Why Did God Allow Satan to Harm Job and His Family?

Chris —  October 8, 2014 — 26 Comments

Why would God allow Satan to harm Job? Is God placing side bets while we battle cancer or lose loved ones? Here are some preliminary thoughts in response to those questions.

Our church continues our series on the book of Job, A Journey With Job: Seeing and Savoring the Beauty of Christ Amid the Long Walk of Suffering. You can listen to the first sermon, “Someone You Need to Meet,” on our church web site.

Any study of the book of Job raises questions about the debate between God and Satan. We wonder, why would God allow Satan to harm Job and his family. I will be speaking to this question more in our next sermon, but let me make some of the points in advance here in this blog post. The idea is that these points are all part of the answer.

So what should we say in response to the question, “Why did God allow Satan to harm Job”?

  1. The objective of the book of Job is not to teach a comprehensive view of the workings of Satan. Satan – – more literally, “the adversary” — in Job is a minor character. He appears in the first two chapters and is not heard from again. This tips us off from the beginning that Satan’s role is “incidental” in Job. We shouldn’t bring all our questions to Job. Rather, we should listen to those answers it gives. God does not intend for the book of Job to comprehensively explain his dealings with the Satan.
  2. Satan is only a pawn in God’s sovereign purposes. Just as God allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery in Egypt, God sometimes permits those motivated by hate to inflict temporary harm. But we can be sure that even when God allows harm, ultimately all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).
  3. We do not have the capacity to comprehensively understand why God allowed Satan to harm Job. God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not ours (Psalm 103:11-12). We cannot process all the ways of God. When my children were babies, and Jamie bathed them, they usually screamed loudly because they were temporarily naked and cold. Babies can’t understand their mother’s care. You see the analogy- –  the gulf between us and God is infinitely greater than the gulf between a baby and her mother. Loving parents allow temporary pain for reasons that their children do not understand.
  4. The Cross shows us that we can trust God even though we don’t understand everything. When considering the interaction between God and the Satan in Job, we must understand that this is not anywhere near the most notable instance of God allowing someone to be harmed. The ultimate example of unjust suffering is that God sent his one and only Son – – – to enter into our space and history – – – and to be crucified. The Cross shows us that it is reasonable to trust in God even though we can’t understand terrible pain. As Kelly Clark wrote: “A God who shares in our pain, who redeems our sorrows and our shortcomings, who wipes away ever tear, is surely a good God.”
  5. We cannot imagine how the pain of this life will be undone by Christ. There are wounds that we face in life that hurt so badly we cannot imagine ever healing. I suffered the first major blow of grief over 40 years ago and it is still hard for me to think about. I can’t imagine how that pain can be healed. And yet, the resurrection shows us that Satan will not have the last word and that pain can be undone for those who know Christ. While God’s people cannot understand the beauty of all that Christ is accomplishing, we can be sure that He is doing immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).


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26 responses to Why Did God Allow Satan to Harm Job and His Family?

  1. It may be just me but there seems to be a significant difference between a child crying through a bath which takes about 5 minutes and the death of Job’s wife and children along with Job’s suffering from a horrible disease. Thank you for attempting to answer this, however.

  2. Nell, thanks for commenting. Yes – – looking on it – — it seems like an almost insulting comparison. I’m not sure it’s the best analogy for someone going through pain.

    It’s only helpful to the extent that we see the difference between a baby and a parent is much smaller than between us and God.

    Your comment is going to help me be more sensitive on Sunday – – – My blog is where I think aloud. Got to go for now, but more later.

  3. Hallo Nell,

    I think it’s a issue of scale. The 5 minutes the child is in the bath may be feel like too long a time in unbearable pain for the child, not knowing when it will end and what’s it’s purpose it. In dealing with tragedy and intense pain, I refer to Paul’s mindset from Romans 14:8 : “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”. The end of all pain and suffering, the final blow, is death. And if it must be, then we die for the Lord.

  4. True, we can’t possibly begin to understand all the purposes of God, but the book of Job does give us at least two reasons why God allows suffering:

    1. For our good (“Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.” Job 33:29-30)

    2. For His glory (Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21)

  5. dr. james willingham October 9, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    I have had a whole series of Job-like miseries happen to me in my life time. After one of the really big ones (Fall of ’72), sometime in the Winter or Spring of ’73, I dreamed that I was standing in a semicircle of people around Jesus (in this case he looked like the pictures of the beardless youth answering the questions of the wise men in the Temple), and we were asking him about these tragedies. He answered our questions, and we were laughing, a happy laughter like the answers were the only thing that could ever explain of justify such sufferings. Suddenly, it hit me that this was Jesus and my thought was: “What am I doing, standing here talking to Him?” With that I dove at His feet and woke up, one of the few times in my life I really hated waking up. As I have thought back on the strange dream, I have been struck by the fact that our Lord was explaining the hardships. But the strange thing is I do not know what He said. I do not remember a single word. Some how or other, it was helpful, but not like Holy Scripture. The Bible sometimes suggests that there is a purpose for such things in this life as in the case of Joseph, who was sent before his family to save much people alive. In Job’s case, I have often felt that the answer lies in answer to the statement in Job.8:13, “The hypocrites hope shall perish.” The man who made that statement was the hypocrite and his hope perished which was the best thing that ever happened to him. Why? Because he got a new hope, one based on sacrifice, the sacrifice offered by another (Job for his friends). The forgiveness for the hypocrite came with the sacrifice in an enactment that foreshadows the sacrifice of another who is actually the sacrifice. I speak of the Lord Himself. I titled a message on that text, “Hooray!” No doubt, his new hope was better founded than that hypocritical one he had formerly possessed.

  6. Lynn – -absolutely. In fact, I’ll be getting to these points this week as I explore the central purpose of the book.

  7. Thank you Dr. Willingham. It’s amazing to think you’ve been thinking through this for over 40 years. It’s a similar time to my first real brush with grief. I can’t wait to see Christ.

  8. The longer we get to live, the greater the chances we will experience devastating events that leave us scarred one way or another. While I may think from time to time that I will ask God this question or that when my life is done in this world, more often than not I feel these questions may not matter to me at all by then. Or at least not until I’ve been there 10,000 years. Within the first view of his glory, I think the concerns of my life will burn away within a fraction of a second.

  9. Its worth noting that, for all Job went through, and for all the questions and even demands he made for God to give account; he did not receive a single answer. In the end, we are not left with the impression that this ‘oversight’ mattered one whit to him. All we see is a man, broken, not by his trials, but with his hand over his mouth when God confronted him. Perhaps, when I have learned to stop talking, I too will hear God when He speaks and, without having my questions answered, will be awed and amazed anyway.

  10. Thank you so much Peter. Agreed. A god who is small enough to be comprehensively understood is not big enough to worship.

  11. As a “child of God” and a father of children I am having an extremely hard time grasping anything that happened to Job. As a father I keep up a “hedge of protection” around my family. Would you think I was a good father who deserves the love and faithfulness of my children if I said to a child molester “Consider my child, here’s a picture, they will love me no matter what happens to them. Oh and by the way my wife and I are leaving them in the house alone with the doors unlocked for the next two hours”. I am not the one actually doing the evil to them, but as the “Father” isn’t it my job and responsibility to protect my child? If an omission of facts is considered a “Lie” then wouldn’t a direct decision to not act and protect from evil, after I pointed evil in my child’s direction, be evil as well? When I get home after two hours my child will probably come to me for protection from the evil one and feel love for me and feel safe in my “loving” arms. The same arms that delivered my child to the evil one. Flash forward a few years and imagine my child is now 16 years old and I go to my child and say “You remember that time when that child molester came and did evil upon you? Well me and your mother set that up so you would love us and depend upon us more, (pretty messed up huh?) and it worked, except for when you got a little bit wild and were staying out too late and we had to hire that guy to mug you, yep that was us too. You didn’t stay out past your curfew after that, so that worked too. You really loved us and depended on us after that, and you obeyed our rules since you saw what would happen if you didn’t” Of course as a “Father” I would rather all of this evil happen to me than one iota of it happening to my child. So if you could explain why or how my “Father in heaven” could recommend/point out his child, remove the security system in place to protect that child and then watch as the evil one inflicts his evil. And think of how appalled you would be if I were to have read in the paper about someone setting up their child in the way I described. And please with all due respect don’t tell me about “God’s plan that we can’t see or understand” because I already understand that I don’t understand.

  12. Hi Jay. Yes, you have anticipated some of what I would say. (1) We can’t comprehensively understand. A god small enough to be exhaustively understood isn’t big enough to be worshiped. —->So the question becomes, why is it reasonable to trust God when we can’t understand. And I think the answer is that the God who gave HIS son can be trusted.

    I fear that if I develop any points it will only frustrate you. I’ve probably frustrated you already. I pray that you will continue looking for answers. Thanks for taking the time to make such an honest comment – – and I don’t mean that to be patronizing. I appreciate the raw honesty of your question.

  13. You’ve got the crux of it Jay. God didn’t “allow” Satan to crush Job, He instigated it. That means He’s culpable for the pain. For anyone who would object to that, just look at the story of David and Uriah and see who God blames for Uriah’s death. It’s the same principle. If you ever find any good explanation of how God could truly love Job or Job’s kids and insight Satan to viciously torture Job by slaughtering Job’s kids, I would really appreciate it if you could post a link to it here. The boils probably were nothing to Job compared to losing his kids. Thinking that we’re all just pawns in a chess match God plays against Himself to amuse Himself is so painful I can’t think of it without tears and despair. If God is good and He really loves people, if He really loves me, then those who love Him back, myself included, would like nothing more than to glorify Him no matter the cost. But if we’re all just playthings that mean nothing to Him, then life really is just pointless, isn’t it? The Being we love more than anything else, just uses us for His entertainment. In that case, we don’t need to die to be in Hell, right? I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this. Some of them were kind about it and some were not. None of them had a good answer, though, to how this book shows God’s love. Maybe it’s because there isn’t one?

  14. Any comments on the last post? Other than, of course, the fact that God himself, in the person of Christ, subjected himself to terrible pain to buy us back from certain eternal death? I’ll have to study the book of Job again, to see if it actually sounds like God is playing… That sounds kind of disrespectful in light of Christ’s death on the cross, but I can understand the frustration when I think of this resulting in the death of all of Job’s family.

  15. Hi Alex. It’s been quiet on this thread for the most part. It’s a problem with blogs that things get sort of buried. The problem of suffering as a whole is just a tough one. Yet — even though we can’t understand it all, we know that the God who gave his only Son can be trusted.

  16. Ok can you not see how the whole thing does not make sense? Job like many of you pray for protection for their families. Satan is walking with God and asks permission to test Job.
    God Instead of listening to Job’s prayer he listens to Satan and in that Jobs Children die and all type of calamities happen to Job,
    And all this to show Satan Job would not turn on God. What? God your God you don’t have to show anything to Satan. You don’t even have to listen to Satan. You can banish Satan to a distant universe.
    I have neighbors I don’t really care about, they’re gangbangers I just endure them, because I have to, Is God in the same position where he must associate with people who would rebel against him.
    Then you state when the whole thing doesn’t make sense that ‘God is a mystery’.
    What kind of God would allow such things? Why even have a God?
    If I had a God I believed in and he killed all children born on the first new year of his rule you would say? What God is that, that allows children to die on the first year of his rule, he must be a false God. But when your God does something equally incomprehensible, you say we don’t know why God is a mystery.
    I have so much to say about this untenable logic you are using, but I’ll just leave it like that.

  17. Gil, thanks for your comment. I can see how it is all very, very difficult to accept. But rather than concluding that it makes no sense, I believe that God has reasons that are beyond my ability to comprehend. Your premise is that if there are reasons – – then you would necessarily be able to understand them.

    You might counter – – “But then why do you trust what you can’t comprehensively understand?”

    I would respond, “Because God gave his Son. A God who did not spare his own Son, is a God who can be trusted even when his ways are inscrutable.”

    But how about a tough question for you. How do you explain the fact that we love and care and argue about big questions? Do you think we do so simply because of biochemical processes that have evolved in our brains analogous to digestion? How do you explain love and beauty?

  18. Jay here again. I guess the bottom line answer I have been struggling with and seeking over the months since I first posted are the following: Do we seek to know God? Or…is God and his ways too mysterious to know? We can’t have it both ways because one or the other is convenient at the time. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who continually hides their intentions? Was I created to have a relationship or to be a pawn in God’s “master plan”?

    To go in another direction with this…kind of. Has anyone heard from God? We can pray and talk to God but I don’t get an audible response. I do get “Looks like God answered your prayers” or “sometimes God says “no””. If I call my Dad up (he picks up the phone) and try and have a conversation with him, let’s say I ask to borrow his lawn mower and he does not make a sound. I’m going to think one of many things has occurred and none are good. Is my Dad dead. Is he incapable of talking. Was there really anyone on the other end to begin with. Then I talk to my Mom and she says “oh yeah your Dad was listening all the time” I’m going to be more than just a little P.O.ed. Then when I ask my Mom if she knows about the mower and she replies “I don’t know your Dad is a mystery but sometimes his answer is no.” “You and your Dad should talk more like this so you can have a closer relationship” Well sorry Dad but this kind of relationship doesn’t work for me.

    This is why the church or the Christian faith is losing people and atheism is growing. There is a growing lack of an obvious presence of God in this world. Is he just being mysterious? If so how can we ever really know him? I’m not looking to change any minds here. I really am seeking answers.

  19. Jay,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m getting to this on Sunday morning, so I can’t respond much right now. I hope to get to it later.

    Those are good questions (obviously).


  20. One thing you all have missed is that Jobs family were habitual sinners! They partaked in orgies, and many things that would and should have meant death! You act as if they were entitled to live forever. Look below!

    Job 1:5
    “And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.”

    He had to continually burn offerings for these heathens! His sons, daughters, and wife were horrible offenders! They all got what they deserved! For the wages of sin is death! Romans 6:23. His wife said curse god and die! Job 2:9.

    Look at this passage in 1 Corinthians 5! Notice even Paul hands a man over to Satan! Why? So his soul is spared on the day of judgment. Could Job’s family not have the same fate? I mean i would rather be dead than to continue sinning and be in hell for eternity. Wouldn’t you?

    5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

  21. More proof of the children living in sin

    18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house,

    –> We all know what alcohol does. I would even take a gander to say there was probably some sexual immorality, blasphemy, and more wickedness going on as well. Job knew it which is why he said ““Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” its like duh your children have sinned. We all know what alcohol + women equals, regardless of them being brothers and sisters.

    My point is God is justified in whatever he wills! i struggled with Job and also Romans 9 for so long. I know longer do. I pray you all can come to grips with being “human” aka not in control.

  22. Notice the wicked (family) were destroyed but the righteous (job) were not. The righteous will always go through trials but will not be destroyed. For the wages of sin is death but the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our lord. This is a perfect example of that. You may say well what about instances were the family is in line with God. I say what’s the problem? They no longer have to suffer this world. The dad who is left behind should have enough faith as David (dead baby) did to know he will see them again.

  23. Michael McCarthy January 31, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    I too have been struggling with the book of Job. I have had many recent tragedys in my life and had a discussion with my own father who pointed me to the book of Job. It was an attempt I believe to point out the comparison ” if you think you have it bad look at Job”. Well after reading through that book of the Bible which I rarely paid attention to I felt more disheartened than helped.
    In my thoughts I was Angry “how could God possibly sit back and allow everything that happened to Job and was he just doing the same to me as some test. All of this thinking opened. Very large can of worms in my thought processes. I thought back to the beginning of it all with Adam and Eve my omnipotent loving God knew what Satan was going to do and allowed it and instead punished all mankind. Wow my mind was blown.

    Through my studies I do come back to certain points that although they don’t fully explain Gods intentions they do help fill in a few blanks.
    Above all we as humans are not perfect. We were given free will and with that free will comes the ability to sin. A constant theme in the Bible is that sin separates us from God. And that the wage for sin is death. The book of Job does not say Job was sinless hence inviting space between himself and god and allowing Satan a small wedge in the relationship. I myself am not sinless and although i know that many tragey are beyond my control I also don’t think I am blames. I don’t think God wants me to suffer but I do think he wants me to grow as a human and seek the answers. If my family member is taken from me it is not God taking them for his pleasure. It hurts none the less and we look for someone to blame. My life is very difficult lately yet I still want to grow my relationship with God and give him back more.

    A point brought up in the above blog was a question if God ever answered my prayers. When I was much more focused on God and studying and learning and following his word and laws to the best of my abilities I fully believed he answered me. It was in the most vivid lucid dream I ever had after much hard prayers one night. I never dream with sound or words and this time I did. I won’t go into full details but I immediately awake and was left speechless and thankful. It is forever engraved in my memory. My grandmother who has dedicated her whole life to Fos and is the most devoted person I know has lost 2 husbands and 2 out of her 5 children. Ever since she had a very moving experience during deep prayer with God she says she has no longer felt any stress or hardship even with her family deaths. She feels thankful and looks forward to someday meeting her creator. Through this life’s very tough times including depression I still seek that comfort. I won’t pretend to know Gods plan and I do get Angry and frustrated at times. It is during these times I try to thing if “footprints in the sand”. I hope to be worthy to stand in Gods presence someday.

  24. Michael, thank you for openly sharing your struggle. The longer I live . . . the more I know I just can’t understand everything . . . but I can trust God who loves us so much he gave his only begotten Son. Thank you again for your reflections. Chris.

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