It is one of the great debates of a privileged age: is dark chocolate superior to milk, or milk to dark? Both have their advocates. The ones who prefer dark chocolate boast of the flavor of cocoa that is undisrupted by excess sugar, that so wonderfully compliments the bitterness of a dark coffee. The ones who prefer milk tell that milk and sugar enhance the flavor of cocoa the way they do the flavor of tea. Cocoa is at its best, they insist, when slightly lightened and moderately sweetened. The dispute rages on but in the end it must be remembered that while chocolate may be dark or milk, bitter or sweet, it’s all chocolate.
As we live out our short lives in this world we encounter circumstances that are bitter and sweet. We delight in many joys and grieve many sorrows. We laugh and we cry, we praise and we lament, we celebrate and we mourn. What unites the soaring heights and the plunging depths is the hand of providence. And while providence may be dark or light, bitter or sweet, it’s all providence.
I have often reflected on the simplest of observations on providence from the book of Job. Job had at first been blessed above all men, becoming wealthy in both possessions and progeny. He was blameless, he was upright, he turned away from evil and he lived in the fear of the Lord. He was as good and as blessed a man as we could hope to see on this side of the Fall.
And then one day it was all taken away. His servants were slaughtered, his wealth was stolen and burned, his children were crushed. The most blessed of all men became the most bereaved. Where many would have despaired of life itself, where many would have raised their fists to the heavens, Job instead worshipped. He tore his robe, he shaved his head, he bowed down, and he said, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” As is so often the case, what he did not say is as important as what he actually did. He did not say, “The LORD gave, and Satan has taken away,” but “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away.”
The book of Job makes it clear that Satan had been the one who stretched out his hand against all that Job had. It makes it clear that a great wind had risen up and caused the house to collapse on his children, that brigands had emerged from the wilderness to plunder, to pillage, to destroy. Men, demons, and a broken world had all conspired against Job to rob him of all he loved, all he held dear, all but his own body and his own wife. And yet Job’s first and best analysis was that the Lord who had ultimately determined to give him so much was also the one who had ultimately determined to take it again.
There were, of course, secondary causes involved—swords, fires, whirlwinds. Job did not deny this. But he knew that no secondary cause can operate outside the assent of the primary cause of all things. Satan himself could go no farther than God had allowed, take no action that God himself had not permitted. The sword could fall only where God had decreed, the fire could consume only what God had permitted, the wind could blow only where God had allowed it to. Behind the sword, behind the fire, and behind the wind, Job did not ultimately see an evil devil but a good God. He did not ultimately see the schemes of his enemy, but the purposes of his Redeemer.
Job has mentored every generation of Christians as we face our own joys and sorrows, our own heights and depths. There is much we ought to learn from him, but especially this: We will experience sweet providence and bitter providence, yet it is all providence, it all flows in some way from the God whose mind is vast, whose heart is kind, whose arm is strong, whose love is true, and whose purpose is good.