What Kind of God has a Satan? – The Nature of the God who has an Adversary.
By Jack Hoehn: Preface: Seventh-day Adventists throughout the world are presented in 2016 a series of lessons on sin and salvation, or as the official Sabbath School lessons are titled, “Rebellion and Redemption” by David Tasker edited as usual by Clifford Goldstein (uninterrupted editor for the last 17 years). What follows comes from a Sabbath School Class I co-teach at Walla Walla University SDA church where we take an hour to deepen the topics suggested by the GC lessons. I have an excellent book by Gregory A. Boyd, “SATAN AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL—Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” published by IVP in 2001 as a key resource in thinking about the kind of God the Bible reveals who permits a real adversary in His universe. Many of the Bible texts used in this study were suggested by Pastor Boyd’s book. But their use and the conclusions of this article are my responsibility.
Why Does God Permit a Wicked Foe?
By the time of the Biblical Daniel or even earlier, a Persian poet and religious leader presented Darius, Cyrus the Great, Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes or Artaxerxes) with a religious understanding of the universe late known as Zoroastrian belief. These beliefs included that there was one Creator God (Ahura Mazda) who was the originator of everything, including “Truth.” But this Creator had a powerful opponent (Angra or Aka Mainyu) an evil spirit also known as “The Lie.”
Jesus uses the same Zoroastrian title for God’s opponent in John 8:44 when he says, “(The Devil) was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks his native language, for he is a Liar and the Father of Lies.”
So what kind of Universe do we live in, and what kind of Creator has made or permits an Adversary? How can the Truth permit perpetuation of The Lie? This is not a new question. The prophet Habakkuk (Chapter 1:1-17) also living in the time of Zoroaster thought (?610 BC), asks the same questions.
“My God—Holy One….You are from Everlasting—You will never die…Your eyes are too pure to look on evil…You do not tolerate wrong…” so Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Why must there be conflict? Why do you tolerated the treacherous? Why do you have “a wicked Foe?”
David puzzles in Psalm 5, “You are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.” So why does this good God permit the murdering Lie to exist?
Dual, but not Dualism
Are Good and Evil co-eternal and equals? Is the Benevolent always balanced by the malevolent? Do we have di-theism, two gods in eternal rivalry and opposition, good and evil; light and dark; white and black; creative and destructive; God and Satan with the Devil separate from God as an independent deity?
Let C.S. Lewis guide us through this question (Mere Christianity, page 50).
“I freely admit that real Christianity…goes much nearer to Dualism than people think. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christians agree with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.”
God before All
Let’s remind ourselves of God’s primacy.
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning-God.”
Deuteronomy 10:14 “To the Lord your God belong the heavens…the earth and everything in it.”
Psalm 135:5,6 “The Lord is great…greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens, on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
John 1:1-3 “The Word was God…without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
Ephesians 1:9-11 “He has made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure…according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will…” Colossians 1:16,17 “…things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
Knowing the End but not controlling the Middle
God knows the End from the Beginning (Isaiah 46:10). All wise, all good, all powerful, the end of the conflict between good and evil is known to God and revealed by Him to us. But knowing the outcome and that He will prevail is not the same as knowing how the battle will run to get there.
Whatever it takes for love to overcome hatred, whatever it will take for good to overcome evil, whatever it will take for life to overcome death, that the infinite God will do. He will prevail. But that does not mean He controls and manipulates the battle. Whatever evil presents, God will fight. Wherever darkness falls, light will shine. Whatever lie is told, truth will triumph. God is in charge of His responses, but God is not in charge of the evil, death, darkness, or lies. In a world of true freedom what happens in the battle is not under God’s control, only subject to God’s response.
Not all Christians understand
When confronted with tragedies such as crippling accidents, natural disasters, cancers and so forth, many Christians respond by uttering truisms like, “God has His reasons.” “There’s a purpose for everything.” “His ways are not our ways.” This is similar to what St. Augustine taught, “Nothing happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen.” And suffering Christians try to find consolation in the thought that their oppressors could not have victimized them as they did, unless God allowed it for a greater good. John Calvin urged believers who fell among thieves or wild beasts to, “consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan.”
But isn’t a “secret plan” of God’s that little children suffer and die, or girls are raped and tortured, or that drunk drivers, fundamentalist terrorists, and murdering police are sent to “bring a greater good” would be seen as a cruel and hateful plan, unless you tacked the word “God” onto it? You may wish to get God off the hook by saying, God does not cause these things, but He merely permits them. But if I permit what I have power to stop, am I not as culpable as if I did them myself?
God frustrated and not in control
While Scripture emphasizes God’s ultimate authority over the world, it also emphasizes that agents whom God has created can and do resist His will. Scripture does not teach that God controls all the behavior of free agents, whether human or angels.
While God’s general will for world history cannot fail, His particular will for individuals often does fail. God is striving, fighting, warring against rebellion. He is not in control of events, although He will prevail in the end. Until the end, there is real warfare going on and things happen God not only did not plan, or permit, that that truly frustrate and grieve Him. If you read the Bible seriously, you will find a frustrated God, not an in control of events God.
Genesis 6:3-6 shows that God’s “heart was deeply troubled” by human violence and sin. Isaiah 36;7-10 reveals he was “distressed and grieved” by Israel’s failure. Luke 7:29,30 says that religious leaders rejected God’s purpose for them, as Stephen said to enraged church officials (Acts 7) “You resist the Holy Spirit and have not obeyed.” Hebrews 3:10,11,17 says this frustration of His will and rejection of His plans by free agents makes God angry! Grief, frustration, anger are not responses of a God in control of everything, they are the response to choices and actions and events not at all under God’s control.
A figure of speech?
If you tell me you are angry, laughing, jealous, rejoicing, hating, mourning should I tell you, no you are not really feeling that, that’s just a figure of speech. If 17 children are buried alive by a mudslide in Mexico can you deny the parents their emotions? If terror murder a beloved wife or husband or daughter or son in San Bernardino, Oregon, Paris, or New York City, shall I deny the truth of your emotional state? Then why when the Bible is explicit about God having these same emotions (Deuteronomy 9; Psalms 2,7,11,78; Proverbs 6; Exodus 20; Zephaniah 3) do we claim, well God does not really feel those emotions, that is just an expression the writers used? What if in fact the emotions we feel are simply a small, imperfect, and distorted reflection of the great and holy emotions God feels when His will is not done? Our anger is corrupt, but God’s anger is rooted in divine justice. God’s anger is perfectly righteous and predictable, never capricious or malicious. In God’s anger, He never sins. But His anger is more real than our anger, not less real. His joy is more real than our joy, not less real, and His grief is more real than our grief, not less real.
Why did Jesus teach us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth” if everything that happens, good and bad, already is God’s will? The simple answer is, because it isn’t!
Why take the risk?
How is it then that God created a world in which He must genuinely fight to accomplish His will and in which His will is in fact often thwarted? Why has He created a world that is so radically out of sync with His character? Why risk a Satan?
Dante’s Divine Comedy reminds: “The greatest gift that God made in creation, and the most formidable to His goodness, and that which He prizes the most, was the freedom of the will.”
And C.S. Lewis supports: “Free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give [creatures] free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
So a God, who does not change, created beings who can change, because Love must be chosen. Creatures capable of Love must be capable of saying no. The Bible teaches two truths about God.
- God wants all to be saved and enter into a loving relationship with Himself. (2 Peter 3:9)
- God knows that many will not do that and will not be saved. (1 Peter 3:20, Matthew 7:13, 22:14)
This leads to the conclusion that if God could have created a universe in such a way that all would say yes to Him and no one would be lost, He would have done so. The fact that He did not, suggests that it is not possible.
Love cannot be forced. Powerful people may be able to force others to do just about anything. Through psychological or physical torture, they may succeed in forcing them to curse their own children, abandon their parents, or deny their faith. They may even succeed in forcing others to act and say or do “loving things” to them. But no one can force another person to actually love them.
“The Liar” versus God
The theme that underlies Jesus’ entire ministry is the assumption that creation has been seized by a cosmic force and that God is now battling this force to rescue His creation. Every exorcism and healing marked an advance towards establishing the kingdom of God against the kingdom of Satan.
(John 12:31) The Prince of This World is to be driven out.
(John 14:30,31) The Prince of This World has no hold over me.
(Luke 4:5,6) The Kingdoms of this world belong to Satan.
(1 John 5:19) The Lie has the whole world under his control.
(Ephesians 2:1-5) The disobedient spirit is the ruler of the kingdom of the air.
The Battle is real and we are not safe
The greatness of God is not as a grand puppet master, but as the creator of a Universe that can oppose Him, seemingly true both of spiritual or angelic powers, and material or earthly creatures. And the Bible does not show God as sitting back letting rebellion have its way, but actively participating in the battle, limited by the freedoms He has designed the creation with. This suggests God knows what I might do, and knows what He will do no matter what I choose, but that my choice is not predetermined. And my participation in following or not following God’s will does very much affect the outcome of the battle or the part of the battle I am privileged to fight in. My actions have consequences, and those consequences are my choice, not God’s choice.
Evil is not of God, it is of God’s creature Satan and our human ancestors who elected to submit to the Lie. Instead of preventing evil God fights it. We are not safe in this battle. There is no assurance we will not be injured by forces and agents against God’s will for us. It is our duty to do all we can to fight evil, not by passive acceptance of what comes, but by active opposition to evil by means spiritual and physical. It is not enough to pray for protection, we need to put on our seat belts, wear bike helmets, get vaccines, take antibiotics, and lock our doors. And get out and vote. Also it means this SDA church can be victorious, but it is not God who will determine that, it us we church members and leaders who will follow the Lamb or follow our fears and yesterday ideas. If we fight with 18th century weapons a 21st century battle, we should not expect to win. What was God’s advice then, is not necessarily God’s advice now, circumstances change, God’s enemies change. God’s church needs to adapt to new circumstances as God leads us forward.
Yet we need not fear
Jesus promises his disciples trouble on earth, but does not want us to be sad about it.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! (Be of good cheer!) I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Jesus knows we will have losses, but promises a day of recompense.
“And Jesus answered and said, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29,30)
We do not fight alone.
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
(Comments are open and will not be edited for this article.)
Next time: Did this war begin in Eden or before Eden?
(Our exploration of the 2nd lesson will study this true battle (great controversy) in historical and pre-historical contexts.)