Psalm 148:1-2, 5 - “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts…Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.”
This past week a Christian in India reached out to me online because he is studying with a Hindu friend who has a couple of questions about the origin of Satan and evil. I asked our brother if he would let me organize my thoughts in the blog because others might benefit from thinking through these questions also. His friend asked two questions:
1. "Why did God create Satan and evil?"
The question was originally asked this way, but I think it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about God's role in creation and His basic character. Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from trying to comprehend God from the perspective of polytheistic deities within other religions. Instead, let's begin by examining what the Bible reveals about the origin and character of Satan.
Satan is a created being.
In Colossians 1:15-16, Paul wrote a beautiful and powerful text that emphasizes that Jesus is above everything. He stated that by Jesus "all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him." Angels, whether describing those faithful to God or those who rebelled against Him, are a part of the invisible creation. The phrase "rulers and authorities" is used to describe spiritual forces who oppose God in other scriptures (see Colossians 2:15, Ephesians 3:10; etc.). Except for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, these other spiritual beings are created! In Psalm 148:1-5 the writer calls on all of the creation to praise the Lord, including angels, "Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created."
Satan did not start out evil or deceitful!
Satan was created, but he did not start out evil or hostile to God. According to Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 25, 31, everything God created was good! On the last day of creation, God saw that it was very good. That includes spiritual beings. Originally the created, spiritual being called Satan was good.
Satan and his angels rebelled against God and what He created them for.
But something changed. Spiritual beings and human beings are given something called "free will." They are given the ability to choose whether or not they will believe, love and obey God. When Peter explained that God will judge false teachers and deliver righteous people, he gave the historical example of God judging angels when they sinned (1 Peter 2:4). John taught that Satan didn't waste any time rebelling against God, that he has been sinning from the beginning of the creation (1 John 3:8).
Where did evil come from?
This part of the question deserves it's own, longer answer. But based on what we have studied so far we know the following... If God and His character set the standard for what is good, then evil needs to be understood as anyone or anything that is against God and His character. It appears that the short answer to our friend's first question is, "Satan was created by God and originally was good, like all the creation. But he introduced evil when he used his free will to rebel against his Creator. He deceitfully tempts other created beings to do the same. When other beings give into temptation they are morally compared to Satan, and he stands ready to accuse them of their sin before God" (see Genesis 3 & John 8:39-47).
But, why did God create Satan?
Really, this question stems from wrestling with God's omniscience; the fact that God is all-knowing. God knew that Satan would rebel. But let's simplify and change the subject of the question by asking it on a more personal level. Why did God create you or me? God knew that Adam and Eve would sin in the garden. Our omniscient God knew that you and I would sin against Him. Why then, did God create us capable of free will if He knew we would chose rebellion? Whenever we start to examine God's motives I think it's helpful to tread careful and reverentially. I would like to offer a couple of suggestions for each reader to pursue further.
- God desires to be in loving community with individuals who likewise choose Him! Just as we can use our free will to rebel against God, we can use our free will to express our love and devotion for God. However, the problem is that once we choose sin and rebellion, as much as we may desire to be back in a relationship with God our sin has created an obstacle that we cannot overcome on our own. But God had a plan for that, which leads to the second thing I would suggest considering.
- God in His omniscience knew He would need a remedy for sin even before He created the world. His plan was to send Jesus to earth to atone for sin, and provide him as a propitiation for our sin (Ephesians 1:4). As a popular Bible class curriculum summarizes, "Before the world began, God had a great plan, and that plan was Jesus!"
- What does all of this mean? It means that God loved each of us to such a great degree, that even though He knew we would reject Him and sin, and that the only way to overcome that rejection would be if He sent His son to experience death for us, He still created everything anyway! What an amazing, gracious and loving God! "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are" (1 John 3:1, NIV)!
Let's zoom back out to the question of why God created Satan. I will not fully know God's reasoning for everything that He has done, but in those moments I choose to trust in what God has revealed about Himself and His character. He is good, He is holy, He is sovereign. I trust Him.
2. "Why hasn't God killed Satan?"
Whew, again, I will attempt to tread carefully. The Bible teaches that spiritual beings such as angels, who were created by God, continue to exist after rebelling and are awaiting the final judgement, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:41). Eternal punishment is not as most cartoons depict, where Satan is some kind of manager overseeing a tortuous realm. Instead, he and all who follow his influence will be separated for our good, and life-giving God for all eternity! The way God has designed things, He will not snuff any spiritual being or human being out of existence.
Satan has been defeated!
Even though Satan has not been killed by God, he has been defeated! His defeat was prophesied in Genesis 3:15 and accomplished on the cross by Jesus according to Mark 3:22-27 and Colossians 2:13-15.
Even though his defeat at the cross was a deathblow, he can still tempt and exert power over believers to the degree that they allow it. We still need to be alert and aware of his influence in the world. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
As redeemed children of God who stand in Christ, it is helpful to remember that spiritually we are on the side that has already won!“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
To my brother in India, I hope this was helpful. I pray that your study with your friend goes well as you continue to seek for the answers God has provided for us in His word. God bless you!