Satan Afflicts, God Permits
You and I have an adversary named Satan who prowls the earth on a mission to devour any he can sink his teeth into. Scripture says as much in Genesis 3:1-5, 1 Peter 5:8, and Revelation 2:10.
In these passages, and others, we see Satan and his demons wreaking havoc on the earth and in the lives of people. Adam and Eve were tempted and deceived, bringing about the fall of humanity into the depths of sin (kind of a big deal). His actions are seen in alluring David into taking a census that bolstered his pride. Jesus encountered forces of darkness around every corner in people sick, lame, and possessed by demonic powers. Peter warns us that Satan stays moving. He looks for the weak, isolated, and vulnerable to devour. He doesn’t play fair. He doesn’t take days off, or feel sorry for anyone.
We have a real enemy.
The Bible also tells us we live in a world governed by the hand and plan of God. Our God reigns. That statement isn’t metaphorical, it’s actual. He leads and guides the day-to-day affairs in the Heavens and Earth for His purposes. He is executing His eternal decrees toward their appointed ends.
This real life unfolding of the events of life according to the eternal decrees of God is called Providence. When people talk about the providence of God they mean God’s purposeful plans coming to fruition on the earth. It’s the real-time experience of eternal decrees.
But what we’ve said so far should raise a question: How could we live in a world ruled by God, governed by God, and totally driving toward an appointed end He has determined, yet have Satan raising Hell—quite literally—on the earth?
The short answer that I’ll take the rest of the article explaining is this: God permits Satan’s role on the earth because even those afflictions are a part of His eternal plan.
One of the greatest peeks into this mystery of God permitting Satan’s activity and afflictions he brings, is revealed in the book of Job. In it, we see Satan enter into the presence of God. The Lord asks him where he’s been, and Satan says he’s been roaming to and fro (Side-note: God didn’t need this information. It’s less informative and more accusatory, like when you came home past curfew and you get asked the same question). A debate ensues about Job, a prosperous, God-fearing man on the earth. God tells Satan he can afflict Job’s life. And he does.
Job loses his possessions and his children, but Job doesn’t lose his faith. So, Satan returns and tells God that if Job was personally afflicted, he would curse God. God allows Satan to afflict Job, but again, he sets the parameters of what he can or can’t do. This time Satan is not allowed to take his life, but everything else is on the table. Job suffers physical ailments and misery as a result. Everyone believes Job has disobeyed God and is being punished. Others believe he should curse God and turn from him. He doesn’t.
There are many angles for discussion on this story, but the purpose in this article is to demonstrate that Satan’s ability to act on the earth is governed by God’s permission. Satan is not sovereign. Satan does not have free reign to do everything he pleases. Only God is sovereign, and only God can do all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3).
There are natural questions that emerge once you begin contemplating these matters: Why doesn’t God just destroy Satan? Why does God allow Satan to do anything at all? Why even create Satan if you knew he was going to rebel? What reasons could God possibly have in allowing Satan to bring pain, misery, destruction, and affliction in the world?
A few answers are possibilities.
First, God can use Satan as an instrument of judgment on the world. We must not forget that all of mankind are children of wrath as a result of sin (Ephesians 2:3). God is not required to withhold judgment until we die, but is free to bring justice for rebellion on the earth today.
Second, God can use Satan as an instrument to bring about His good purposes. This sounds weird to connect anything the Devil does to God’s good purposes, but look at the cross. Satan led Judas to betray Jesus, which eventually resulted in his crucifixion at the cross. Without the cross there is no salvation. Satan played right into the hands of God’s plan. And we must recognize there are 10,000 other ways God does this that we don’t always get the privilege of seeing so clearly.
Third, God can use Satan as an instrument to display Christ’s immeasurable glory. How so? When Jesus returns in glory on the clouds, and his eyes blaze with fire and the sword is in his hands, Satan will meet his ultimate defeat. Christ will receive more glory in the ultimate defeat of Satan than he would in the immediate defeat of Satan. Jesus’ return will bring an end to Satan’s destructive work in the world, and his rebellion will be put down as he is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10), never to emerge again. We will celebrate the victorious king, triumphant over all his enemies, and ours.
The questions this places on our hearts to answer are: will we trust God? Do we believe His wisdom and goodness make His plans trustworthy even when we cannot understand them?
The life of the Christian is lived knowing that Satan is real, active, and evil. Yet our God reigns. Anything Satan is allowed to do is permitted by God, or Satan couldn’t do it. That doesn’t mean it is easy to endure what Satan throws at us, but it does mean we can endure faithfully as we lean on the One who permitted it in our lives.