Recently, my son asked one of those age-old questions: Why does God not destroy the devil? It would be so easy for him to do. These are the kind of questions to which there are no easy answers. They are the kind of questions that sceptics love, because they give an excuse to disbelieve.
While there is no straightforward answer to questions like this, there are texts in Scripture that help us to wrestle. The opening chapters of Job are one such text.
As we saw yesterday, one of the lessons that Job teaches us is about divine sovereignty. But Job also shows that sovereignty doesn’t necessarily look like what we expect.
Christians frequently have an ill-informed understanding of God’s sovereign governance. We sometimes imagine God’s governance to take the form of what Christopher Ash calls “absolute monism.” In this understanding, God rules absolutely and unilaterally. He speaks and everyone else obey. What he says goes and he asks for no input. This model may, in fact, be closer to Islam than Christianity.
The opposite end of the spectrum is a form of polytheism, in which multiple gods exist who compete with each other for authority. The strongest god in the moment rules—until he is overpowered by a stronger god. This also does not portray biblical reality.
Job 1–2 gives a more thorough picture of the heavenly throne room. In these chapters, we find God presiding as the absolute ruler over a council of lesser beings. These beings appear to be greater in power to humanity, though they are not gods themselves. They are created beings, to whom God has granted authority and power and whom he consults in his governance. And here is the incredible thing: The devil is among those “counsellors.”
We sometimes get confused when we read of Satan among “the sons of God” in these early chapters of Job. Surely, we think, Satan has no place in heaven. That impression is correct—if we think of heaven as a place of fellowship. In the opening chapters of Job, however, the emphasis in the heavily court is governance rather than fellowship. God does not enjoy communion with the sons of God but exercises authority and rule over and through them. The devil’s place, therefore, is one of submission. He is there to do God’s bidding, as all the other sons of God are there to do. They, including the devil, are his servants.
Since he is pure light, God can and will have no fellowship with evil (see Habakkuk 1:13). But he can and will and does use the devil and his evil schemes in governing his creation. As Martin Luther put it, the devil is God’s devil.
When Satan answered God that he was moving to and fro through the earth, we are to understand that he was doing so because that is what God instructed him to do. His God-given role was to move throughout the earth witnessing the faithfulness of God’s servants. As he accused Job, he fulfilled God’s purpose. As he afflicted Job, he carried out God’s command. At no point did he act independently of God.
Now this may not answer all your questions about the problem of evil. Why does God allow Satan to accuse and afflict? There may not always be a nice, pat answer to that question, but the story of Job gives us confidence that God allows it. Satan and his angels carry out God’s orders and only ever act under divine instruction. No affliction ever comes upon you that does not proceed from the sovereign hand of God, even if it comes through evil instrumentation.
A church member recently recounted a tragedy that struck her family some forty years ago. She recalls her pastor at that time coming to visit her. Greeting her, he said, “Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. But I know God is good, God is in control, and God wants to teach you something through this.”
He was right. That’s the way God rules. He doesn’t promise that we will understand his ways this side of the grave. But he promises that he is in control and that he will hold us fast.
As you reflect on Job 1–2 this morning, thank God for his sovereign rule over everything and everyone. Ask for grace to trust him even when you don’t understand the affliction he allows.