“I have been a Christian for only 3 years, so there are several things about the Bible that I do not understand. I have really been upset when reading the book of Job. I cannot understand why God would be working with Satan for any reason! Satan is supposed to be the father of lies and deceit. God even tells Satan that Job “still maintains his integrity though you (Satan) incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” I do understand that God tests us. But I do not understand that God would have any kind of interest in what Satan has to say, would you please explain this to me so I can stop thinking about it. Thank You.”
This is a really interesting question Denise. In a sense, it sounds like you’re also asking: ‘How could God stomach Satan?’ so to speak. Since Satan is “the father of lies” and “when he lies, he speaks out of his own character” (John 8:44), why even dialogue at all? Or rather, what would be the point in it? Admittedly, the extent of this question can lead you down quite the rabbit hole of theodicy, which attempts to justify God’s goodness in relation to evil. But if we firmly believe that God is truly good and all-powerful, then your concern is not so much how could God stomach Satan, rather why would God stomach Satan? So, I think a deeper understanding of angelology alongside a sharper focus on God’s character might help ease your contention. Bear in mind; if God truly is good, the standard by which we are able to discern good from evil, then there must be a good reason!
Being “Under Trial”
First off, God does test us, but He does not tempt us (James 1:12-15). Even though, of course, any moral test would need to include some degree of temptation to call it a test at all. As the apostle James puts it, “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”(v.14-5) Given that we are evil (Psalms 14:1-3, 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-12), and God is the ultimate moral judge, James uses legal language of “under trial” (v.12) to describe our moral condition. Consider that Jacob was a liar, David was an adulterer, Peter was a traitor and Paul was a killer; all of whom passed the test. This distinction between test and temptation has led theologians to draw the conclusion that God permits Satan to tempt us for a greater good to come; the purpose of which I will broach in a bit.
If God is good, God is truth, God is life, God is love; God is holy, incorruptible and perfect (Luke 18:19; John 14:6; 1 John 4:8; Romans 1:23; Revelation 4:8), then I personally see no moral issue with God speaking or working with whoever He pleases, including a creature like Satan (which He created, mind you; more on this in a bit). God is not so much “working with Satan” as much as he is permitting him to do what he desires, which is always evil. And if God is willing to ‘work’ with Satan, the father of lies and murderer from the beginning, how much more is he willing to work with you? Consider Jesus’ statement: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
So, let me stretch out your concern even further: Why not just condemn Satan right then and there? – Why wait? Look at all the evil he has caused! Well, it appears God has a greater plan in mind to end evil for good. After all, why else would Jesus consciously choose Judas Iscariot to be an apostle? Jesus said, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.” (John 6:70-71) It seems that God is temporarily permitting evil to exist in order to accomplish His greater plan for good and eternal purpose for our lives, the details of which have yet to be fully revealed and, frankly, reach well beyond the scope of this response. To give some insight into what this plan might look like, let me dig into the details a bit here with Satan’s role in relation to God.
God knows Satan better than Satan knows himself. If God is truth (John 14:6) with no evil in Him (1 John 1:5) and can never lie (Hebrew 6:18), then He could spot falsehood from an eternity away. Satan must know there is no deceiving God, despite his measly attempts to do so (Matthew 4:1-11); even accusing Job of malintent. And notice in Job 1-2 that Satan is not lying to God by how we use the word today. Satan uses his ample sum of experience with human nature “from going to and fro on the earth” (Job 1:7) as a way to wager God, hoping to provoke Job to slander Him. Without any ground to stand, however, Satan ultimately drew a false accusation against Job. While we tend to lie about an event that has already happened, Satan is called a liar for making an absolute claim about what Job would do without truly knowing what Job would do (Job 1:11, 2:5). Interestingly, Jesus holds us to the same standard: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37) In other words, lying is as much retrospective as it is prospective, it’s past and future tensed. James, again, beautifully condenses our moral condition of being under trial for a greater future purpose alongside the danger of holding fast to false assumptions, which devalues predictive prophecy and gives greater value to want (James 4:7-17; 5:7-12). The devil is truly in the details!
Now, the Hebrew word satan is a masculine noun that serves as both a name and title, meaning “accuser” and “adversary”, and the word devil in Greek means virtually the same, “accuser, slanderer, attacker”, or literally “to throw across” (cf. Ephesians 6:16). Before Satan became known as “the adversary” (or the Satan), his name was Lucifer, meaning the “shining one” or “morning star”. He was an angel of light “blameless” from creation and guardian cherub of the Lord’s throne, until his heart became proud and wicked for the sake of his own splendor. Long story short, he abandons his post and inevitably becomes the ringleader in a cosmic rebellion over the whole world (Revelation 9:11, 12:7-9), which is ultimately overthrown by death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:10-12). Throughout Scripture, Satan appears before God because he is, of course, a fallen angel (Ezekiel 28:14–18; Isaiah 14:12–17; Luke 10:18). Due to centuries of artistic depictions, however, angels have been branded to look a particular way, which has driven an unspoken consensus among people to assume that angels are some sort of race or species, but this is not so. In the Septuagint, the word angel (angelos) simply means “messenger”, “envoy” or “ambassador”, describing one’s role and purpose, and can also refer to human messengers such as John the Baptist (Luke 7:24; 9:52; Mark 1:2-3; James 2:25). The word angelos was set apart for those delivering messages or carrying out acts from God; it was not reserved for ordinary matters. Like all messengers sent by a king, they were considered ambassadors of the king and would deliver messages, carry out orders, and fulfill particular missions on behalf of the king; even bestowed with some authority as representatives of the king (cf. Psalm 82:1-2; Ephesians 6:12; Deuteronomy 32:7-9). Likewise, angels seem to deliver messages from God to man (heaven to earth), whereas Satan brings messages from his view of man to God (earth to heaven), more accusatory than advocatory. This seems to be one of the roles of angels in general, to appear before the presence of the Lord and give an account (Job 1:6, 2:1). And I don’t think ‘out of sight, out of mind’ really applies to God, given His nature, omniscience, and power. After all, angels are not omniscient (all-knowing). Further, this is not the only occurrence of God dialoging with Satan (Zechariah 3:1-2; Matthew 4:1-11), he apparently “accuses them [Christians] day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10), and, arguably, still continues to do so. Satan’s purpose and role, then, is lost as a “false messenger and representative” – an agent of chaos – given that he is referred to as “the father of lies” (John 8:44), masquerading as his old self, an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Why use Satan?
It seems relatively clear, in my view, that Satan’s chief goal is to usurp God’s throne (Matthew 4:8-9), either by disrupting His eschatological plan or finding some fault/error in Him, to pull Him down to a creaturely equal; he attempts to do so through humanity, given that we are corruptible yet made in the image of God. For if God is wrong –– just once –– Satan wins. He is justified in His rebellion. Thankfully, God ensures us that this will not and cannot happen. So, again, why then would God use Satan in any capacity? This is where theology becomes a bit hypothetical.
Evangelical philosopher and apologist Clay Jones wrote a compelling theodicy called Why Would God Allow Evil, which ends up touching on this exact topic. Jones proposes that while Satan is continuously tempting us to fall into sin (and thus, death), God is using our life now as a trial to show us the depths of evil, so that we despise it, as a way to refine our heart, soul, mind, strength and spirit for eternity. As God remains hidden from us in the physical sense of things, until the proper time, God may want us to deeply understand what life is like without Him before we join Him, whether in the afterlife or new creation. And without God, what isn’t evil? Admittedly, his eschatology presupposes that we have freewill (or moral responsibility) forever; given that we have moral responsibility here and now, our freewill may also carry over into eternity. Therefore, passing the test against evil here on earth would ensure that another catastrophic event such as Lucifer’s rebellion falling like “lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18) would never happen again.
Additionally, if Jones is correct, God might also be putting Himself on trial, so to speak; using the constant barking of the adversary Satan as a way to build a flawless case for Himself, so that every single person, angel or human, knows that He is – without a shadow of a doubt – Perfect. All in all, for His own glory! Of course, God doesn’t need to do this, He is sovereign. But given that He desires to engage with us on our level, to show us His true nature (i.e. Jesus Christ), and since we are not omniscient (all-knowing), it stands to reason that this is a possibility.
God has a greater plan for His own will and for us all (cf. Job 38:2-3, NIV). He has given us the hope of eternal life alongside our earthly mission as the Church to defeat evil through Him (Romans 16:20; Malachi 4:3), so that all the pain, lies, suffering, trouble and death we face here on earth act as way to refine our hearts and minds for our ultimate edification and sanctification in eternity. And we know this greater plan and eternal purpose is in full effect because of God’s precise timing throughout the Bible. For example, God intentionally withheld judgment on the Amorites because “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:16) This is then fulfilled four hundred years later when God instructs Joshua and the Israelites to take back Canaan, using Israel as his form of judgment. And like Canaan, Judgement Day is coming. Satan is just a pawn on a long leash, as John Piper puts it, destined for destruction.
So, God’s greater plan and eternal purpose was revealed through Jesus Christ and gradually continues to be revealed to us throughout time in different ways. While we don’t have all the nitty gritty details right now, we trust in God’s goodness to ensure that He will prevail once and for all.
Trust in God’s goodness. Put it above all else.
I hope that helps Denise – God Bless!
Matlock Bobechko | June 5, 2020 – 12:21 PM EST