“So listen to me, you men of understanding.
Far be it from God to do evil,
from the Almighty to do wrong.
He repays everyone for what they have done;
He brings on them what their conduct deserves.
It is unthinkable that God would do wrong,
that the Almighty would pervert justice.
Who appointed him over the earth?
Who put him in charge of the whole world?
If it were his intention
and he withdrew his spirit and breath,
all humanity would perish together
and mankind would return to the dust.
Satan appears as a character in the book of Job to bring about the evil that God cannot. But after he strips Job of his blessings, Satan disappears and isn’t mentioned again for the remaining forty chapters. This fact should remind us that Satan has no real power of his own, and the borrowed power that he has from God serves to work God’s will. It’s noteworthy that Satan is acting somewhat out of character compared to the rest of his appearances throughout the Bible. In every other story, Satan’s role is to tempt the holy into wickedness. He tempts Eve in the garden, he tempts Jesus in the desert, but he fully attacks Job, with God’s sanction. Why?
In all of his appearances, Satan is offering the alternative to God. In order for humanity to truly have free will, there must be a choice offered. Even if the detour off the main road leads into a swamp, there’s still a way to get off the suggested route. For Adam and Eve, the alternative to trusting God’s wisdom was to seek their own knowledge. For Jesus, the alternative to sacrificial love and redemption was power and glory. What about Job? His alternative seemed to be forced on him against his free will.
Perhaps Job needed to experience tremendous loss to see the alternative of his own life. He was a righteous man when he wanted for nothing, but we aren’t usually tempted by alternatives when we have everything we want. Not even the most delicious looking dessert tempts us when we are already full. Maybe Job needed to experience need and despair to truly have the free will to choose the way of righteousness. It’s sort of like a woman agreeing to marry you who has never met another man in her entire life. Is that truly an act of free will? Satan’s job is to provide us with the alternative, and his alternatives often seem pretty good. For Job, it would be very satisfying, and maybe even justified, to curse God and die. But why would Job do such a thing when he has every blessing imaginable?
Are all bad things caused by Satan, or do things just happen sometimes? The most troubling part of Job is that Satan could be removed from the story entirely and Job’s family could still die, his animals and crops could be destroyed, he could still be covered in boils just through chance and random misfortune. Whatever causes our own suffering, we are given the terrifying gift of freedom to choose between God and our own desire. We cannot decide between two foods if we have no hunger. We cannot long for goodness without evil.