Theology in 3D

Truth for Triumphing over Trouble #2

Layton Talbert | June 19, 2018
Old Testament, Theology

Truth #1: What you can see is not all there is; God is doing much more that you don’t know about.

That truth emerges early in the narrative of Job (Job 1:6). Job was a godly (Job 1:1) and wealthy (Job 1:3) man who, in a swift succession of catastrophic thunderclaps, lost all his wealth, all his means of wealth, and even his children (Job 1:13-19). Almost everyone knows his initial response (Job 1:21):

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. ADONAI gave; ADONAI took; blessed be the name of ADONAI (Complete Jewish Bible).

As familiar as we are with the words, it’s easy to gloss over a remarkable acknowledgement contained in them. It is a second indispensable truth for triumphing over trouble: God has the right to remove whatever he has graciously given in the first place.

What does that include? Well, what did Job have when he started out? He sums it up in one word: NakedOr as my brother-in-law from NC would say, neck-ed.

So where has everything come from, ever since Job showed up howling, helpless, and without a stitch on? The LORD gave it.

On what basis? Your boss will give you a paycheck this Friday. The cashier at Wal Mart may give you $5.36 in change. These kinds of giving have something in common. They owe you what they’re giving you. But that’s not what Job means here.

Near the end of the book, God poses a question to Job (Job 41:11):

Who has confronted me that I should repay? (NET)

Or it could be translated,

Who has given to Me that I should repay him? (NASB)

God follows that question with a claim: Everything under heaven is mine! God is indebted to no one. God owes no one anything because he owns everythingYour health, your spouse, your children (or grandchildren), your possessions, your income, your strength, your gifts and talents, your job, your ministry, your home and investments . . . it is all on loan. You’ve never given anything to God that has put him in your debt. We are stewards and trustees of all of it. We actually own none of it.

None of it is like that paycheck from your boss. We’ve never done anything that obligated God to give us any of it, or to merit the right to keep any of it. The Lord gave. All of it. By grace. That’s why I’ve inserted an important word in Truth #2: God has the right to remove anything he has graciously given in the first place.

And when any of it is lost, here’s how does Job express that: The LORD has taken away.

Who? The Lord has taken it away? “Well, see,” someone explains, “Job doesn’t really understand what’s been going on up in heaven.” That’s true, but he understands the theological bottom line perfectly. Job’s instinctive theology is impeccable on this point. Better than he knows. The taker is not fate, or chance, or accident, or bad luck, or human evil, or random violence. The taker is not even Satan. Without God’s express permission, Satan is hog-tied (Job 1:11-12). Everyone in the book understands that the LORD is the one who has done this to Job. Job keeps saying it. His friends keep saying it. But here’s the proof of it: God keeps saying it. Starting at the very beginning of the book.

Job 2:3 is a striking statement — a theological key that unlocks a correct understanding of the entire book, a lightswitch without which any theological explanation of the events in Job remains in the dark. God, speaking to Satan, said, “You [Satan] have incited me [God] against him [Job] to destroy him without cause.”

Wait, what? God says he “destroyed” Job? And it wasn’t because Job did anything bad?

God acknowledges that Job’s suffering — for which God claims ultimate responsibility — was undeserved. Job had not *done* anything to deserve the removal of God’s blessings. But here’s the point we miss: Job had done nothing to deserve the giving of all those blessings in the first place. Job got it. That’s exactly what he acknowledges in 1:21. God has the right to remove what he has graciously given in the first place.

Objection: What do you mean Job didn’t deserve all those blessings? God gave all that stuff to Job because he was so righteous, didn’t he? Yeah, that’s exactly what Satan said (Job 1:9-11). It is that very misconception that God aims to disprove.  

Objection: I’ve worked hard to get what I have; of course I deserve it. But God is the one who gave you “power to get wealth” (Deut 8:18). Do you ever thank him for that?

God is free to remove any of the blessings He has bestowed freely and “without cause” upon us in the first place. If we think that is unjust, then we haven’t carefully read the manual that explains how life works. The one thing God “owes” us is to keep his promises to us. And he’s never promised that we get to keep indefinitely all the stuff he graciously gives us. Except for one thing. If you’re in Christ, one graciously given blessing that God neither will nor can remove is your salvation.

Job’s reply in 1:21 can seem too trite, too simplistic, too casual and just-praise-the-Lord-anyhow carefree. It wasn’t. Before you hear what Job says in 1:21 you have to see what he does in the verse before. Job 1:20 is the emotional context in which Job affirms the truth of 1:21.

Then Job arose and tore his robe [have you ever done that out of grief?] and shaved his head [or that?] and fell on the ground [or that?] and worshiped [have you ever done thatin your grief?].

The Bible never forbids or rebukes such expressions of griefThe pain is real, and pain really hurts. There is no shame in that. But what steadies Job’s reeling soul in this moment is his recognition of this reality: God has the right to remove anything that he has graciously given in the first place.

5 responses to “Truth for Triumphing over Trouble #2”

  1. […] Truth #2—God has the right to remove whatever He has graciously given in the first place. […]

  2. […] God has the right to remove anything He has graciously given in the first place. […]

  3. John Morgan says:

    Thanks Dr. Talbert for this most helpful post. I really appreciate the precision. Right before reading this post I read this post I work in a Pediatric hospital as a chaplain and regularly I’m with Christian parents at the moment of the death of their child or when they learn that their child’s condition is no longer compatible for living. I’d have to say that very rarely do parents express words like Job 1:21 in the hospital when their grief is acute and expressed outwardly like in Job 1:20. Their expressions are more likley either the expressions like the writer of the other post, or parents will verbally deny that God took away their child and hold onto God’s love and support (like in Isaiah 43:2), if they aren’t angry enough at God for not preventing such a death and decide religion isn’t for them anymore. (Some go on to reframe God’s activity in the world that is more in line with Progressive theology). I don’t have a long-term relationship with the bereaved parents so perhaps some find strength in the truth of Job 1:21 in time. Actually, in those hospital moments it’s usually the Amish who find their anchor in truths like Job 1:21.
    Thanks for sharing this stabilizing truth for difficult times. It’s not easy to believe. We definitely need God’s grace to believe it.

    • Hey John, good to hear from you and thanks for commenting. Great to hear you’re still working as a hospital chaplain — a difficult but crucial ministry. (If you haven’t yet seen post #3 in this series, you will recognize yourself in a throwback reference to a conversation we had several years ago.)

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