Many people see the evil in the world as a problem for understanding God. How could a good God create a world that contains so much evil. The book of Job deals with the problem of evil, but a key part of the story is often missed. Something important happened that Job did not know about. He had no idea that the evil one was involved in his troubles.
The action began when Satan went into the presence of God and demanded the right to get stuck into Job. Prior to the cross, Satan had the right to go into the presence of God and make accusations against the people on earth. This gave him the right to do evil in the world. When Jesus died, rose and ascended into heaven, the devil lost this right.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb (Rev 12:7-11).
The blood of Jesus dealt with sin, so the accuser lost his privileges in heaven, and could only work on earth by deception.
In Job's time, the devil still had a right to enter heaven. He left the presence of God to work his evil on earth.
Fire came down from heavens and destroyed his flocks of sheep.
The Sabeans attacked and stole all his oxen and donkeys.
The Chaldeans attacked and carried off all his camels.
A wind blew from the dessert and destroyed the house of his youngest son. His children, who were in the house, were also killed.
These events seemed to be natural disasters, so insurance companies would call them Acts of God. However, we know from Job 1that they were the works of the evil one and his spiritual forces.
When Job continued to honour God, the devil decided on a second attack. He afflicted Job with boils. A doctor would say that Job had caught an infection, because he was run down by his grief, but we know something different was going on. The sickness was a direct attack by an angry devil.
Job's comforters were a miserable lot. Each had a different perspective, but they all argued that he was suffering because he had sinned. Job refused to accept that diagnosis. He knew he could trust God, so he knew that God did not bring evil on him. His troubles were not an Act of God.
Job also knew that he had not sinned. If he had sinned, he would not be justified in complaining about his troubles, because he would have brought them on himself, but he was sure that he had not sinned.
This left Job with a dilemma. He had clearly experienced great evil. He refused to blame God, but he could not see that he was at fault, either. From his perfective there did not seem to be another alternative.
Job's friends kept hammering away at Jobs' failings, but the accusation fell on deaf ears. If he lived today, his friends would have taken the opposite approach and blamed God. They would have claimed that either God is not good, is not all-powerful, or does not exist, but Job's friends were better than this.
The book of Job ends with God answering him out of a storm. The usual interpretation is that when Job heard God speak, he learned to worship and lost interested in understanding the causes of evil.
This interpretation misses something important. In Job 40:15, God tells Job to look at the Behemoth hiding in the waters.
Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you.
God then warns that he is dreadful and frightening. The word "behemoth" is a Hebrew word that describes a powerful beast. We know from Daniel 7 that a beast coming out of the sea represents a powerful political empire. Revelation describes a Terrible Beast, which is the greatest powerful evil empire to ever appear on earth.
God was explaining to Job that part of his troubles were the result of the activities of evil political power. The camels were stolen by the Chaldeans, the forerunners of the Babylonian Empire. Job had encountered a fledgling evil empire and the result was nasty. His oxen were killed by the Sabaens. They were a powerful empire established in the Arabian peninsular, in what is now Yemen. They had become rich through political and military power.
God was explaining that the evil that affects us all is often caused by the misuse of political power. This is a warning to God's people. The presence of the Beast in the book of Revelation means that political power will always be a threat to the Kingdom of God.
Job and Leviathan
After describing the behemoth, God asked Job what he knew about Leviathan.
Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope (Job 41:1)?
The commentators assume that Leviathan is a great sea creature. This is wrong, because it makes the climax of the book of Job irrelevant to its major theme. God explains that Leviathan is too strong for humans to subdue. He has powerful armour and does great evil. Nothing on earth can match his power and all other creatures are afraid of him. The devil is the only creature that fits this description.
God was giving Job a description of the devil's power in language that someone who did not know about the spiritual world could understand. Job probably did not grasp this, but God was answering his questions about the nature of evil. Job 40,41 explains to Job what we already know from Job 1,2, that Job's troubles was not caused by God or his own sin. Evil is always caused by the evil one and his evil forces.
This interpretation of Leviathan is confirmed in other scriptures.
Job had prophesied that Leviathan was the cause of evil, without understanding at the beginning of his conversation with his friends.
Those who curse, rouse and release Leviathan (Job 3:8). People who curse others release the powers of evil, referred to here as Leviathan.
Asaph prophesied that God would bruise the head of Leviathan (Psalm 74:14). This links Back to the curse in Genesis 3:15, where God warned that the "seed of the woman" would "bruise the head of the serpent". Jesus fulfilled this prophecy on the cross.
Isaiah prophesied that God would destroy Leviathan.
In that day,
the Lord will punish with his sword-
his fierce, great and powerful sword-
Leviathan the twisting serpent,
Leviathan the fleeing serpent;
he will slay the dragon of the sea (Is 27:1).
The book of Job provides a clear answer to those who seek an answer to the problem of evil.
Evil is not an act of God.
Evil is not always the result of sin, although sin can sometimes amplify the power of evil.
Evil is not proof that God is not good.
Evil is not proof that there are limits on God's power.
Evil is always caused by the evil one and his spiritual forces.
In Job 1,2, the evil one is Satan the accuser in the presence of God.
In Job 41, the evil one is Leviathan, the terrible and fearsome power of evil at work on the earth.
God will not give the enemy glory that he does not deserve, so he did not give Job a full description of his operations. He just gave Job enough for him to understand what he was up against something evil.
Wrath of God
Many modern people have a problem with the wrath of God. They find it hard to understand how a God who is loving and good can demonstrate such terrible wrath. Many Christians ignore this issue and just stick to the New Testament, because they cannot reconcile the character of Jesus with the way God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament.
Translation issues are one reason, but another important reason is that God will not give the enemy any glory that he does not deserve. The scriptures do not give a full description of the devil's operations, but just gives enough information for us to understand what we are up against. God's unwillingness to give glory to evil means that the activity of evil is often understated in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. The actions of the evil one often described as the wrath of God.
Curse and Evil
Humans invited evil into the world when they sinned against God. By submitting to devil, they gave him authority over the earth and allowed him to work out his evil purposes on earth. Evil became part of the normal situation on earth.
God broke back into the world by establishing a covenant with the children of Israel and placing them in their own land. This covenant made it possible for God to shut out the forces of evil and bless his people. Blessing became normal in the land of Israel, but only while the people were faithful to God. This was the basis for the curses and blessing described in Deuteronomy 28 and 29. While they trusted and obeyed God, they would experience the blessing that he promised. If they rejected God, they would come under the curse.
The curse had two sides.
God is holy, so he must remain separate away from sinful people. When the people fell into sin without repentance or sacrifice, God had no choice but to withdraw from his people, and his blessing went with him. Seeing his people desert him for evil, and having to leave caused God great pain. Their unnecessary sin really upset him. This is the wrath of God.
By rejecting God, the people of Israel lost the protection of his presence. They moved from the place of blessing to a situation like the rest of the world, where the powers of evil are free to do their will. With God shut out of the land, the powers of evil were free to come back in and work their evil tricks. The curses were a description of what the powers of evil would so if they regained access to the promised land. This is the curse of evil.
God did not want to give glory to evil, so he rarely describes the second side of the curse. The scriptures use the term the "wrath of God" to describe the outworking of the curse, even though the forces of evil are the ones doing the harm. The problem with this is that God gets blames for a lot of stuff that is not directly his doing. He is happy for this to happen, because he would sooner take blame for or stuff that he has not done, than give glory to the powers of evil.
Describing the works of the devil as the wrath of God is legitimate, because this is the other side of the curse. The evil occurs because God hates sin, and has to draw back from it. The evil happens because he has withdrawn his protection, so it is correctly called the wrath of God. He takes responsibility, because the curse is the consequence of his character. God decided to create spiritual beings with the freedom to rebel and become agents evil. He takes also takes responsibility, because he created them, but they are direct cause of the evil on earth.
So when the Scriptures refer to the wrath of God, it is often a euphemism for the powers of evil working evil in situations where sin gives them the freedom to do harm. There are many examples, but here are a few.
Great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us (2 Kings 22:13).
The king was really saying that the sins of the fathers had released the powers of evil to do great harm in their nation. This is referred to as the wrath of God.
They mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy (2 Chron 36:16).
When the people mocked God's message, they lost his blessing and allowed the forces of evil back into their nation. The prophet called this the wrath of God.
The wrath of God brings destruction.
Leave me alone so that my wrath may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation (Ex 32:10).
Jesus explained that the devil is the one who destroys (John 10:10). When the Israelites lost God's blessing and protection, the devil would take the opportunity to destroy them.
Wrath sometimes manifests in fire.
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his wrath was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp (Num 11:1).
We know from Job 1:16 that fire falling from the sky was referred to as the "fire of God". We also know that it was the work of Satan (Job 1:12). When the Israelites grumbled against God, they lost his protection, and the powers of evil were able to set fire to the outskirts of the camp and some of the people. This evil is described as the wrath of God.
Miriam got attacked with leprosy when God withdrew his presence and protection from evil attack.
The anger of the LORD burned against them ,and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam's skin was leprous-it became as white as snow (Num 12:9-10).
God did not inflict the leprosy directly, because it only came after he had gone and the cloud had lifted. The evil one moved in and inflicted the sickness when God's protection was removed.
Wrath has gone out from the LORD. The plague has begun (Num 16:46).
The plague was inflicted by the powers of evil, but it is described as coming out from the wrath of the Lord, because God was forced to withdraw his blessing by sin.
The wrath of God is sometimes linked with fury.
I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in furious anger and in great wrath. I will strike down those who live in this city-both man and beast-and they will die of a terrible plague (Jer 21-5-6).
But we know from the Revelation of John that the one who is furious is the devil.
He is full of fury (Rev 12:12).
And he is the one who brings plagues on the earth (Rev 16:1). The fury associated with God's wrath is a euphemism for the word of the evil one.
Disasters and calamities come when God withdraws from his people.
In that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, 'Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us (Deut 31:17)?
When God hides his face, the powers of evil are free to work.
They made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts Thus the land became desolate after them, so that no one passed through or returned (Zech 7:12-14).
The land became desolate, because God had gone, and the powers of evil had moved in.
The same practice continued in the New Testament.
Those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth,
but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation (Rom 2:8).
Those who reject the truth and follow evil are obeying unrighteousness, wrath and indignation, but they are really submitted to the forces of evil. They have fallen into the hands of the powers of evil, but God deliberately chooses to minimise their activity, so that they do not gain too much glory.
The law brings wrath (Rom 4:15).
The powers of the evil use the law to get an excuse to attack and harm people.
Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever (Rev 15:7).
The bowls contain the wrath of God, but what actually happens is that evil on earth releases the evil one to great harm.
God is holy and just, so wrath is his natural response to sin and evil. However, sometimes what is called the wrath of God is actually the activity of the forces of evil, which have moved in when he withdrew his blessing and protection.
I had better stop here. I have already given evil more publicity than it deserves.
Jesus had to Die
A particular evil that is a problem form modern people is the cross. They cannot understand why Jesus had to die. Why could God just not forgive those who have sinned, without the need for Jesus to die.
The shift in authority on earth is also the reason why Jesus had to die on the cross. He might be able to forgive those who have sinned, but he also had to deal with the powers of evil. God had given them a place in his creation, but they had rebelled against him and chosen to work for evil. Human sin gave them authority on earth, and they have played it for all that it is worth.
The powers of evil demand the same penalty for all who have sinned. Because God is just, he must treat all his creatures consistently. He cannot forgive and forget the powers of evil, or they would live on to mess up the future world that God has planned. They have to be destroyed at the end of the age, so their evil is finally ended, but they demand a similar penalty for all who have sinned, especially humans. Satan is the accuser of all humans prosecuting them before God. He points out every sin and demands that because God is just, they must die for their sins. Satan is a court prosecutor, who is definite about the penalty required. He has even offered to inflict this penalty himself.
God could have chosen to ignore the requirements of justice, but that would be against his nature, so he came to earth as a man to pay the penalty himself. Jesus handed himself over to the forces of evil to inflict the penalty that they wanted to impose on all sinful humans. His death satisfied their warped form of justice, but it won salvation for everyone who puts their trust in him. God then defeated the plans of evil by raising Jesus from death and lifting him up to his throne in heaven. The accuser was thrown out (Rev 12:7-11) and the Lord of Lords took his place.
Jesus died to satisfy God's justice, but he also died to satisfy the powers of evil who claimed ownership of all sinful people on earth.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:44).
Jesus gave his life to buy back the lives of the people who had been kidnapped by the evil one. The ransom was not paid to God. It was paid by God to the powers of evil who had gained control of people seizing authority over the earth.
Some of the prophets brought a very harsh message in the name of God. He sometimes does not seem to be a God of Grace.
The people of Samaria must bear their guilt,
because they have rebelled against their God.
They will fall by the sword;
their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
their pregnant women ripped open (Hos 13: 16)
This is what the LORD says: I am going to fill with drunkenness all who live in this land, including the kings who sit on David's throne, the priests, the prophets and all those living in Jerusalem. I will smash them one against the other, parents and children alike, declares the LORD. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them (Jer 13:13-15).
To understand these words by Hosea and Jeremiah, we must understand blessing and cursing, and spiritual warfare.
Once we understand that struggle between God and the forces of evil for control of the world, it becomes clear that God took a huge risk when he intervened in the world to establish a covenant with the children of Israel. His problem was that he could not create blessing without creating curses. Once he had chosen them and started to bless them, spiritual warfare shifted towards Israel. The spiritual forces of evil that had been wreaking havoc all over the earth did not want blessing to break into their world so they attacked it with a vengeance.
This shift in the spiritual struggle was not a problem while the Israelites were faithful to God. He could deal with anything that the enemy threw at his people. However, when they shut God out by their disobedience, as they inevitably would, they would not just lose their blessing and fall back into normal misery. When they rejected God's blessing, they were leaving themselves without spiritual protection in a dangerous place. They were exposing themselves to the spiritual forces that had gathered to attack them. This is the curse. God did not have to do anything when the people disobeyed, because the spiritual forces of evil were waiting to choke off the plan of God by destroying his people. This is why the blessings and curses are spelt out so clearly (Deut 28).
The reality of blessings and curses explains why some of the prophets brought a harsh message. God could not create blessing, without allowing a curse to emerge. Blessing cannot exist without curse, because the absence of blessing is a curse. The blessing brings the curse into existence, powerful and waiting to pounce. The outworking of the curse of the law was automatic. The prophets described the evil that became inevitable when the children of Israel disobeyed and shut out God. The forces of evil were ready to go to work and do evil in their midst.
When God had intervened to bless his people, he inevitably gave the powers or evil the right to curse, if his people rejected him. To acknowledge this responsibility, he sometimes spoke as if he was the one who was executing the judgment on Israel, although the judgments were actually being executed by the powers of evil. However, God always take full responsibility for his actions, so he spoke through the prophets as if he was bringing the judgment. Indirectly, this was true.
The spiritual struggle for control of the world is a tough one, as the powers of evil are totally ruthless. Those who choose their side will often get their fingers burnt. The prophets' message had to be harsh, because harsh stuff would happen when the forces of evil got a free hand to work out their evil plans.
Responsibility for Evil
There is plenty of evil in the world, but the scriptures explain who is responsible.
The spiritual forces of evil have immediate responsibility for all evil on earth. They are opposed to God and exercise their powers of evil whenever they get a chance. Job did not realise it, but he was under attack by evil spiritual forces.
Humans have judicial responsibility, because we gave the powers of evil the opportunity to intervene on earth. God created humans and gave them authority over the world. When humans disobeyed God, they passed their authority onto the forces of evil. Humans invited evil into the world, so we are legally responsible for the consequences. Jesus defeated evil on our behalf, but when people reject him, they nullify the effects of that victory. When God's people reject the blessings of the covenant and move under the curse, they give power to the enemy. Humans give evil permission to be active on earth, so we are judicially responsible for it. We cannot shift the blame Back to God.
God is strategically responsible for evil being on earth. He created a world and gave control of it to humans. He also gave them freedom to lose their authority on earth to the powers of evil. Giving this freedom to humans was a huge risk, and God must have known we would fail. His choice led to a situation where he was shut out of the world, and had to wait for some humans to invite him back. He could not intervene again until that happened, and while he was waiting, for the powers of evil would be free to wreak havoc (see Gods Big Strategy).
God does not shirk his responsibility for creating the world in this way (Isaiah 45:7 is an example). He has the big picture. I presume he decided that in the long-term (eternity), the good he could achieve would far outweigh the harm done by sin and evil. We cannot see the full picture, so we cannot judge him for choosing the set the world with potential for evil. He is a good God, so we have to trust that he knew what he was doing. God has made the world the way it is, so he is strategically responsible.