“For you are the God of my refuge,
why have you rejected me?
Why do I pace back and forth darkened
In the oppression of the enemy?”
This verse provides a remarkable development in the theology of this psalm. Up until now we had always seen the psalmist speak of his adversaries in the plural. Even in the previous verse, there is more than one ungodly person after him from which he must seek refuge. Here he no longer speaks in the plural, but shifts to the singular. There is one enemy that he has in sight here and it is from this one enemy that all the other enemies seem to come. It should be understood that the psalmist clearly has his sights on the work of the devil in the world around him. As Peter writes:
“Be self-controlled. Be Alert. Your enemy the devil goes about roaring, seeking one to devour.”
(1 Peter 5:8)
The Apostle Paul uses similar language when instructing the Ephesian Christians in putting on their spiritual armor—equipment that is used to protect a person from the attacks of the enemy. Note the words he employs:
“Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
Thus, the enemy with whom we do warfare is led by the devil and those who serve under his command. In fact, the very word διάβολος (diabolos) literally refers to one who accuses with malicious intent. The Hebrew equivalent, שָׂטָן (satan) also means “an adversary or accuser.” While there is a more general term for enemy used in this verse, the intent of the use of the singular seems quite clear, the devil is behind the oppression that God’s people face.
Yet, wait a minute? Do we also not point out that God is ultimately sovereign even over the works of the devil? Indeed, we must. The first chapter of Job is a wonderful illustration of just that reality where the devil must ask permission before he can torment Job and that in the end it is God who establishes the boundaries that limit the extent with which satan can tempt. In addition, the evil spirit that tormented Saul, we are told in 1 Samuel 16:14, is from Yahweh. Similarly, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the thorn—an angel from Satan—as being from the Lord with the intent of keeping him humble (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
So how do we rectify both of these things? The answer to that question is to be found in the work of Sanctification that God is doing in our lives. He uses even the great enemy that we face as a tool by which he will shape us and conform us into the image of his Son. Yet, the process of sanctification hurts and is not easy because God is working out of us our old sin-hardened hearts and making us new creations. One of the tools that God uses in this process is that of the devil. Certainly the devil is doing exactly what he wants in rebellion to God, but at the same time God is using the devil’s activities to bring about his good plans for his own. Just as Joseph said to his brothers—“you intended evil but God intended good” (Genesis 50:20).
So why do we pace back and forth with a darkened scowl when things go badly for us? Why do we think that the Lord has ceased to be our refuge? Why do we think that God has abandoned us when trial comes our way? The answer lies with us and our weakness and not with God. There will indeed be times when we neither sense nor can see God’s hand at work, but just because we cannot see God working does not mean that he is not perfectly active in governing the events of our life to bring about his great glory. He is teaching us to walk forward in faith and just as a father needs to eventually take his hand off his his child’s shoulder before the child will learn to ride the bike on his or her own, so God lifts his hand off of our shoulder. He is still there beside us, we just do not sense it.
Peter reminds us of the truth of this principle when he speaks of his experience in getting to witness the miracles and transfiguration of Christ, yet when he turns to speak of the scriptures, he refers to them as “more sure” than experience (2 Peter 1:19). Why is this? Experience is often marred by the emotions and limited perceptions of the one who is experiencing. Scripture is given by God in an absolute way through the prophets and apostles. Indeed, it is more sure as two can come together and it will say the same words to each while our experiences might cause us to understand radically different things. Indeed, loved ones, let us stand together against the wiles of the devil recognizing that we are under the hand and protection of God. Let us cling to Christ’s protection while confidently facing those assaults of the devil that will be used by God to transform us more and more into the image of Christ Jesus.
“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”
“The prince of the power of the air,” this is the term that Paul uses to refer to Satan in this context. When combined with Paul’s reference to him as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and Jesus’ reference to Satan as the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30), some have developed a theology that suggests that Satan is some sort of legitimate force that reigns in sections of this earth or peoples of this earth where the Gospel has not yet gone.
First of all, we should make clear that even in light of these references, Satan is at best a usurper, seeking for himself that which is not his just as Cain sought the blessings of his brother’s sacrifice. Satan also has no power apart from that which God permits him and thus God sets the boundaries and the length of the leash upon which the roaring lion is tethered. The Christian must be prepared for battle against him but should never fear him.
With that in mind, there is a theology that seems to rise to the surface periodically that is unhelpful at best and superstitious at worst. It suggests that until an evangelist takes the Gospel to a given location, Satan has dominion there. Upon what can that be based? God is omnipresent, is he not? While the Gospel has not been taken or received in a given location as of yet, that does not mean that such a locale is under the dominion of the devil. It simply means that Christians yet have work to do.
So, why then do Paul and Jesus use language such as this? Certainly this is giving the devil more than his due. To begin with, the language of satan being the god of or the ruler of this world is meant to set up a contrast. Christians become citizens of heaven whereas the wicked are only ever seen as those who dwell in the earth (you see this contrast play out prominently in the book of Revelation). Thus, those of earth worship the things of wickedness and the fall, hence they turn to their god and ruler, who is none other than the devil himself. It is not a popular thing to say, but it can still be fairly said that unless you worship the God of heaven, you are worshiping the devil.
As to the language that we find here, we should see Paul as making a distinction between the air — ἀήρ (aer) in the Greek — and the wind — πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the Greek. Much could be said here about the uses of each word, but let it suffice to say that the Bible presents the former as being more or less inert and not affecting anything whereas the latter is seen as life-giving. Never once do we see air performing this function, it is just there. If the devil has any power, it is over nothing of eternal consequence and it will fade like the grass in the summer heat. The Spirit, in contrast, is not like air, but like the wind, and goes where he chooses.
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.