For many, this will be perhaps the most difficult part of my series to accept. The notion that there is really a ‘devil’ is nothing less than ridiculous to even a big percentage of those who claim to be followers of Christ. I can only say that if you are among those who wish to allegorize the scriptures away, you have no authority to base your beliefs on, except the wavering, wobbling opinions of mankind. I would encourage you to consider the possibility that if there really is a God, he is quite capable of preserving his message as it is recorded in the Bible, and he is quite capable of saying what he means, and meaning what he says.
If you have been following my series on the origins and causes of suffering in our world, you will know that I am not one of those who believes that all suffering comes from the devil. I would say that most of our sufferings and problems are due to human nature- often our own. If this were not true, the God of the Bible would not be planning to judge humanity: he would simply have to deal with Satan, and the problems of suffering and evil would be gone.
However, that being said, the Bible is clear that Satan does cause huge amounts of devastation in the lives of people around the world. He brings out the worst that is already in human nature, and entices people into violence, immorality which causes family breakups, diseases and ultimately loneliness and bitterness, deceit in the affairs of men, and a whole host of other troubles. He is capable of causing physical suffering, as I will show. Paul called Satan “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2). John said that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
Remember from part 6 of my series that the original Greek and Hebrew words translated “tempt”, “test” and “trial” have almost the same meaning, and these three words and other related ones are chosen on the basis of the motives of the one doing the testing.
I never heard this from any Christian minister, and it’s something that took me many years to discover and then come to terms with: God uses Satan. People traditionally think of Satan (in his tight red suit) slogging it out with God, and the Lord running around frantically trying to minimize the devil’s work. But when you really get into some of those difficult scripture passages, and face up to what they are truly saying, there’s no escaping the fact that God not only spares Satan and his demons, (for now) but uses them to bring about His will on the earth. Now, I’m not teaching a Yin-Yang type theology here, in which good and evil are two sides of the same coin: they are not. What I am saying is that God is so supreme and almighty that he can even find a use for those who rebel against Him. Satan is on a rope, and one day that rope will be pulled in, and there will be no more use for the deceiver: he will go to the place where he belongs. Let me give you a few examples of scripture to illustrate what I’m saying, beginning with the Old Testament.
When God judged the earth by Flood because humanity had become so corrupt and violent, as recorded in Genesis chapters 6 and 7, we see a God who is in total control. There is no attempt by Satan to stop the Lord from sending judgment: he’s nowhere to be seen. God’s actions were decisive and unimpeded: He has complete power over the forces of nature and of Creation.
When the Sprit of God left Saul because as king he was serving himself and not the Lord, we are told that “an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14). God had actually sent the evil spirit himself.
When wicked king Ahab wanted to attack one of his enemies, the Lord employed a lying spirit to lead Ahab to his death (2 Chronicles 18, especially verse 19).
When Satan wanted to put poor Job’s faith to the test, he had to first get the Lord’s permission to do so, and God gave it (Job 1:9-12, and 2:4-6). Notice in these verses that the Lord put a limit on what Satan was allowed to do in order to test Job. For example, God said to Satan “Very well then, he is in your hands, but you must spare his life” (2:6).
In the New Testament, we see that at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11). However, it’s important to note that “Jesus was led by the Spirit…to be tempted by the devil”. This is astonishing! This goes totally against all those old die-hard beliefs about God and Satan just having endless battles to see who would come out on top. Here we see God Himself sending his Son intentionally to be tempted by Satan. Why? If you have read my notes on free will, you saw that we are in fact all tested continuously to reveal the condition of our hearts. However, Christ is a very special case. While sin entered the world by the disobedience of Adam when he failed his test (Romans 5:12), Jesus was to bring salvation from the effects of Adam’s failure (Romans 5:18, 19). God the Father sent his Son, knowing that he would pass the test of obedience with flying colors. It was a demonstration to all of Creation that Jesus was going to be the savior of mankind, and deserved to be.
As a second example, think of “the Lord’s prayer”. When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, he told them to say “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). He did not say “do not let the evil one lead us into temptation”. This is a request that God would spare us the ordeal of temptation in which we might fail and face trouble in our lives. Paul indicated that the Lord allows us to be tempted, but that He will put a limit on our trial, just as he put a limit on Job’s trial. He said that God “will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). We could say “Why does he let us be tempted or tested at all? But as I have pointed out in Part (), the Lord desires to test us, to see what is really inside us.
Satan and his companion fallen angels are well aware that God is in ultimate control of all things. Satan will know when his time is short (Revelation 12:12). His demons were afraid that Christ would attack them during his ministry in Israel. They said to him, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29). It is interesting to realize that he did not torture them, but allows them a certain amount of freedom until the “appointed time”.
Here is another fascinating example. Paul said that in order to prevent him from becoming conceited, the Lord sent “a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Wnen we read about future things in Revelation, out of the many mind-boggling passages there stands a remarkable one relating to God’s use of Satan. We find in chapter 20 that Satan will be captured and thrown into the abyss-but only for a thousand years (Revelation 20: 1-3). Why, we might ask, is he not kept there for ever? Verse three says that after the thousand years “he must be set free for a short time”. “Satan will be released from his prison!” (verse 7). Immediately, ” he will go out to deceive the nations….” (verse 8).
There is no getting away from the fact that God is using Satan here to once again test people, to find out and display to all Creation where their loyalties and preferences are: do they love God and the ways of God, or do they prefer to rebel against God and to do wrong? It’s God’s universe-he has the right to make the rules, and He knows what is right and what is wrong for a healthy, happy universe. He cannot tolerate evil. A heaven full of rebellious people would be no heaven at all- it would be hell, or at best, it would be as the earth is now, with all its murder, war violence, hatred, immorality, rejection, snobbery, theft, disease, and more.
After Satan has been used like a sniffer dog to deceive those who prefer sin to obedience, he will be swiftly and finally punished for his own rebellion (Revelation 20:10).
CAN SATAN CAUSE PHYSICAL SUFFERING?
We just read about the example of Paul being sent a messenger of Satan. Notice that this was a problem in his flesh (verse 7). Elsewhere in the New Testament, we read of the woman who was crippled- bent over- for eighteen years of her life, until Jesus healed her. Jesus said that this physical harm was inflicted by Satan (Luke 13:11-16). Again, I want to stress that I do not believe that all, or even most suffering is inflicted by the devil, but the Bible shows that some of it is.
In Revelation 2:10 we read that Christ warned some believers that the devil was going to put them into prison and they would be persecuted to death. This is about as physical as suffering can be! Of course, Satan did not appear in his little red suit to personally lock the door, but he led people who were open to his evil to do his work. Again, we see that free will comes into play here. If our hearts are right with God, we are able to withstand the tests that are given us. If they are not, we are open to the leading of the devil and his human helpers: we then either become one of his helpers, or just one of his victims.
In the Old Testament we find that Job was inflicted with all kinds of suffering at the will of Satan. His cattle were killed, his children killed, and his house was destroyed (Job 1:12-19). To make things even worse, Satan “afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head” (2:7).
So we see that the Bible clearly teaches that Satan is able to cause us to suffer in any way. So what is the solution-what can we do? There are many answers to this question. Most importantly, I would say that “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:7). There are conditions to this protection: a reverential fear of God is one of them. You can find others scattered around the Bible. That’s one reason why we need to read it as though it’s actually true. This is not to say that we can be trouble free, but that once we are within God’s will, any suffering which does come our way is for a purpose, and allowed by a God who loves us and ultimately wants his best for us, though it may not seem like it at the time. Secondly, remember the prayer that Jesus taught as an example in Matthew chapter 6. He said “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. It is when we are humbly and truthfully seeking his mercy that we can be within his will and his protection.
Finally, remember that “the one who is in you (if you are a true follower of Jesus Christ) is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).”Who is it that overcomes the world (and its troubles)? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5). Jesus himself said “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).