I am thankful to God that we now have two preaching/teaching pastors at Harbins. There are so many benefits that Harbins Community Baptist Church will reap from having pastors who routinely sit under the preaching of other pastors. The enumeration of those benefits is not the aim of this blog entry, perhaps that will be future post. Today’s entry is the first of what I hope will be many to come. Each week, either Demer or I, will post some additional pastoral reflections concerning the previous Sunday’s sermon. I imagine that the pastor not tasked with preaching that week will normally be the one writing the blog entry. This past Sunday Pastor Demer began a sermon series from the Old Testament book of Job called “Out of the Whirlwind.” You can listen to that first sermon here.
After sitting and absorbing and thoroughly enjoying the preached Word this past Sunday I began to think about how hard it is for the human mind to accept the very clear teaching of Job 1 and 2 that God is absolutely sovereign over human suffering. My finite brain is one that needs illustrations and analogies to help me along, so as I sat and pondered how a good God can be sovereign over evil the first line of the physician’s Hippocratic Oath came to mind: “First, do no harm.” As I found out through some research this week, that line is not actually the first line of the famous oath, however it is a summary of the overarching ethical concept contained within the corpus of the oath, which states that doctors should be committed to seeking their patients’ healing as opposed to their harm.
I, for one, rest much easier knowing that doctors take an ethical oath like the Hippocratic Oath when they enter into medical practice. But I also rest easier knowing that good doctors with high ethical standards do sometimes intentionally do harm and do so for very good reasons. A good doctor knows that sometimes short-term harm must be administered in order for long-term healing to be accomplished. The most obvious example of this is surgery. Running an extremely sharp blade across someones skin in order to cut into their body is indeed a very harmful thing (I’m getting squeamish as I write). But it is allowable, more than that, it is good and desirable if that cutting is happening in order to remove cancer or to fix something else that’s causing greater harm to the body. It is not evil for a good surgeon to cut his or her patients.
Job 1 and 2 are two of the most challenging chapters in all of Scripture. They are not challenging because they are hard to exegete. They are challenging because they are so easy to exegete. The challenge is found in what the text clearly says, namely that God is sovereign over suffering yet God is not in anyway evil or sinful. There is real evil in the world, and God really hates evil even though He is sovereign over it. This truth plays out in opening chapters of Job. We see that evil in the person of Satan, who has evil designs for Job’s life. Satan has no good in his purposes, his oath is to do only harm. But Satan is not sovereign. He is a creature, therefore he is limited and his will is subservient to God’s, his very existence is subject to God’s overarching, sovereign purposes.
Satan is actually a tool in God’s hands. The repeated focus on God’s “hand” is interesting in chapters 1 and 2 of Job. When Satan shows up in the heavenly council and accuses God of buying off Job’s loyalty in 1:11 he says this: “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” But one verse later God takes up Satan’s challenge saying, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So we see that God’s hands are clean. God’s hand is stretched out against Job by means of Satan’s hand. He is sovereign over, but not guilty of evil. We see it again in 2:5 where Satan says, “But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” To which the LORD replied, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” Two hands, two purposes, two designs but only one hand is sovereign. Satan’s hand is subservient to God’s!
The only way a person can be touched by the hand of Satan is through God’s sovereign permission, and God always has a design behind evil so that his hand is ultimate while still being innocent. This truth regarding the absolute sovereignty of God over good and evil is not a teaching confined to the first two chapters of Job. Joseph taught this to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “…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.” Likewise, in Deuteronomy 32:39, God clearly proclaims these words:
‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’
The Lord God, like a surgeon, is permitting, allowing, even ordaining blades to cut. This does not diminish the evil of evil. Satan is real, and his hate is strong, but in God’s overall plan he is but a tool, a surgical instrument that will one day be discarded.
For the believer in Christ this is good news, for we know that our accuser’s power is limited and his time is short. Secondly, we see that all that our sovereign God ordains (both good and evil) in our lives is for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28). Though from the vantage point of a patient under anesthesia we cannot see it now, we will one day see how good His purposes actually were. One day we will see that He was doing the great surgical work of perfecting us through various trails (James 1:2ff).
God is not like a human surgeon who can err, who can make unethical decisions, who can harm for no reason. For those who belong to Him, God is the sovereign Surgeon of the Soul, always acting on our behalf, even when it means the razor-blade of suffering must come into our lives.