Late last night, as I was sleepy after volleyball practice, I received the following set of questions from a loyal reader of this blog that I thought worthy of discusses at some length, with a minimum of speculation. The initial query went something like this: “Did God need a Satan. Since every generation must experience him and we must all know his ways are evil. Since the angels are ministering agents and were created before the earth …do you think God gave him great beauty and pipes that he would become Satan. I know free moral agency but God also do tell personality. But doesn’t God make our personalities.” After a short reply on my part, there was a follow up comment that went something like this: “Why does God release him for a little while at the end of the millennium then. Why does every generation have to experience him? How else would He have created righteous character?” In contrast to most of the questions I receive, this one requires a bit of refinement, so let us attempt to do so. The first question is, is Satan necessary for God to accomplish God’s plans. The second question is a bit more reasonable, and that is whether it is necessary for mankind to have Satan in order to develop godly character?
I think the answer to the first question is pretty obvious, and that is that it is not necessary for Satan to exist for God’s plans to be accomplished. The answer as to why this is the case is because we know that there will be a time when Satan will no longer have any influence over those who have entered into God’s Kingdom and whose names are written in the book of life. The Bible, we should note, does not present a very happy fate for Satan. Revelation 20:10 reads: “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Likewise, Ezekiel 28:18-19, widely understood to be written about Satan, reads as follows: ““You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth
In the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever.”” Since there will come a time when God’s workings and plans will go and and Satan will no longer have any role in them, Satan is not strictly necessary for God’s plans.
That does not mean, though, that Satan is not useful. One of the darker sides to the promise of Romans 8:28 that all things work together for the good for those whom God loves and who God calls according to His purpose is that all the things that God works together for the good are not good themselves . Divine providence as it is presented in the Bible can be a very dark and unpleasant phenomenon, and we are fooling ourselves if we do not recognize that. In Job, we see God manipulating Satan into challenging God concerning Job’s righteousness, leading to lengthy suffering and exploration of God’s justice before Job repents of his presumption in bringing God to the heavenly court for nonperformance of His covenental duties only to be greatly blessed. The end result was for the good, but Job’s suffering was intense and basically undeserved, inasmuch as anyone can say that. Jesus’ suffering on our behalf, which was entirely undeserved, was certainly a case of God working horrific injustice and suffering for the good. Yet the foreknowledge of this suffering led Jesus Christ to sweat blood and ask that if it were possible that the cup of suffering would be taken from Him. It was not possible for us to be saved on any other terms, though, and so He suffered horrifically for the good of our salvation and the opportunity for us to enjoy eternal life. Examples could be repeated ad infinitum.
We might say, if we wish to be uncharitable, that Satan and his demons are going to be kept around as long as they fulfill God’s purposes. We know, for example, that in 1 Kings 22:22 that a lying spirit convinced Ahab to go to his destruction in a battle at Jabesh Gilead. In Acts, it is reported that the attempt by some nonbelieving Jewish exorcists to cast out demons by the name of Jesus Christ was spectacularly unsuccessful, showing how demons served as a perhaps unintentional aid to the evangelistic efforts of Paul and his associates in the area of Asia Minor. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 6 tells us that we will judge the angels. Implicitly, at least, the angels who serve God and who did not rebel will not be subject to the judgment, and so we will very likely be judging fallen angels. And as demons and human beings are the only beings we know of that have rebelled against God’s rule, and we have received mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it is at least possible that there are demons who will receive mercy instead of the judgment that they fear and expect for having fallen. Fallen beings who have been restored to God’s good graces would be precisely the sort of beings who could be expected to have mercy on others who have fallen in like fashion from the same deceiver who was a liar and murderer from the beginning. We see, therefore, that the purposes of demons are not necessarily only for judgment, but also mercy as well.
As to why Satan is released for a little while after his thousand-year imprisonment but before his final judgment, the Bible does not give the reasons why this is so. As the nature of unredeemed man is already bent in some fashion against God and God’s ways even without active temptation, it is not strictly necessary that Satan exist in order for mankind to grow in character by resisting evil. To be sure, the active presence of demonic possession or influence makes such a struggle more difficult, but it is not strictly necessary for us to have the struggle to begin with. Even during the millennial kingdom where Satan is bound it will still be necessary for people to be told that this is the way, walk you in it, because they will not automatically know the way or automatically follow it. Positive virtue and the absence of vice is not inherent in us even when we are not being actively drawn to evil by outside influences. Our own internal longings are often enough to lead us into harm’s way on their own.
What purpose, therefore, does Satan and his demons serve at present? The Bible presents several purposes, and none of them is particularly present. The example of Micaiah cited above demonstrates that demons may serve God through leading the wicked to their destruction in order to accomplish God’s purposes of judgment. At other times, as with humanity after the millennial reign of Jesus Christ but before the new heavens and new earth and the experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the purpose of Satan’s presence appears to be in order to test mankind which is in a state of innocence but not necessarily virtue as a way of demonstrating the insufficiency of mere innocence in leading to salvation. Demons may also serve the purpose of reminding us of Satan’s tactics and strategies as a way of improving our own capacity for spiritual warfare in this present evil world . So, in the final analysis, I would argue that the Bible does not view Satan as necessary but it does view him as useful in the sort of way that haters and enemies who strengthen us and toughen us are useful but not pleasant, which is the way I feel about the subject as a whole.
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 There are, for example, no shortage of books on that unpleasant subject that I have read. See, for example: