What Does the Bible Teach About Satan?

Fallen: A Theology of Sin (Theology in Community) Although some critics and skeptics say that Christians made up a figure like Satan to scare people into morality, the truth of the matter is that Satan is real.  Even some non-Christian religions talk of evil beings and spirits, and a leader of these evil beings.  So what does the Bible teach about Satan?  Sydney Page has a nice summary in chapter nine of Fallen: A Theology of Sin (edited by C. W. Morgan and R. A. Peterson).  Here’s an edited outline of his excellent essay:

1) Satan is a created being.  Evil has not always existed, nor has the Evil One.  Scripture clearly represents Satan as being on the creature side of the Creator/creature distinction (Col. 1:15-20, etc.).

2) Satan is a fallen being.  Not only does Scripture present Satan as a created being, but also it presents him as a fallen being.  The first chapter of Genesis makes clear that God’s original creation was good, but Satan is undeniably evil.  See 1 Tim. 3:1-7 (esp. v 6), John 8:44, Rom. 16:20, Rev. 12:9 and 20:2.

3) Satan’s roles include:

a) The tempter in sexual sin (1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Tim. 5:14-15), b) tempting to withhold forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:5-11), c) tempting to anger (Eph. 4:26-27).

a) The deceiver and liar (John 8:44; cf. Gen. 3:13), b) deceiver and robber of the Word (Luke 8:12), c) deceiving and blinding the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:3-4, 15), d) deceiver and sender of false apostles (2 Cor. 11), e) deceiver to extreme asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1-5).

a) The accuser of our brothers (Rev. 12:10), b) the accuser in Job, c) the accuser in Zech. 3:1-2.

a)  The one who afflicts: Satan afflicts Job and Satan afflicted a crippled woman (Luke 13:15-16).

4) Satan as the opposition: a) he opposed Jesus (Jn. 8:37-44, Luke 22:3-4), b) he opposes the followers of Jesus (Luke 22:31-32, John 17:15), c) he opposed the early Christian movement (1 Thes. 3:5, Rev. 2:10).

However, despite the fact that Satan is Christ’s chief and powerful opponent, the Bible also teaches of his defeat:

1) His past defeat (Heb 2:14-15, John 12:31-33, Col. 2:15), 2) his present defeat (Rom. 16:20, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9, 1 John, 3) his future total defeat (Mt. 25:41, Rev. 20:7-10).

Page says much more about these topics and also lists more Scripture references.  I thought it was a helpful piece because I’ve not come across very many articles that give a nice, systematic summary of the Bible’s teaching about Satan.  We should know our enemy, the Devil – and also rejoice that God will one day crush him under our feet (Rom. 16:20).  His days are numbered!

Sydney Page, “Satan, Sin, and Evil” in Fallen: A Theology of Sin.

shane lems

Good, Evil, and God’s Providence

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grudem) I appreciate Wayne Grudem’s discussion of providence in his Systematic Theology (ch. 16).  At one point, after discussing the doctrine of God’s providence, Grudem wrestles with the topic of good/evil and how they relate to this doctrine.  Here is an abridgment of Grudem’s analysis of the Bible’s teaching.

1) God uses all things to fulfill his purposes and even uses evil for his glory and for our good.  Thus, when evil comes into our lives to trouble us, we can have from the doctrine of providence a deeper assurance that ‘God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose’ (Rom. 8:28 NASB).   We can realize that God is glorified even in the punishment of evil (Prov. 16:4, Ps. 76:10, Rom. 9:14-24).

2) Nevertheless, God never does evil, and is never to be blamed for evil.  In Luke 22:22, Jesus combines God’s predestination of his crucifixion with the moral blame on those who carry it out (cf. Matt. 26:24, Mark 14:21, Acts 2:23, 4:27-28).  God uses evil for his purposes, but he never does evil and is not to be blamed for it.  There is such a thing as secondary causes; human beings do cause evil and are responsible for it.

3) God rightfully blames and judges moral creatures for the evil they do.  Many passages in Scripture affirm this (Is. 66:3-4, Ecc. 7:29, Rom. 9:19-20).  The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature, whether man or demon, who does it, and the creature who does evil is always worthy of punishment.

4) Evil is real, not an illusion, and we should never do evil, for it will always harm us and others.  Scripture consistently teaches that we never have a right to do evil, and that we should persistently oppose it in ourselves and in the world.  We are to pray, ‘Deliver us from evil’ (Matt. 6:13).  See also James 5:19-20 and 1 Peter 2:1.

5) ‘The problem of God’s relation to sin remains a mystery,’ as Berkhof said.  In spite of all the foregoing statements, we have come to the point where we confess that we do not understand how it is that God can ordain that we carry out evil deeds and yet hold us accountable for them and not be blamed himself.  We can affirm all these things are true, because Scripture teaches them.  But Scripture does not tell us exactly how God brings this situation about or how it can be that God holds us accountable for what he ordains comes to pass.

These are helpful statements.  Again, you’ll have to read chapter 16 for the unabridged version.  The Bible for sure does tell us some things that we have to believe and other things we have to reject about God’s providence, good, and evil.  And at the end of the day, we sing Paul’s doxology in Romans 11 that magnifies God’s sovereignty as well as the fact that we are finite creatures and he is the infinite Creator.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 327-330.

shane lems

God Owes Us A Good Life?

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Many people today assume that God owes them a life of health, wealth, and happiness.  Since God is good, they say, he should bless us in many ways and keep us from all harm and danger.  I appreciate Timothy Keller’s answer to this false belief.

“When we stand back to consider the premise – that God owes us a good life – it is clearly unwarranted.  If there really is an infinitely glorious God, why should the universe revolve around us rather than around him?  If we look at the biblical God’ standards for our behavior – the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount – and then consider humanity’s record against these norms, it may occur to us that the real riddle of evil is not what we thought.  Perhaps the real puzzle is this: Why, in light of our behavior as a human race, does God allow so much happiness?  The teaching of creation and fall removes the self-pity that afflicts people with the deistic view of life.  It strengthens the soul, preparing it to be unsurprised when life is hard.”

Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, p. 115.

shane lems
hammond, wi

A Sorry State of Moral Illiteracy

 Os Guinness’ Unspeakable is one of the best books on evil and suffering that I’ve read.  Here are what Guinness calls four troubling facts which make up the challenge to rethink evil and suffering in our times.  Many people today have a distorted view of evil, so these things give us cause to pause when we think about evil and suffering.

“First, the scale and scope of evil has increased in the modern world.  To anyone who thinks deeper than the morning headlines, the atrocity of  September 11 forms part of the wider record of the dark catalog of human evil in modern history and pales beside the worst of the evils.”  For example, consider the Ottoman massacre of one and a half million Armenians in WWI, or the Rwandan and Sudanese massacres in the 1990s, or the Ukraine terror famine, Auschwitz, the rape of Nanking, the Burma railway, the Soviet Gulag, the Cambodian killing fields, etc.  “Leaving aside the one hundred million human beings killed in the century’s wars, more than one hundred million more were killed by their fellow human beings in political repression, massacre, and genocide.”

“Second, modern people have demonstrated a consistently poor response to modern evil.  Part of the uniqueness of our time is that we are the first to live when it is possible to know of almost all the world’s atrocities as they happen.  Yet a sad feature of the horrendous evils of the last century has been that strong leaders and decent people knew what was happening when it was happening, but did little or nothing.  More than we like to admit, we are all bystanders now.  We often know enough to know that it is better not to know more.”

“Third, modern people have shown a chronic inability to name and judge evil and to respond effectively.  Deeds such as the terrorists attacks of September 11 caught the Western world as much off guard intellectually and morally as they did in terms of national security.  An act that was flagrantly evil – exposed the paralyzed confusion of many who were uncertain whether it was evil, or how to say so, or at least how to justify their saying so in public terms. …A combination of forces over the past century did their damage and created the sorry state of moral illiteracy and intellectual cowardice in which we find ourselves.”

Fourth – and most controversially – the worst modern atrocities were perpetuated by secularist regimes, led by secularist intellectuals and in the name of secularist beliefs.  This fact runs directly counter to today’s ruling orthodoxy in educated circles in the West.  Many actually make the opposite claim.  …More than one hundred million human beings were killed by secularist regimes and ideologies in the last century.  Secularists, and particularly secularist intellectuals and opinion-makers in the press and media, owe the public debate a larger dose of humility as well as candor” (p. 4-9, 42).

Obviously these points are part of Guinness’ larger discussion about evil, suffering, goodness, and God.  I’ve edited them a bit to keep them brief.  If you want to read the entire argument, and if you’re looking for a thoughtful, historically informed, and biblical reflection on suffering and evil, get this book: Unspeakable.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Tear-Jerking Goodness

Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil In his excellent book, Unspeakable, Os Guinness reflects on the heroic efforts of the French Huguenots who hid Jewish children from the Nazis during WWII.  Philip Hallie wrote about this account in his book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed.  When Hallie first read about the Huguenots’ compassion, he was moved to tears by “the rarity of pure goodness” that he saw in the story.  Guinness comments on this:

“Eleonore Stump …argues that the same faculty of intuition that allows us to recognize the difference between degrees of evil also allows us to discern goodness.  ‘We recognize acts of generosity, compassion, and kindness, for example, without needing to reflect much or reason it out.  And when the goodness takes us by surprise, we are sometimes moved to tears by it.’

“Stump points out that we have no words to describe the different grades of goodness as we do for evil, so she uses the words, ‘true goodness’ to capture the contrast with real ‘wickedness.’  Repeatedly we weep when we are surprised by such true goodness.  Partly we weep because of the surprise.  Partly we weep because of the unexpected grace of the gift.  But mainly we weep because of the sheer heart-stopping wonder of the beauty of true goodness itself.”

Guinness reflects:

“Could it be that there is a mystery to goodness that is even deeper than the mystery of evil?  Certainly, like a diamond flashing in a pile of dirt, it is often set off even more brilliantly in contrast with surrounding evil.  In the topsy-turvy relativism of our modern world, there are those who turn everything upside down, inside out, and the wrong way round.  Good they make bad, right wrong, and true false, until many people are so confused they cannot tell the difference and see everything as gray or a matter of spin.”

“Can goodness be made fashionable again, not discounted as prim, uptight, and puritanical?  There is comfort, if slim comfort, in the knowledge that when we begin to reap the harvest of evil that such relativism is sowing, goodness will once again be seen for what it is” (p. 225-226).

Well said!  And by the way, used copies of both books listed above (by Guinness and Hallie) are under $5 shipped on Amazon.  Recommended!

shane lems

Cutting, Counseling, and Christ

Sometimes people are so needy, broken, hurt, angry, and confused that they resort to cutting themselves as a way of escape.  Mentally and perhaps physically, cutting seems to ease the pain or reduce the burden of life for some people.  Before discussing this any further, it is important to note that though not all of us cut ourselves when broken or despondent, all of us quite often try to deal with these things in different sinful ways (i.e. drinking, fleeing, bitterness, anger, etc.).  So at bottom, cutters and those who don’t cut are in the same boat; none of us can cast the first stone (so to speak).

But cutting is something that needs to be addressed, because it is harms people made in God’s image.  It needs to be addressed because it is a sinful response to trial and hardship.  It needs to be addressed because it happens all too often.  Christians – especially pastors, elders, teachers, and counselors – need to know what to do when a loved one resorts to cutting.

Here’s a good start: get Cutting: A Healing Response by Jeremy Lelek.  This pamphlet is a great resource that briefly explains what cutting is, why people do it, and how the gospel speaks to this tough issue.  Lelek nicely uses a story (based on reality) to describe cutting in some detail.  It makes for sad reading at first, but Lelek doesn’t make it shocking just for the sake of shock value.  He keeps it more realistic, and then explains how grace applies even to those who cut themselves.

I appreciated how Lelek noted that religion and morality do not really cure cutting.  Rather, it is an issue of the heart that is only and truly dealt with by going to the cross, where Christ bled and suffered to make sinners acceptable to God.  The gospel means that when we are found in Christ, by faith, though we might still struggle with sin (even the sin of cutting), God still accepts us because of Christ.  Lelek was realistic by explaining that someone might have to still fight the urge to cut even after they become a Christian.  This should lead one to detest his/her sin of cutting, but not to despair about it.  Again, it has to do with Christ, the sin-bearer.

I’ll come back to this booklet later and give more details – this post is just a brief summary.  But for now, let me say that I highly recommend this booklet.  Even if you haven’t yet dealt with this difficult issue, you should get it so you don’t panic when it comes up in your church, family, or Christian circle.  Cutting is a dark reality in life, but there is a Light that shines brighter, a Light that overcomes all evil.  This booklet is about that Light.

Jeremy Lelek, Cutting: A Healing Response (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2012).

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Mystery of Evil

This section of Christopher Wright’s fine book, The God I Don’t Understand has cause me to think (which is part of the reason I like it!).  In fact, I’m still thinking about it.  Here it is:

“…God has revealed to us vast amounts of truth in the Bible – about God himself, about creation, about ourselves, our sin, God’s plan of salvation, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the future destiny of the world, and so on.  Thus, in light of all this abundant revelation, the Bible’s silence at this point on the ultimate origin of evil seems all the more significant, and not merely accidental.  It’s not as if God were now saying, ‘Oops, I forgot to mention that point, but never mind, they can figure it out for themselves.’  No, the truth is that God has chosen in his wisdom not to give us an answer to our questions about the ultimate origin of evil within creation.  It is simply not for us to know – and that is God’s sovereign decision, the prerogative of the one who is the source of all truth and revelation in the universe.”

Later in this chapter (chapter 1) Wright continues:

“God, with his infinite perspective, and for reasons known only to himself, knows that we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not ‘make sense’ of evil.  For the final truth is that evil does not make sense.  ‘Sense’ is part of our rationality that in itself is part of God’s good creation and God’s image in us.  So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing.”

“Evil has no proper place within creation.  It has no validity, no truth, no integrity.  It does not intrinsically belong to the creation as God originally made it nor will it belong to creation as God will ultimately redeem it.  It cannot and must not be integrated into the universe as a rational, legitimated, justified part of reality.  Evil is not there to be understood, but to be resisted and ultimately expelled.  Evil was and remains an intruder, an alien presence that has made itself almost (but not finally) inextricably ‘at home.’  Evil is beyond our understanding because it is not part of the ultimate reality that God in his perfect wisdom and utter truthfulness intends us to understand.  So God has withheld its secrets from his own revelation and our research.”

“Personally, I have come to accept this as a providentially good thing.  Indeed, as I have wrestled with this thought about evil, it brings a certain degree of relief.  And I think it carries the implication that whenever we are confronted with something utterly and dreadfully evil, appallingly wicked, or just plain tragic, we should resist the temptation that is wrapped up in the cry, ‘Where’s the sense in that?’  It’s not that we get no answer.  We get silence.  And that silence is the answer to our question.  There is no sense.  And that is a good thing too.”

“Can I understand that?  No.  Do I want to understand that?  Probably not, if God has decided it is better that I don’t.  So I am willing to live with the understanding that the God I don’t understand has chosen not to explain the origin of evil, but rather wants to concentrate my attention on what he has done to defeat and destroy it.”

If this brief discussion has piqued your interest, I recommend getting this book so you can read the rest of the chapter and other such discussions.  Here’s the full title: The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith by Christopher Wright.  I appreciate how Wright approaches these tough areas of the Christian faith with humility and a solid grounding in Scripture.  The book is a good one to have when considering answers for the real, tough, and deep questions we ask about the Christian faith.

shane lems

sunnyside wa