This post is part of a series looking at misquoted verses of the Bible. Click here to see others.
Is it true that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away? It’s generally accepted to be that way. We often hear this at funerals or whenever some unexplainable disaster hits us. It’s a way of acknowledging things don’t make sense and throwing all responsibility to God alone. This statement originally came from the lips of a man who loses everything himself. In the book of Job we see the awful experience of a guy who loses his possessions, his health, and his children. He gets to keep his wife, although I have a feeling he would have traded her for one of the things he lost after she tells him to “curse God and die” (2:9).
Job expresses his reaction to his suffering like this:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (1:21)
We sing worship songs with this lyric as you can see from the Matt Redman video above (at the 2:16 mark). If you’ve been around in church for the last ten years you’ve likely sang it. The context for Job saying it was worship as well (1:20). But stop a moment and consider what this means. If you lose your job, did God take it away? If a woman is raped, did God take this away from her? For the little child who is murdered, did God take them away? Is God the source of pain in our lives?
What kind of a sadistic view of God does this actually create?
Job’s initial comments may sound “worshipful” to our ears today if we are used to this idea, but as we continue reading we see Job’s pious view diminish. We can see what a belief in this theology does to a person. This is the context we must read Job’s initial statement with. In chapter nine he says:
“It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?” (9:22-24)
Does God really destroy the blameless and the wicked? Does God really mock the innocent? Job’s conclusion is that if God is the one who gives and takes away, then God is unjust. He doesn’t even think of blaming someone or something else for it. Surely it must be God? This poor theology continues and Job continues to move away from God. He then can utter:
“Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort.” (10:20)
Essentially, he wants to be as far from God as possible. If this is how God works, Job wants nothing to do with Him. The more he thinks about this, the more he realizes that this kind of a God actually isn’t worth worshipping at all.
“Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?” (21:15)
Finally, he makes this damning conclusion of God:
“You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me.” (30:21)
That’s what Job’s theology produces. A God who becomes our enemy, who is cruel, who is not worth worshipping, and who we want to stay far away from. Job’s reaction is consistent with the theology of “the Lord gives and takes away.”
Here’s the great news: Job’s theology is wrong! God’s not like that. When God responds at the end of the book He doesn’t defend His actions to Job and say that He has a right to take things away. Instead, God explains to Job that He’s not like that. This causes Job to completely change his view of God that he started with in chapter one. After he sees through this inaccurate theology he then exclaims:
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:3,6)
Job repents of this awful view of God. Many of us need to do the same today. We have falsely attributed all manners of evil to the source of goodness Himself.
There are a lot of false accusations happening in this book. Job’s wife and friends falsely accuse him of being in the wrong. Job falsely accuses God of doing the wrong to him. We get to see the omniscient perspective throughout the book that the catalyst for all that happens in this story is actually Satan himself. Job gets a glimpse of this and repents of his initial conclusion that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
God is good. We see the fullness of His character in the overwhelming generosity and sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross, not in the tragedy of heartbreak and loss. So next time you experience a deep loss, understand that God is on your side and He can bring light into even the darkest situations. We won’t necessarily know why something in our lives is taken away, but we can be confident that God isn’t the source of our tragedy.