Suffering and Satan

July 15, 2013

In my sermon yesterday, I took a necessary swipe at that soft but pervasive form of Calvinism that says, “Everything happens for a reason.” As I said yesterday, I’ve encountered this bit of bad theology in many pastoral care situations: “I don’t know why this [bad thing] happened, but I know that everything happens for a reason”—as if, for example, God willed a child to die, although his reasons for doing so are not entirely clear to us.

When taken to an extreme, the way John Piper and our Young, Restless and Reformed friends always do, the idea grosses me out. But I understand the appeal of softer versions of this theology: it reaffirms the idea that God (in some sense) is in control. When life is out of control, it’s good to know God isn’t.

Having said that, the equal and opposite mistake—rampant among my fellow United Methodist clergy, I’m afraid—is of a “hand-wringing” God whose only response to tragedy is to suffer alongside us. Well, yes… God “suffers” alongside us—doesn’t the cross of his Son make that clear?—but God is not so squeamish about it that he won’t also use suffering for our good.

Also—just because it’s painful doesn’t mean God doesn’t cause it. In other words, sometimes God may want us to suffer, and he will cause it. On this point both the Bible and John Wesley are clear.

Sorry for this preamble. My main point for this post is to talk about the devil—again. I’ve obviously been talking about him a lot recently. Maybe it’s penance for practically refusing to talk about him for years. I think I have a recent convert’s zeal on the subject.

But my question is this: when we attempt to defend God’s goodness in a world that often isn’t good, why do we let Satan (and his minions) off the hook? The world makes much more sense when we reemphasize the role of the demonic.

As I said yesterday:

I suppose it’s true that everything happens for a reason, but that reason isn’t necessarily God! It might very well be the devil, but it isn’t necessarily God! Brothers and sisters, we live in a fallen world in which evil is a real force—in which people, including you and me, under the influence of Satan, do evil in our world. We live in a world in which Creation itself—again, under Satan’s influence—is corrupted. We pray each week in the Lord’s Prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven because we recognize that God’s will often isn’t done here—at least on this side of the Second Coming and resurrection, when God will redeem our world and make everything all right.

These words are informed by C.S. Lewis’s words from Miracles. While he believes that the imperfection of Nature is in part by design—and that a certain degree of “evolutionism” or “developmentalism” is inherent in Christianity—imperfection alone can’t account for the “positive depravity” of Nature.

According to the Christians, this is all due to sin: the sin both of men and of powerful, non-human beings, supernatural but created. The unpopularity of this doctrine arises from the widespread Naturalism of our age—the belief that nothing but Nature exists and that if anything else did she is protected from it by a Maginot Line—and will disappear as this error is corrected. To be sure, the morbid inquisitiveness about such beings which led our ancestors to a pseudo-science of Demonology, is to be sternly discouraged: our attitude should be that of the sensible citizen in wartime who believes that there are enemy spies in our midst but disbelieves nearly every particular spy story. We must limit ourselves to the general statement that beings in a different, and higher ‘Nature’ which is partially interlocked with ours have, like men, fallen and have tampered with things inside our frontier.[1]

That last sentence is especially helpful to me: this “higher ‘Nature'” is “partially interlocked” with ours.

1. C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 196.

2 Responses to “Suffering and Satan”

  1. I think many Christians are very misled in their thinking regarding this topic. Great article and post!

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