Why doesn’t God just obliterate the Devil?
One of the projects that we engage in at Rocky Bayou Christian School is that of helping to train students how to defend their faith when it is challenged. One of the ways in which we do so is to pose questions to the student body that challenge the faith and then challenge them to write out a response for a prize. Each of these questions are drawn from atheistic websites, blogs, books, or movies to ensure that the questions we use are ones actually being presented by unbelievers.
This month’s question is, “Why doesn’t God just obliterate the Devil and thus get rid of evil—and if he can, what is he waiting for?” The question itself comes from the trailer for Bill Mayer’s new movie, “Religulous.” The movie is presented as a documentary—more a “mock-u-mentary,” designed to poke fun at religious people. In his interview on Larry King Live this past August, Mayer gives the motivation for asking this question. Mayer states that religion is “the ultimate hustle,” that Christian leaders “need” the Devil, “because if God got rid of the devil—and he could because he is all-powerful—then there is no fear, there is no reason to come to church, there is no reason to pass the plate, we are all out of a job…” This statement falls on the heels of the comment, “at some point, mankind is going to have to shed this skin (Religion) if he is going to move forward. I do have a serious intellectual problem with it, and on another level, it just ticks me off…”
It is worth making one more comment about the interview on an indirectly related note: when speaking about the afterlife and the Christian’s view that we know what will happen to us after we die, Mayer makes a wonderfully true comment. Mayer states, “unless a God told you personally what happens to you when you die, it all came from another person with no more mental powers than you.” And that is exactly the point. God did come and tell us what will happen to us when we die, and he tells us the way that leads to eternal life, which is through a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the way that leads to death, which is the way that Mayer seems to have chosen to pursue—to reject Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And we have these words of God recorded for us in the Bible.
How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God and not the writings of men, as I would presume Mayer would assert? While my point here is not to present a full defense for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures (as others have written excellent volumes on just that subject), let me set forth several basic points.
The first thing that we must present is that the Bible itself claims to be God’s word. Now, your initial response very well may be to assert that a statement like this is circular reasoning. And on some level, it is. But let us pose the question, what might be true about the Bible if this statement about it being God’s word is true? We would expect, were it written by God, that all of the facts that it contains are true. And indeed, while evolutionists would assert that the creation story is untrue, evolution is a theory based on a speculation of the order of events. The “mountains” of evidence that so many evolutionists point toward are illusory, and Creation Scientists can present interpretations of the evidence that are arguably more compelling than the evolutionary models, and which are consistent with Scripture. If you doubt this, try getting a college Biology professor to agree to debate with a Creation Scientist—you will find it to be a rather challenging task. The Creation Scientists are willing, but the evolutionists are not—basic logic should tell you that they are hiding something if they are unwilling to engage in such debates.
But let us look at events that are clearly documented in history. What we find when we examine the archaeological evidence is that there is nothing to contradict the historical Biblical account. In addition, when we compare Biblical records of historical events with extra-Biblical documents of the same age, we find once again that there are no contradictions. There are more textual accounts, for example, to the life of Jesus than there are for example to the life of Julius Caesar, but no-one doubts that Julius Caesar lived, nor do they doubt the historicity of his writings.
In addition, we might not only expect that the history that the Bible records is accurate, but we might also expect that the things that it foretells is also accurate. Now, certainly all of the things that the Bible foretells have not yet come to pass, but there are hundreds upon hundreds of prophesies that the Bible did foretell that did come to pass. For example, Isaiah prophesied that the man who would be used of God to return the exiles to Jerusalem would be named Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), a prophesy that was given roughly 200 years before the event took place. There are numerous prophesies that are given about the coming Messiah as well—that he was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), that a forerunner would be sent (Malachi 3:1), that he would be rejected by his people (Psalm 118:22-23), numbered with transgressors (Isaiah 53:12), that the soldiers would divide Jesus’ garments (Psalm 22:18), and that in his death his bones would not be broken, but his side pierced (Exodus 12:46, Zechariah 12:10). We could go on, as there are many more, but as a friend of mine who used to be in the meat packing industry regularly says, “If the sample is true and free from bacteria, the whole lot is likely true and free from bacteria.” In other words, to prove that a tree has roots you don’t need to dig up every tree, but only a representative sample. Time after time, it can be documented that Biblical prophesies have come to pass. By every scientific measure, then, one must accept the validity of the whole.
One might also suggest that if the Bible were written by God himself, it would be true and without contradictions. And indeed, that is exactly the case. It is granted that there are some people who would point out that the Bible does seem to contradict itself on occasion, but in each of these cases, the contradictions are only apparent ones noted from a surface reading of the text. Reasonable explanations can be given for each of these apparent contradictions. One thing that we have learned from the discipline of forensic science is that in crimes, oftentimes very unusual events take place. And while a crime may at first seem to have taken place in one way, when all of the evidence is examined, rational explanations can be given for why the initial assumptions were wrong. If one is going to seek to say that the Bible contradicts itself, all of the evidence, both internal and external, must be examined before any rational conclusions can be reached. I suggest that once that examination is made, the Scriptures will be recognized to be internally consistent.
Though I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I want to make several more practical observations about the Bible that only seek to affirm that it is God’s word. First of all, one of the things that separate the Bible from mythic and religious writings of the ancient times is that it gives accurate names as well as detailed historical as well as geographical information. Most ancient religious documents are rather vague when it comes to such details so that they cannot be refuted. The Bible presents this kind of information, and as noted above, it is not found in error when challenged. Secondly, the Bible has had a greater impact on the events of worldwide history in a way that no other book can claim. Nations have risen and fallen around the contents and teachings of this book. Philosophies have emerged with the contents of this book as their foundations. The bible is the most widely-read book in history and even non-believers have benefited from its insights and wisdom into human nature. In addition, people have been willing to die for the veracity of this book in a way that no other book can claim in history. And finally, on a very pastoral note, the Bible has the ability to bring peace to a dying person’s heart unlike any other book in human history. When folks are on their deathbeds, they typically do not ask for someone to read from Shakespeare’s sonnets, but regularly ask to have some of the Psalms read to them. This again is a sign that the words of this book transcend humanity and are found to be of divine origin. No other book, religious or secular, can claim the authority that the Bible claims for itself, and it is irrational to ask for a higher authority to attest to the divinity of the Bible than God himself because God himself is the highest authority—and He claims thousands of times in the scriptures that these words are his own. If you doubt that this book is truly God’s word, I challenge you to sit down and give the Bible an honest read from cover to cover, examining the evidence for and against, before you seek to challenge its authority.
Now, as to answering Mayer’s specific question about why God does not destroy the Devil and thus rid the world of evil? To answer this question well, there are several things we need to take into account. First of all, there is an important distinction that needs to be made between the Devil and evil in the sense that even if the Devil were to cease to exist tomorrow, there would still be evil in the world. The name “Devil” comes from the Greek term, dia/boloß (diabolos), which literally refers to one who engages in slander against another (certainly something that Mayer is guilty of when it comes to God). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dia/boloß (diabolos) is typically used to translate !j’f’ (Satan), which means, “accuser.” Satan is described as the accuser of the faithful (Zechariah 3:1-2; Job 1) and one who incites to sin (1 Chronicles 21:1). The Devil, in turn, is described as tempter (Matthew 4:1), enemy of God (Matthew 13:39), betrayer (John 6:70), murderer and Father of Lies (John 8:44), oppressor of God’s people (Acts 10:38), enemy of righteousness (Acts 13:10), the one who sets snares for God’s people (1 Timothy 3:7), and the father of those who make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:7-10). Ultimately it will be the devil and those who serve him who will be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented eternally (Revelation 20:10,15). Thus, in a sense, part of Meyer’s answer is answered. God has promised that he will destroy the devil, but such will not take place until all of God’s elect have been brought to faith (arguably Christ’s return is keyed to the death of the last martyr [Revelation 7:11]).
Before I address the question of evil and it being taken out of the world, I want to address the follow-up question that Meyer posed—what is God waiting for? In other words, the question can be rephrased—why doesn’t God just get on with it? In a sense, the answer was given just above—God is waiting for the final predestined believer to come to faith/the last martyr to give his life for the Holy faith. To understand this better, it is important to look at how Peter addressed this very question in his second epistle. Peter was dealing with those who were scoffing and saying “nothing has changed since the old days—where is this God of yours?” It is almost as if Peter were writing to Mayer on this very issue—or perhaps Mayer isn’t overly creative in asking questions. Peter states that the reason God is taking what seems to us to be a long time is not because God is slow to act, but because God is patient, being willing to endure the mocking and scoffing of unbelievers until the very last member of his elect has been brought to faith (2 Peter 3:8-10). Thus, in God’s eternal decree before the foundation of the earth, when he chose his elect throughout history (Ephesians 1:4), God also determined to stay his hand of eternal judgment long enough for the very last believer would be brought to faith—he will not lose even one of those who he has so ordained to become his own (John 10:28).
Finally, we are left with the question of evil. The first thing to note is that while the concept of sin is related to the concept of evil, they are not synonymous. The Old Testament word for sin derives from the Hebrew verb aj’x’ (chata), which means to miss the mark or target that one is aiming at. Thus, sin is missing the mark of God’s righteous character or not being able to live up to his standard. In turn, the antonym of sin is righteousness. In contrast, the Hebrew word for evil is [r: (ra), and it is typically used as the antonym of bAT (tov), or “good.” Deuteronomy 30:15 presents this contrast quite clearly where Moses presents the people with the following statement: “See, I put before you this day the life and the good—the death and the evil.” In other words, that which is good and that which is evil are seen as the necessary results of obedience or disobedience respectively, or in the context of our discussion—good and evil are the results of a righteous lifestyle or a sinful lifestyle. One might take the concept one step farther, understanding the fall of mankind as described in Genesis 3 as the entrance of evil into the world, that good is ultimately reflected in what it was like to live in an unfallen world and evil is reflected in what it is like to live in a fallen world.
So why does God permit us to live in a world that is less than perfect and is often filled with evil rather than with good? Admittedly, such a time is only for a season, for there will come a time when Jesus will return and remake the heavens and the earth free from the effects of evil—restoring the world to an unfallen state, but with one catch—we will no longer be able to fall into sin. Yet, for now, we live in a fallen world and not only do we sin, but we are forced to endure not only evil people all around us, but also evil events that take place—events that are reflective of the fall of mankind. So why does a good God permit such evil? First of all, God permits such to go on in the world around us to remind us of the effects of our sinful actions and hopefully compel us to grieve over our own sin as well as the sins of others. Secondly, evil in the world around us stands as a constant testimony against the secular humanists and almost every other religious system. Most religions and the secular humanists believe that deep down mankind is good and that it will only truly become good when it “sheds the skin” of religion and moves forward apart from God. The Bible tells us quite the opposite. We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and we pursue sin (Romans 3:10-12) with all of our strength apart from a movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If mankind were good, then mankind would be perfecting itself and wars and political oppression and greed would come to an end. Yet we are sinners, and thus we stumble and fall into sin. Mankind is fallen and evil is a constant testimony to that fallenness. A final reason for God’s permission of evil in the world is that he uses evil to strengthen Christians in their faith. Facing evil, trials, and tribulations force us to draw closer to God and to rely on his strength and thus grow in our relationship to him.
In other words, for the Christian, while evil is something that we never desire to enter into our lives, when it does, such evil things are not necessarily bad. In fact, in many cases, the scriptures remind us that it is good to face evil things so long as we are relying upon God, for such cases will grow us to be stronger in our relationship with Jesus Christ. One final note—while the final destruction of the Devil will not take place before the second coming of our Lord, Jesus did once and for all time defeat the power of the devil upon the cross of Calvary. Yet, though Satan has been defeated, we must endure for a little while longer while God works out his plan in the world.
In a nutshell—God does has already destroyed the Devil and has promised to cast him in the lake of fire in the end times. Second, God is waiting for the last of the elect to come to faith and/or the last martyr to die. Third, even if the Devil were thrown into the pit tomorrow, we would still have evil in the world due to the fall of man and man’s sin—something that can only be remedied through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Fourth, evil is not always bad though it is always unpleasant. God often uses evil to bring about his work in this world as well as using it to sanctify and mature us in the faith.