The traditional view of Satan’s work on earth has depicted him whispering over our shoulders and talking us into doing bad things that we really want to do anyway. He’s the CEO of hell, and causes havoc on the earth. Meanwhile God wrings his hands as he runs around frantically trying to minimize the devil’s work, and trying to patch up the damage.
Welcome to the most unpopular subject in the world: suffering. This part (7) of my series may be a little more popular than the rest, since even in our “enlightened” age people are fascinated with the devil. On one occasion I was witnessing in the street when one young woman hissed in my face, “I don’t believe in God-I believe in the devil!”. She was perhaps speaking for many other people who prefer the darker side of life.
Part 7-itself divided in two-is necessarily devilishly long: I’m sorry. Please scroll down to get the gist of it if you wish.
In this part of my edited and re-written series, based on Biblical scriptures, I consider whether and to what extent the devil and his angels contribute to our problems in life. Unbelievers and also some believers will find the subject difficult to take seriously: I say ignore spiritual opposition at your own peril.
There’s no question, Biblically speaking, that our most threatening enemy in life is the devil, along with his accomplices:
“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
In contrast to that age-old image I noted above, when you really get stuck into relevant Bible passages, and when you look around and use a little logic, you see that there are no battles directly between God and Satan. The very few battles between Satan and his angels and God’s faithful angels are brief and have an unavoidable outcome of defeat for Satan. However, the fascinating and provocative reality is that God not only spares Satan and the other fallen angels but actually uses them. I’m not teaching a Yin-Yang type of theology here, in which good and evil are two sides of the same coin: they are not.
What I’m saying is that God is the almighty ruler and sustainer of all things, so that he can even find a use for those who rebel against Him. There’s no waste with God. Satan is on a chain , and one day that chain will be pulled in. You discover In Scripture-if you’re honest-that God is totally supreme and indisputably in control. Here are three illustrations from scripture of God’s total supremacy over Satan:
1: When God judged the earth by Flood because humanity had become so corrupt and violent (Genesis chapters 6 and 7) there was no attempt by Satan to stop the Lord from sending judgment: in fact he was nowhere to be seen.
2: When Jesus dealt with demons during his earthly ministry his power over them was unhindered, so that they feared that their time was up:
“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29 NIV).
3: The fate of the devil and his followers is already sealed, and it’s one of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41).
GOD USES SATAN AND HIS FALLEN ANGELS
Contrary to our culture’s centuries-old belief that Satan causes trouble on earth while God fights back and attempts to minimize it, and that he’s down there in hell overseeing the punishment of the lost, the Bible makes clear that God uses Satan to send testing and suffering, and that Satan’s independent desire to see us suffer (and be sure that it is intense) is allowed or encouraged within God’s plan to test, discipline, shape, punish or judge unbelievers and believers. Here are some examples:
When the Spirit of God left Saul because as king he was serving himself and not God, we’re told that “an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14).
God searched for a spirit to entice Ahab into defeat and death. Micah said:
I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him…and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab….?’ “Then a spirit came forward…I will go out and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets…’ And he (the Lord) said ‘You are to entice him, and you will succeed; go out and do so’ (1 Kings 22:19-23).
In the New Testament, we see that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11). It’s important to see that “Jesus was led by the Spirit…to be tempted by the devil”: It was the will of God that Jesus be tested.
Paul realized that in order to keep him from becoming conceited by his close experiences with God a physical ailment was given to him by God (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). God sent “a messenger of Satan” with the ailment. Paul prayed three times for healing and God refused.
The work of Jesus Christ on the earth reveals God’s supremacy. As noted above, the demons he dealt with were well aware that they were destined for torment at his hands. However, we can easily see that they were not being tormented then: they were released to continue their existence and their activities on the earth. They will not be dealt with permanently until after the coming Millennium (Revelation 20:10-14).
Perhaps the absolute clincher in the argument that God gives permission to Satan to cause suffering is found in Revelation. Apart from the fact that God allows the devil to persecute believers to the death (Revelation 6:11) we also read that Satan will be released from his future prison, for a brief time, in order to deceive the nations:
“And when the thousand years were ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth…” (Revelation 20:7,8).
Wow-is God helping the devil to do evil? No, God is using the devil to do the Lord’s work. Is God really the ultimate “baddy” and the ultimate trouble maker? No, God wants to test our hearts: do we love God, or are we in opposition to him? Satan is a tool that God uses to do the testing.
GOD PUTS A LIMIT ON OUR SUFFERINGS
When Satan wanted to put Job’s faith to the test, he had to first get the Lord’s permission to do so (Job 1:9-12, and 2:4-6). God put a limit on what Satan was allowed to do in order to test Job, and he said to Satan “Very well then, he is in your hands, but you must spare his life” (2:6).
We naturally think that God should have put a much greater limit on Job’s sufferings and on our own: take that up with the Lord. However, even if we die at the hands of evil men through persecution, there’s an end to suffering:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul (Matthew 10:28 KJV).