The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Understanding the Limits of Satan’s Power (God’s Relationship with Evil)

Understanding the Limits of Satan's Power

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Suppose I have a large, savage dog who I know hates people and wants to kill anyone who gets near him. I’m the only person in the world my dog doesn’t dare to attack and I’m the only one he will listen to. I walk my dog regularly at the public park and because I know what a danger he is, I keep him muzzled and on a leash—well, most of the time. One day I see you walking in the park. My bloodthirsty dog sees you as well and starts growling with anticipation. You’re walking a ways away from us, and you happen to glance over just in time to see me unmuzzling my dog, unhooking his leash, and pointing in your direction. The next thing you know, a wall of snarling muscle is hauling towards you. As my dog knocks you onto the ground and starts trying to kill you, you catch several glimpses of me standing in the distance with my arms crossed, watching the whole scene quite calmly. We’re the only people in the park, so there’s no one you can call to for help. Just when you realize that you’re going to die a gruesome death, I call my dog back. One word from me, and he leaps off of you and runs back under my control. Later on in the hospital, as you tell the police what happened, who are you going to blame for trying to kill you? The dog? No, because the dog was just an instrument—a brute beast who was acting on sheer instinct. Certainly you’ll demand that my dog be put to sleep, but the burden of moral guilt will be assigned to me, the dog owner, for intentionally sicking my dog upon you. You will accuse me of premeditated murder—only instead of a gun, I used a well-trained dog. Of course you would be correct in your accusation, and anyone who had witnessed the scene would agree with you.

So what does this story have to do with you and Satan? Everything. Satan is like the dog in this story and God is like the dog owner. God is the only One whose command Satan must yield to, and He is also the only One capable of restraining Satan from coming after you. Just like the savage dog, Satan hates human beings and would love to inflict gruesome suffering and death on all of them. But notice how you’re still alive on the planet—what happened to Satan getting his total way with you? He doesn’t get to? Why not? Because God is constantly restraining him. Sure, he gets to do a lot of barking and snarling. Now and then he’s allowed close enough to get a good scratch in—maybe even a bite. But if God ever set Satan loose in this world and looked the other way, we’d all be dead. This is why Christians are completely delusional when they try to tell you that Satan runs this world, or that Satan kills people, or that Satan causes disasters. When it comes to Satan’s power, Christians are intentionally hiding out in a fantasy world of lies.

Let’s get back in that hospital room. There you are, bandaged and badly wounded. Now suppose you had three friends with you at the time of your attack. When you explain how I, the dog owner, intentionally unleashed my dog and sent him charging in your direction, then purposely delayed in calling him off of you until you were nearly dead, suppose your three friends all pipe up and protest, “No, that’s not true! You can’t blame the dog owner! He had nothing to do with it! He was obviously a good and kind man!” What would you say? Something along the lines of: “Are you kidding?! That dog was muzzled and on a leash—the man clearly knew what a beast he was, so why did he suddenly set his dog loose while he POINTED AT ME?! And why did he wait so long to call him off? Because he wanted to kill me, that’s why!” But your friends keep insisting that you’ve got it all wrong and they insist that the dog owner is totally innocent of any malicious intent. This is how helpful you’ll find most Christians today when some tragedy strikes your life. It’s never God when bad things happen—it’s always Satan. Most Christians have reduced the Holy Trinity to some kind of Divine clean-up committee who are in a constant state of grief and shock as they rush around the globe trying to fix all the messes Satan is making. And then these same Christians who have reduced God to some total ignoramus who is always missing or distracted when crisis strikes your life will tell you to read the Bible more often. Now there’s a real pip, for in the Bible we find God describing Himself to be the ultimate Source of ALL evil, suffering, and pain.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other: the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.” (Isa. 45:6-7)

Now the Old Testament is notoriously gruesome and violent. In those sacred pages, we find scores of people dying in every horrible way we can imagine. If Satan is really the one responsible for all the suffering in this world, we’d expect his name to come up quite a bit. Yet do you know how many times Satan is mentioned in the Old Testament? A mere fourteen times. And it’s quite interesting to note the context in which he is mentioned. Twice his name comes up in Zechariah 3 where Satan appears as a character in a vision the prophet is having. What is Satan doing in this vision? Accusing a high priest of sins and then getting rebuked by God. Well, that was exciting.

Satan’s biggest moment of glory is his eleven mentions in the book of Job. Satan’s famous for being the one to unleash suffering on Job—but if we actually read the book, we’ll notice that before Satan can do anything, he has to get specific permission from God, and every time he does, God says “this far and no farther.” Well, that was a very unimpressive show of limited power: Satan getting his permission slip signed by God and always getting to do less than he really wants.

Satan’s last chance to shine is in 1 Chronicles 21:1. Here he’s credited for being the one who incites king David to take a census of the fighting men in Israel (a prideful act which makes God so angry that He then unleashes a brutal plague which greatly reduces Israel’s fighting power). Here is how 1 Chronicles puts it:

“Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.”

And now let’s flip over to 2 Samuel 24:1 where the same account is being told by a different author:

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

What is this? Are the Jews confused about who actually provoked David to sin? Not at all. It was God who used Satan as His instrument. It’s the dog owner unhooking his savage dog and pointing him in a certain direction. It’s God giving Satan a permission slip to stir up a specific amount of trouble. But wait—since when does God command the armies of evil? Since forever.

Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you.” (1 Sam. 16:14-15)

Notice how Saul’s attendants don’t have a problem with God getting His holy hands dirty with evil. That’s because they grasp that God is a Sovereign Ruler who controls ALL things. We Christians say that God is Sovereign too, but we don’t really mean it. The way we talk, Satan has a lot more power than God does—at least for now. And then one happy day in the distant future, God will rein in that nasty old devil and we’ll finally have peace. Where do we get this crazy notion? This is not what the Bible teaches us. Even in Revelation—which is the only prophetic book many Christians ever read—who is the one throwing down bowls of plagues and torments all over the earth? It’s angels acting at God’s command, not Satan. In Revelation, Satan is locked in a jail, then let out again—all at God’s command. He plays around a while, then gets thrown into Hell. Well, this hardly says “omnipotent power.” So while Christians love to glorify Satan as being “the prince of this world”, they forget that God is the King who rules over everything in existence. Satan doesn’t get to do anything without God’s permission and cooperation. And once you have to ask someone’s permission and you need them to help you make your plans work out, you’re no longer in charge. So is it Satan who goes around inflicting pain, suffering and anguish on people? No, it’s God. God is the Source of ALL things. Sometimes He chooses to use Satan as a middleman, but other times He does not. In the Bible, we find God raining fire down from the sky, cracking open the earth and knocking people into it, killing, assaulting, and destroying without one word about Satan. We also find Him taking constant credit for both the good and the bad. But here’s something we don’t find: God passing the buck to Satan. Nowhere in the Bible does God say, “I didn’t want that to happen but that darn Satan outsmarted Me again.” Nor do we find any statement that sounds like, “I looked away from the world for just one second and that devil made such a mess out of things!” Yet this is how most Christians will paint the relationship between God and Satan—Satan is always getting away with doing things that God doesn’t want him to do. In other words, Satan is overruling and out-powering God. It doesn’t take much to figure out where this delusion is coming from. It’s not truth we’re telling when we exalt Satan above God in power and cunning—we’re merely promoting a fantasy that Satan dearly wishes would come true. But it won’t, because Satan is not God, nor will he ever see the day that he “gets away” with something.

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? (Lam. 3:37-38)

And all the people of the earth are counted as nothing; and He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the people of the earth. And none can strike His hand, or say to Him, “What are You doing?” (Dan. 4:35)

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jer. 32:27)

“O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You.” (2 Chron. 20:6)

For all things were created in Him, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. (Col. 1:16-17)

Then Pilate said to Jesus, “Do You not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to crucify You, and I have authority to release You?”
Jesus answered, “You could have no authority against Me unless it were given to you from above.” (John 19:10-11)

It seriously annoys God when we sit around saying “Satan is in control of this world” or “Satan is the one who brought this into my life.” We Christians insult God by constantly crediting things to Satan. Yes, it’s important that we understand who Satan is and what his motivations are. Satan is a creep who hates us because God loves us. Satan thrives on human anguish. Satan would love to lure you away from God and entice you into living out the rest of your life in a state of hardened rebellion. But Satan is NOT who you should be focusing on in life. While it’s important that you learn how to recognize his voice and distinguish his condemnation from God’s conviction, you should be viewing this world and everything in it as under God’s unwavering control. EVERYTHING that happens down here is according to God’s will. If God doesn’t want Satan to do something, Satan won’t be able to do it. There’s no sneaking around the back of our Sovereign King.

While God often works through a third party when carrying out His will, it is important to notice how He personally takes the credit for whatever nasty thing has been done. It was human invaders who attacked the city of Jerusalem–the Babylonian army led by their king Nebuchadnezzar–yet notice how God describes Himself as the One ultimately directing their movements:

“I will summon all the peoples of the north and My servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.” (Jer. 25:9)

To God, who or what He uses to carry out His plans is a trivial detail. When you get a piece of bad news in the mail, do you blame the mailman or the one who wrote the letter? The mailman was just a third party—he couldn’t deliver you anything that someone else didn’t put in his hands. It is the same with God—He is the One directing all of the activities on this planet, and that is a far more significant point than fussing over who He used to carry out His work. What does it really matter if God’s chosen instrument was a human, a demon, a storm, or something else? God is the One bringing trauma into our lives, and God is the One we need to look to if we’re going to benefit from the experience. In the following verse, God speaks of four different traumas: famine, wild animals killing children, disease, and bloodshed. In this context the famine and bloodshed will be inflicted by a human army which will first surround Jerusalem and cut off her food supply. Then, when all the Jews are starving and weak, the invaders will break through and hack people down with swords. The beasts and diseases will be delivered straight from God. But notice how God doesn’t bother to specify which things will come from human hands and which things are coming directly from Him. Why doesn’t He make a distinction? Because to Him, this is a trivial detail. He wants people to grasp that HE is the One causing ALL of these events to occur and NOT get hyper-focused on the methods of delivery:

“I will bring more and more famine upon you and cut off your supply of food. I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I, the LORD, have spoken.’” (Eze. 5:16-17)

If we are serious about pleasing God, we need to follow His example and start seeing HIM behind EVERYTHING that happens to us and around us. It’s never just Satan—if Satan was involved, then so was God: giving permission, creating opportunity, and setting firm limitations. God should always be seen as the One ultimately responsible for both the good and the bad. It is not blasphemous to say that God was the One who caused terrible things to happen—this is what He teaches us to do time and time again.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other: the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does ALL THESE.” (Isa. 45:6-7)

How do we read God making such powerful statements and then teach people that it’s blasphemous to say that God was involved when a gunmen shoots down kids in a school or when a tornado levels a community? These things clearly fall under the category of “calamity”, don’t they? And we have God claiming to be the Source of ALL calamity right in front of us, yet we freak out whenever someone actually repeats what God Himself has said. Why is this? Because we do not want a God who is involved with evil. If we admit that God is the Source of both the good and the bad, well then He suddenly becomes enormous in our minds and turns into Someone that we can’t begin to control. Sure we want a God who is powerful—but only if that power is used in ways that we approve of—sending blessings on our heads and doing bad things only to our enemies. This game we’re playing of denying who God really is will only end up leading us into serious delusions. Do we really think we can redefine God into some kind of all-good Santa Claus, discount most of the things He says about Himself, and then think He’s going to smile on us in approval? Who are we kidding? God sees right through our arrogant little games and He knows that we are refusing to let Him define Himself because WE want to define Him. We’re really trying to dominate and control Him while we claim to be submitting to His will. We won’t let God do anything that we don’t approve of.

The next time some terrible crime is committed that gets a lot of coverage in the news, go to your local Christian church and say, “Wow, look what God did. What do you think He’s trying to teach us through this?” Instead of really considering your question and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, you’ll get people flipping out on you and saying, “How dare you! God had nothing to do with this terrible thing! It was Satan and wicked people!” It’s this kind of attitude that is preventing Christians from growing through the calamity around them. Even though God teaches us over and over again in the Bible that ALL calamity on this earth is brought on by Him in order to inspire spiritual growth, Christians will insist that everything they don’t like is just a nasty attack from Satan. This is why so many Christians end up stagnating for years while they plead for God to stop that nasty old devil who is running amuck. Instead of acknowledging that Satan is merely carrying out activities which God has pre-approved of and then asking God to show them what spiritual lesson He wants them to learn, Christians want to go around acting like innocent victims of powerful demons in a world that is run by a deified Santa Claus. And just as Santa only shows up at Christmas, so also in the minds of these delusional Christians God only shows up after the damage is done. This is not the theological position you want to be in. If you’re there now, you need to do some serious praying. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand and accept His truth about God’s total reign over His Creation and Satan’s limited power as a mere created being. It is vital that you break out of this dangerous mentality of thinking a mere demon could ever surprise or overrule the God who created him.

As long as we keep reducing God to a limited Being, we will never submit to Him in the way that He wants, nor will we give Him proper reverence. In order to please God, we must align with HIS truth—no matter how uncomfortable it might make us at first. God’s truth ultimately leads to great peace and security, as we live out our lives knowing without a doubt that God is in complete control. Exalting Satan only leads to great stress and angst as we wonder where God is when disaster strikes. God has already told us where He is when trouble comes: He’s right there in the midst of it. And if we see Satan, he’s always on a leash. As Christians, we should not be afraid of Satan or worrying about what he might do to us next. Instead we should be revering God and trusting that whatever He brings into our lives will be for our long-term spiritual best. The victorious Christian life begins with submission to an all-powerful, unlimited God. Are you ready to get started?

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