Job 42:2 begins Job’s apology to God after he has challenged God’s wisdom and justice in allowing him to suffer so much tragedy. Call it a confession or call it repentance, but the verse signals the end of Job questioning how God was running the universe. Translators have had some difficulty coming to full agreement on how the last half of the verse’s original Hebrew should be translated, but the differences in translations aren’t enough to obscure the basic teaching of the verse. Here’s how the verse reads in a variety of translations:
- I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. (K.J.V.)
- “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” (N.K.J.V.)
- “I know that You can do all things, And that no plan is impossible for You.” (N.A.S.V.)
- “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (E.S.V., N.R.S.V.)
- “I know that you can do all things: no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (N.I.V)
- “I know that You can do all things, And that no thought or purpose of Yours can be restrained.” (Amp.)
- “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.” (N.L.T.)
- “I know that You can do all things. Nothing can put a stop to Your plans.” (N.L.V.)
What all of these translations are describing is a God who is big enough to bring His thoughts, purposes, and plans to pass right over the top of all objectors. Job is saying that God is an irresistible, all-powerful deity who can plow His will straight through any resistance it might encounter. He’s saying, “Lord, if You want to do something, no one can stop You from doing it.”
But hold on a minute. Isn’t the Bible filled with stories involving people who actually did prevent God’s purposes, plans, and will from being done? It all started with Adam and Eve. If God’s plan was for them to continue endlessly in sinless perfection, they certainly thwarted that plan, didn’t they? Then along comes Cain. If God’s plan was for him to bring the right kind of sacrifice and love his brother Abel, we know what became of that plan. Furthermore, following Cain’s murder of Abel, he went out and fathered an entire line of descendants who were all rebels in regards to God’s purposes, plans, and will. In the end, all of that rebellion culminated in the entire human race, except for Noah and his family, being killed off by way of the great flood.
The point is, we can’t even get through six full chapters of the Bible without encountering literally millions of people who never conformed to God’s plans for their lives. This shows us that an individual’s freewill does factor into the equation of God’s dealings with that individual. The only other conclusion to be drawn is that God actually willed Adam and Eve to eat that forbidden fruit, willed Cain to murder Abel, and willed the human race to reach a state of depravity worthy of almost complete annihilation. That alternative conclusion, of course, cuts completely against the hundreds and hundreds of Bible passages that teach that God is a God of love, compassion, mercy, and grace.
So, how exactly should we interpret Job 42:2? Well, obviously, if God is dead set on doing something and nothing can change His mind about it, He can do that something anytime and in any way He wants to do it. I mean, He’s not GOD for nothing!!! What’s fascinating about Him, though, is the fact that He desires voluntary worship and submission so much that He not only builds a spiritual/moral freewill into each individual, but actually allows each individual to exercise that freewill arbitrarily. Even if that individual uses the freewill to thwart (restrain, stop, prevent, undermine) His will, God won’t recreate or rewire that individual in order to produce obedience. As the classic line goes, “God doesn’t want robots who have to obey Him.”
The illustration of a home aquarium has always been helpful to me when it comes to understanding this balanced relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill. Imagine an aquarium that sits on a stand in the living room of a home. This aquarium is filled with water, and within all that water the fishes swim around in a world created especially for them. This world includes: gravel, rocks, plastic plants, a miniature sunken ship, a small treasure chest resting beside the ship, and a beautifully painted background. The aquarium also features an air pump, a filtering system, a light, and a heater.
Sometimes the fish in the aquarium get along with each other, but other times they fight and chase each other around. Sometimes the bigger fish even eat the smaller fish. Through it all, though, the owner of the aquarium is never threatened in any way. Regardless of what goes on among the fish inside the aquarium, he remains sovereignly aloof and in charge. He can do whatever he wants to do concerning the aquarium because the whole operation belongs to him and he’s the one who keeps it in operation.
Do you see how this illustration can be applied to God’s relationship to individuals? Even when people refuse to voluntarily submit to God’s plans, purposes, and will, He always remains in charge of the universe in which those individuals live. I don’t want to stretch the illustration too far, but wouldn’t it be something if the entire universe, including this earth and all the life upon it, is just an aquarium sitting in a corner of heaven? That, perhaps, is a good way of interpreting Job’s comment about God’s omnipotence. God, as the eternal, universal aquarium keeper, can do whatever He wants to do concerning life in the aquarium, but He allows individuals (fishes) to swim the course of their own choosing. For that matter, Jesus did compare evangelism to fishing, didn’t He? Now that I think about it, maybe that comparison was more appropriate than we have ever realized (lol).