Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 1

Job was probably the envy of all who knew him, and he was probably insufferable because of it.


Job was a righteous man the Book of Job says in the opening chapter and verse. (Job 1:1) But was he really? It seems that Job was very well regarded in his community, taking a prominent place (at the gate where the wise men sat). Job thought he was righteous and believed that everyone saw him that way too: as a righteous man above reproach. (Job 32:7-17)

Job was also a very wealthy man. He had a large family. He was proud of his good fortune, which he believed was the result of his righteous living. He even offered sacrifices for his children in case they sinned. (Job 1:5) I get the impression he didn’t think they had sinned, but he wanted to get a jump on it if they did.

Job reminds me of the kind of person who lives in a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The kind of person who has a perfect wife and perfect children who got good grades, got along with each other and always did the right things in their parents’ eyes. The kind of person who listened to his parents and other authorities growing up, was the example the coaches pointed to on the athletic field, got good grades, went to a good college, got a good job, didn’t smoke or drink, went to church on Sunday and lived a good and secure life.

Job was probably the envy of all who knew him, and he was probably insufferable because of it. It seems Job was righteous, at least compared to other people. Job was also righteous in his own eyes (Job 32:1). And that’s the issue: Job viewed the world through the lens of his own self-righteousness.

Job viewed the world through the lens of his own self-righteousness

Job reminds me of the kind of person who was good and proud of it. Job clearly believed that his goodness was the source of all the good things he accomplished and acquired in his life. Job believed in God, of course, like a good Catholic or Protestant Christian. Job would have been a good American, a self-made man, equal parts proud of good living and proud of the wisdom of his belief in God. He would probably be a proud patriot too, if he was alive today.

Scripture is clear, however, that no man is righteous before God. (Romans 3:10) None! Job may have been righteous compared to other people, but no one can stand up to God on his own merit.

Jesus eliminated all doubt on the subject when he said, “No one is good but God.” (Mark 10:18) To bring that point home, Jesus challenged the holy men of his day (men like Job) saying: it’s not enough to refrain from murder – you sin when you are angry at your brother, insult him and call him a fool (Matt. 5:21-22); and it’s not enough to refrain from committing the act of adultery – you commit adultery in your heart when you lust after a woman (Matt. 5:27-28).

Then Jesus really got down to the bottom line: if you really want to be good, then don’t just be just (Matt. 5:38) – be merciful and gracious and loving:

“[I]f anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:39-42)

If you really want to be good, then don’t just love your family, friends and people who are good to you:

“But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'” (Matt. 5:44-48)

The statement in the first chapter and verse of Job, then, needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It isn’t true. It can’t be true, because we know that no man is righteous before God, but that statement sets the stage for the entire Book of Job. It isn’t meant to be taken as true, but it is the way Job viewed himself.

Job’s view of himself a a righteous man colored Job’s view of the world. His belief that he was righteous defined who he thought he was. He attributed all of his success to it.

As we will see in the next blog post, Job viewed others through the lens of his own self-righteousness. We see this in his friends who mirrored to Job the advice Job had given others. Now that the tables were turned, Job and his friends would come to realize how cold and hollow that advice really is, and they would come to see God in a different way.

We tend to think that all of the misfortunes of other people are brought on by their own bad decisions, bad actions and bad living, but that isn’t always the case. We tend to think our fortunes are the result of our good decisions, good actions and good living, but that isn’t necessarily true either.

God’s Purpose for Good

Jacob with his sons before the Pharaoh, ceiling fresco by Johann Adam Remele in Joseph Hall, Cistercian Abbey of Bronbach in Reicholzheim near Wertheim, Germany

“But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.'” Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

I have written recently about the verse, Genesis 50:20 (things men might mean for evil God is able to use for good). (See God in the Dark) The message that God can turn the evil that impacts our lives for good is  powerful one. Though we might despair in our circumstances, especially when the evil we experience is caused by people, maybe even people we love, God is ever at work. God is able to redeem our circumstances, and, more importantly, redeem us.

As with any verse in the Bible, though we need to read it in context to understand the fullest, and most complete meaning. Genesis 50:20 was spoken by Joseph in a very specific context, so let’s take a look at that context and mine this well-known verse for some deeper meaning.

Continue reading “God’s Purpose for Good”

On Acknowledging and Transcending Evil – A Message to the Church

The Nazi party came to power in a Christian nation, and church leaders participated in the Rwandan genocide. How do we deal with that?

CIRCA 1933: Rare German vintage cigarette card from the 1933 Der Staat der Arbeit und des Friedens album, Part 2, Picture 155.

As often happens with me, disparate things I have read recently gel together in ways that provide insight. One of those things I read a number of weeks ago. It was a piece written about the effect of Christianity (or lack thereof) on Nazi Germany. I don’t have a citation anymore.

The other piece I read today, I Met the Man Who Killed My Entire Family, by Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today (Aug. 2017), summarizing an interview with Immaculee Ilibagiza about her experience with the Rwandan genocide. Aside from the harrowing details and utterly transformative reality of real forgiveness, this statement jumped off the pages at me: “United Nations tribunals have found many church leaders guilty of murdering neighbors or aiding Hutu in hunting down Tutsi and moderate Hutu.”

How could that be?! About one million people were killed in Rwanda, a country about the size of Maryland, and “the Church” was not only complicit in the killings by looking the other way; it was directly involved!

That is a hard reality for believers to accept, but we need to grasp the reality of it. Church leaders, not just people who sat in the pews, were directly involved in the Rwandan genocide.

We might be tempted to discount the conclusions of the United Nations, which is not a particularly faith-friendly institution, but I think that is a mistake. I felt the same way reading the account of the Christian influence in Nazi Germany.

To be sure, some of the conclusions of the author of the article about Nazi Germany were unfair and (I believe) misinformed, but that doesn’t mean there was no truth in it. I came away having to acknowledge that I can no longer claim that the Nazi influence in post-World War I Germany was grounded solely in atheism.

Reality is more complicated than that, and we (the church) need to be careful of glossing over painful realities that don’t fit into how we see ourselves. The recent exposure of the problem of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches is another example. We can’t turn a blind eye to evil in the church just because it doesn’t line up with the way the church ought to be.

If something doesn’t line up with the commands of Christ to love others as ourselves and the litmus test, “they will know us by our love”, we should be all the more vigilant to acknowledge the short falling and quick to respond appropriately – especially if the failure arises in the Church!

I think part of the danger, as we might learn from Nazi Germany, is that we see ourselves as the “good” people. We tend to think that evil is “out there”. Other people are evil. The church is just as susceptible to this thinking as anyone… maybe even more so!

I believe the Gospel message is hurt more by our silent refusal to acknowledge evil, even when it might arise “in the church”, than it would be by quick and candid acknowledgment and appropriate responses. I think we do the Gospel a disservice when we fail to acknowledge evil that arises in the church, and by failing to acknowledge it we become complicit with it.

Continue reading “On Acknowledging and Transcending Evil – A Message to the Church”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 4)

God is intimately acquainted with the pain and suffering we experience. The God of the cross who knows and understands our suffering can be trusted.


I have tackled the problem of evil – why is there pain and suffering in the world if God is good and all-powerful? – in a series blog posts, beginning with an introduction, followed by Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. The impetus for the blog posts comes from the explore God discussion that was happening at over 800 churches in the Chicago area over the winter of 2019. The series of blog posts was more specifically inspired by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University

The problem is easy enough to state, but it’s difficult to resolve, if, indeed, there is a resolution. Although not every religion maintains that God is personal, volitional, all-powerful and all-good, the problem of evil. Not every world religion faces the problem head on. Buddhism, for instance, posits that evil doesn’t really exist; it’s an illusion.

I have been exploring a Christian response to the problem, but it’s all pretty academic unless and until we are overwhelmed by evil, pain and suffering in our own lives. At the point of real evil, pain and suffering, an academic response doesn’t seem to satisfy.

Just last week, in the midst of thinking through the issues and writing the blog series, a tragedy of overwhelming proportions happened right in the city where all my kids went to school. An apparently disgruntled employee on the cusp of being fired from his 15-year position at a local manufacturing plant in Aurora, IL, opened fire on employees in the plant, killing five of them and wounding six other people, including six police officers responding to the alarm that went out. The youngest victim was a 21-year old college intern who started his internship in the HR department that day.

When a person is reeling from pain and suffering that hits close to home, especially from such a senseless, intentional and indiscriminate act of violence, the academic answers ring hollow and fall flat.

Without letting go of any of the attributes of God that are revealed in the Bible, we can work through the problem intellectually and logically to a solution, as I have tried to do in the summary that is contained in the previous blog posts. In some ways this solution is like the theory of gravity for Christianity. We can understand it, but knowing the cold, “scientific” facts are no consolation after falling off a cliff.

What remains, after we have worked through an intellectual solution to the problem, is the emotional, existential weight of the problem of evil. This is where we live. The weight of the problem of evil is hard to shake, quite frankly, when the pain and suffering becomes personal. When we come face to face with evil, pain and suffering in the world in our personal lives, an intellectual response isn’t enough.

This is exactly when people turn to religion and to God for comfort and answers…, or turn away. If all that Christianity has to offer is an academic response, what is the use?

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 4)”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 3)

The Bible describes an ongoing cosmic conflict. Why the conflict of beings opposing God if He is all-powerful?


I have been blogging on the problem of pain. (See the Introduction, Part 1 and Part 2). This is “the” problem, with a capital “P” for the Christian who maintains, based on biblical revelation, that God is all-powerful and all-good. If God is so powerful, why can’t He stop the evil? If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop the evil? Either God isn’t all-powerful, or He isn’t good, or (ultimately) the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.

I am working my way through the puzzle, putting the pieces in place. You will have to read through the previous posts to catch up (if you want to). The piece of the puzzle I want to explore next is the cosmic drama that is evident in the Scripture.

Jesus refers to the Devil as the ruler of this world. So the Devil most have some authority and jurisdiction over the world. If God is really God, the authority of the Devil to do what he does must have give by God. But why?! If the question isn’t simply rhetorical, there must be a purpose? Why would an all-powerful God allow restraints on His power to allow the rejection, opposition and counter-activity of being He created?

Before I try to answer that question, I want to dive into the evidence of this conflict that we see in the Scripture and look for clues as to why it would be allowed by an all-powerful God.

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 3)”

Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1)

Love is a key component to understanding the problem of evil.


I introduced the problem of evil in a previous blog post, looking at God in light of the evil in the world. My writing is prompted by the discussion series being conducted by over 800 churches in the Chicago, explore God, taking on some of the big questions about faith.

I have tackled various aspects of the problem of pain before, but understanding is an ongoing process. I write as a way of working through things. My understanding continues to grow and sometimes to change.

In the previous post, I suggested that we should approach the problem of evil in a similar fashion to the way we approach science,. Not that faith questions are susceptible of scientific inquiry, per se, but the answers aren’t always obvious. Sometimes they take considerable work on our part. We shouldn’t be lazy and give up simply because the work is hard.

As with science, we need to start with a premise. For the theist, the premise is that God exists. For the Christian, the God who exists is revealed in the Scripture. He is a maximal being – maximally great, maximally good and maximally powerful. Of course, this is where the problem of evil arises. (The problem of evil takes on different form, depending on the way each religion describes God. Not all religions describe God as a maximal, personal and volitional Being.)

How can a good and all-powerful God allow evil, pain and suffering to exist in the world? This is the question posed by the problem of evil. Either God isn’t all powerful, the counterargument goes, or He isn’t good.

If we are going to work through the problem, we need to hold to the premises we are given. Is there a way to do that? Can we harmonize these things? I think we can.

Continue reading “Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1)”

Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Intro)

We live in a complex world, and sometimes the answers in theology, as in science, are complex.


Over 800 churches in the Chicago area have been carrying on a discussion under the heading, Explore God. The discussion is prompted by a series of seven questions. A couple of weeks ago, the question was this: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

This is “the” hard question. It’s a question with which most believers struggle to reconcile with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. It is the stated reason why men such as Darwin and Einstein were not believers in the God of the Bible.  It’s a question we should take seriously, though the answers may not be easy or simple to understand.

As with the natural world, answers to very difficult questions like the problem of evil may be complex. We live in a complex world in which the theory of relatively seems to be contradicted by quantum theory. Sometimes answers aren’t readily seen and require careful study and reflection to determine. Sometimes we have to dig, and engage our minds and work through the details.

How long have we been studying the stars and galaxies and the tiniest particles of the world? And we haven’t yet begun to fathom all the mysteries. Little by little we make progress. Since the days of Job (from the oldest book in the Bible), the problem of evil has been a mystery to be fathomed. As with science, we have made a great deal of progress, but to begin with, we need a good understanding of the problem.

In a nutshell, it is this: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all good, there should be no evil in the world.

I have written about and around this issue for years. There are answers. There are explanations and ways of understanding why a good, all-powerful God puts up with evil in the world. For some, the answers may be intellectually viable, but they fall short emotionally. I would not pretend that the issue is an easy one to grapple with.

As in science, though, we have to start with a premise. For this issue, we start with the premise that God exists, that God is good, and God is all-powerful. How do these things fit together in harmony (if they can be fit together in harmony)?

Continue reading “Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Intro)”