are a sarcastic slap in the face to the Accuser! This is the “I was right” moment. Satan had no reason for trying to incite God against Job! God is not “admitting” to being manipulated, quite the opposite, he is pointing out his sovereign victory!
This is even more obvious when you look at Satan’s response in 2:4-5, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” Satan feels the sting of sovereign sarcasm and lashes out… “Oh yeah! Well try taking his health…then it will work!” He knows God is right and that his “reasoning” about Job was wrong. He lost. He always does.
God uses sarcasm to show Satan how silly and powerless his schemes are.
Satan is silenced, but the story is not over.
Once again, we remember that God has purposes that go beyond Satan. The majority of the book centers on Job and his struggles with his suffering. This is where the main point must be found… God is revealing something deep about suffering to Job and to us…what is it?
We want it to be “the why!” Job wants to know why he is suffering… why is this happening to him? But this is not the question God answers.
Job wants “the why,” but God gives him “the who.”
In chapter 38, God finally speaks and sovereign sarcasm is on display again. He asks question after question designed to show Job just how much of the cosmos he does not understand. God sees the full picture and is sovereign over it all. He guides the big, the grand, the magnanimous…and the minute, the miniature, the small.
He understands all, knows all, is over all…and he is over what is happening to Job. God’s basic message to Job is, “Look at who I am. Look at my infinite wisdom, my infinite sight. Job, I know what is happening to you, I haven’t forgotten you, I haven’t missed it! And Job, I understand it…I see it in the context of everything else…I know what I’m doing. You don’t have the same perspective that I do, there is no way for you to understand everything that is happening with you. Job see me and trust me! I am worthy of your trust!”
Job wants the why… but he gets something great… the who… God.
The book of Job teaches us that our suffering does not make sense to us, but if the all-wise, all-powerful God promises that he is working all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purposes… then he can be trusted!
He is with us amidst our suffering and he is for us… even when we don’t understand how.
And something amazing happens… Job trusts.
God’s glory, his infinite worth is put on display because Job holds onto God as his greatest treasure no matter what happens. Therefore, Job’s joy is deepened. He finds comfort and satisfaction in God.
God is with him and God is for him. God’s sovereignty is what made Job have so many questions amidst his suffering. Sovereignty is what causes our questions when we hurt. We want to cry out, God… if you’re in control… why is this happening?
Sovereignty may feel like a rock under which we will be crushed with questions, but it is actually the rock of hope upon which we stand as more than conquerors through Christ!
Sovereignty guarantees our hope.
Sovereignty comforts us.
Sovereignty compels us to trust… to walk by faith and not by sight.
Job is not told why he suffers, but he is told that (the who) the sovereign God is with him and for him… and that guarantees his hope! His redeemer lives and will redeem him! Ultimately, we know that happens through God taking on flesh and redeeming us in Christ!
In Christ, sin (the thing that brought pain and death into the world) is defeated! Death is defeated! We may still suffer in this broken world, but the sovereign Christ has promised that suffering will come to an end and he will make all things new! He has paid for that promise with his blood and he has the sovereign power to keep it!
The sovereignty of Job’s redeemer guarantees his hope that one day his suffering will end… he will be fully redeemed, fully vindicated. That day may come in this life or in the next, but it will come… such a marvelous hope can be promised to us precisely because God is sovereign.
God is not playing games with our lives… he is displaying glory and working for our good!