God Has a Plan for Your Life—And It Might Be Horrible!

I hate it when well-meaning people tell me that God has a plan for my life. Why do I hate it, you might ask? Because it is exactly what I’m afraid of…

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The idea that God has a plan for a person’s life is a notion that ought to strike fear into the heart of any sensible human. After all, look at his plan for Job. If you are not familiar with this story, dear reader, Job is an upright man who loves God. He is prosperous and blessed with children. He’s living the “good life.” But, as the story goes:

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.

            The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

            Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

            The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”

            Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

            The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!”

That’s right, God is, essentially, betting on Job. Satan doesn’t bring Job to God’s attention; God brings Job’s faithfulness to Satan’s attention! Satan points out the obvious: Job is faithful because God’s blessed him. (Of course, Satan is wrong in his assumption that blessing equals faithfulness. Human experience suggests that those with easy lives, with material comforts and a secure position in society slowly drift away from religious faith, whereas faith frequently thrives among the poor and oppressed.) Be that as it may, God bets on Job’s faith and allows Satan to destroy everything he has, including his children.

When the destruction is finished, Job still does not curse God. Instead he says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

As the cosmic narrative resumes, Satan again presents himself before the Lord.

            The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

            Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

            The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.”

God seems to be taunting Satan here, reminding Satan that Job’s suffering was undeserved and celebrating Job’s ongoing faithfulness. But Satan will have nothing of it.

            Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”

            The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

Job suffers greatly through his next trials. To make matters worse, well-meaning friends come and say silly things, blaming hidden sin in Job’s life and encourage him to repent. Job maintains his innocence and eventually God responds to Job. The story concludes with the restoration of Job’s fortunes.

Job’s story has always disturbed me because it depicts God not only allowing suffering but even being “incited…to destroy” a faithful man, all in order to vindicate Job’s real righteousness to Satan. Personally, I’d prefer for God to simply send Satan away. I’d rather not have any cosmic bets placed on my faithfulness, as if I am God’s prize racehorse representing the honor of the stable.

Then again, there is something tremendous and troubling in the confidence God has in Job. Christians frequently talk about having faith in God—but here God is placing his faith in Job. He believes in Job’s faithfulness, in his good character, in his real dignity and integrity. But there is something else that might just be wonderful in God’s cosmic bet.

Without the frame-story of God and Satan, Job’s suffering is inexplicable, terrible, and potentially pointless—it isn’t like he’s being persecuted for his faith, losing his possessions for the sake of the poor, or suffering injury because of heroic self-sacrifice. His livestock falls prey to raiding hoards and fire from heaven. His children die in a windstorm. Then Job gets sick with sores from head to toe. These are not heroic, glorious forms of suffering.

The frame-story changes our perspective on Job’s suffering. Job’s suffering isn’t mundane and pointless—it has cosmic significance. The God who formed heaven and earth trusts in Job’s faithfulness, knows that Job is a good man, and allows Job to display the full extent of his loyalty to God. The firefighter who dies rescuing a child might be a sign of heroism for other humans. Job is a sign of heroism for the cosmos.

I’d still rather not have God place cosmic bets on my life. But it is encouraging to think, when suffering comes, that perhaps God is placing his faith in us. Perhaps our personal tragedies are serving as cosmic signs of humanity at its best, at its strongest, at its most faithful. Perhaps it is not that God has hidden himself from us but that he is betting on us, with all the confidence and pride of a loving parent.

Jessica Hughes

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