What the devil…

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Satan appearing in the heavenly realms to address God (as we saw on Sunday in Job 1 and 2) raises more than just eyebrows! What do we know about Satan? What was his plan? Does he have any power over God (such that he can just appear before him)? And how can we know that Satan won’t cause bad things to happen to us?

What do we know about Satan?

The Bible doesn’t say as much as you would expect – I guess God is not that willing to give Satan air time in his word to us. For the record, I can count just 80 passages that refer to either Satan, the devil or the evil one.

That said, it may be worth also pointing out that the Bible might not tell us everything there is to know about Satan (it doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about circumcision, the end times, predestination or Ehud for that matter!). We can be confident that the Bible tells us everything we need to know concerning Satan.

What we can say may be helpful.

Genesis 3:1 introduces us to the serpent. Where the serpent came from or why is unknown. He is shown to be ‘more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord had made’. I have always hated snakes, but he seems more than just that. He talks (Gen 3:1 c.f. Matt 4:6). He tempts (Matt 4:1). He deceives (Gen 3:3). He lies (Gen 3:4 c.f. and Jesus calls him the ‘Father of lies’ John 8:44). He opposes God (c.f. 1 Jn 3:8). He fights (Jude 9). He blinds believers (2 Cor 4:4). He gets angry (Rev 12:12).

It seems that Satan was once an angel (2 Cor 11:14), he was created by God (Col 1:16) and so originally he was good (c.f. Gen 1:31), yet at some point between Genesis 2 and 3 he turned against God as some angels did (c.f. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6) and that that evil came from within himself (Jn 8:44). We should be on guard because it is Satan who takes the lead when it comes to demonic forces and tempting God’s people (Jn 12:31; Eph 2:2 and of course Job 1).

He is real – in other words, not just a spirit or a personification of evil and interestingly if he wasn’t real, then there would be more problems generated in making sense of the Bible’s teaching particularly as Jesus himself treats Satan as a real being (c.f. Jn 8:44).

So, we are dealing with someone who is not very nice, is a bit of an enigma, and should be regarded with caution.

What was/is his plan?

Quite simply to undermine and destroy God’s creation. He attempts to do that by opposing God’s people physically (Luke 9:39, 42), mentally (Mk 5:2-5), in false worship (Deut 32:17), in leading towards sin (1 Chron 21:1; Lk 22:31; Eph 6:10-12), and by causing them to doubt their salvation (Lk 4:5-7).

In Job 1, it seems Satan simply wants to show up God, but in Chapter 2, his motivation is shown up – he just wants to ‘ruin [Job] without reason’ (2:3).

As we read through Job, although it appears God’s plans for Job are frustrated by Satan, they are not defeated by Satan and in fact the events are used to serve the larger purposes of God which Job and even Satan could not see. Satan’s purposes are never intended for good, but God’s are (Rom 8:28).

Does he have any power over God (such that he can just appear before him)?

No. This might be drawing straws a little, but there is a difference between access and permission. It is not as if Satan has free access to God such that he can just rock up and invade his space. That of course does not stop God giving permission for someone to stand before him. Or indeed, that does not stop God summoning someone to stand before him. In Job 1 and 2 there is a conversation between God and Satan and it is quite clear that it is a conversation on God’s permissive terms. Notice that although Satan can make suggestions about Job, he has no permission to do anything to Job until God grants it.

Incidentally, the same applies with Jesus. Every time in the gospels when Jesus is faced with evil spirits, demons or Satan, permission from Jesus has to be granted (c.f. Mk 1:27; Matt 8:28-34; Lk 4:31-37).

And how can we know that Satan won’t cause bad things to happen to us?

We don’t, he is the prince of this world (Jn 16:11). But let’s not give him too much credit!

It might also be helpful to recognise that although evil can be attributed to Satan, the Bible spends relatively little time and energy taking about his activity and instead normally talks about evil being something that springs from the human heart and mouth and hands (Matt 15:19; James 3:5-6; Gal 5:19-21).

That said, Satan is defeated. He maybe a constant foe, but he is not worthy of our fear or anxiety. Jesus has his measure (Heb 2:14).

And similarly, the evil that springs from our hearts, mouths and hands are never too much for Jesus (Rom 5:8-10).

Bring on heaven (Rev 20:10).

If you would like to read further:

  • There is a great little book by Mike McKinley titled ‘Did the devil make me do it?’ (Croydon: The Good Book Company, 2014). Much of what is written here has come from this book!
  • And a fun book to read from C.S. Lewis ‘The Screwtape Letters’ (London: Collins).

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