If God is so powerful…how does the Devil exist?
This question was originally posed by an agnostic/atheist type (Agath) and sent to me by a Christian friend but it’s a little bit confusing. No explanation was offered so you have to analyze it a bit to get a handle on what is really being asked.
After reading the question, my first thought was, “why shouldn’t the Devil exist?” I know he’s not the nicest guy around and I don’t like him any more than the next person but does that constitute a reason to X him out?
And, yes, God does have the power to dispose of him but if God were to annihilate him, who else should He blot out and by what rule would He decide who goes and who stays? Should I expect Him to eliminate every person I don’t particularly like?
Quite honestly, I’ve never met the Devil or tangled with him directly – at least not that I know of – but I could give you a long list of people who have aggravated me to no end. What about them? Should they be on the death list also?
Aside from personal issues, however, what other reasons could justify the Devil’s elimination? Should we expect God to blot out any person who does wrong and, if so, aren’t we all in danger? No one is entirely without sin so everyone could be on the list. Solomon said…
“There is not a just man upon earth that does good and sins not.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
And only an argumentative or delusional soul would disagree with that point.
So the next question is, would we expect God to exterminate only those who commit particularly egregious crimes and, if so, who gets to decide where acceptable crimes end and egregious ones begin?
Obviously, Agath’s original question spawns many more sub queries making it difficult to fully resolve the issue. Maybe before we demand God eliminate the Devil’s miserable soul we should take a look at what the Bible actually says him. And the first observation to note is…
The Devil Is A Created Being
It might surprise you to learn that the Devil is very much like all the rest of us in many ways. The first and most important similarity is he was created. The Devil isn’t eternal. He will live on indefinitely into the future, like other animate beings, but he came into existence at a definite point in time.
And the point? In one sense, he is on the same level as every other created being.
No, I wouldn’t say he is an “ordinary” guy but he is still just a guy. The most powerful guy around, maybe, but still a guy.
Just now I’ll say more about his power.
For now, understand that the Devil is only a “creature” and he wasn’t originally created a wicked person. God made him using the same pattern He used for everyone else…
Untainted and Moral
The Devil and the entire angelic host were created directly by God, no intermediaries. No mothers, fathers, mating, birthing, etc. Adam and Eve fall into that category also and all of them were created untainted by sin. They were innocent. Completely unaffected by or involved with sin.
We don’t think of him this way but the Devil was originally pure. No malice, no duplicity, no evil desire and full of good will. But this upright nature was by design, God’s design. The Devil inherited this wonderful nature. He nothing to shape it and he was capable of making choices which could destroy it.
Along with innocence the Devil was also moral. He wasn’t human but, like humans, he was fully capable of understanding and choosing between right and wrong. That’s what it means to be moral. He was completely untainted but entirely capable of sinning.
His Superior Power Is Relative
Yes, he was created superior to all other creatures. He was the most beautiful, the most artistic, the most intellectually capable, he had the most leadership ability and possessed the most spiritual power but Christians generally make far too much of it.
He gets a lot of attention and the more Christians talk about him the more threatening his image becomes. Being malicious, which he definitely is, doesn’t mean he is all powerful. But when talking about him his abilities get exstrapolated until he is thought to be equal to or almost equal to God. According to some…
- He can cause every disease or illness: mental, emotional or physical.
- He can cause every kind of calamity: natural disaster, personal accident or social upheaval.
- His powers over the material realm are so great he can do anything from causing inanimate objects to levitate to infusing food products with evil spirits.
The Bible doesn’t say this Christians do and the more they talk about him the bigger he gets.
That is probably the reason for Agath’s question. If the devil has that much power and can cause that much trouble why doesn’t God just blot him out?
And the obvious inference is, if what Christians say about the Devil is true and God doesn’t blot him out then God must not have the power to do anything about it.
Fortunately, not every Christian believes the popular nonsense being promoted about the Devil. The reality is:
- The Devil is definitely more powerful than humans.
- Like humans, his power is derived not intrinsic.
- Because he is created we know he is less powerful than and dependent on God. We don’t know how much power he has but we can be sure he is not all-powerful (omnipotent).
- The use of his powers are restricted by God. That means his powers, which come from God, can only be used against us if God allows. Job’s example proves this.
- His powers are also restricted by us. He can tempt us to act wrongfully but he can’t make us do anything. We, like him, are free moral agents.
Therefore, we conclude that:
- His superiority to all other created beings is nothing compared to his inferiority to God. It’s really all relative.
- Since he can only do to us what God allows why should we worry about it.
- If God wanted us to know exactly how powerful he is, if knowing the extent of his abilities was critical to survival, God would have made it known. He didn’t.
- His presence here is useful. His negative influence creates the tension that enables us to develop character, express faith and be good examples. Resisting his influence builds moral fiber and James said our resistance makes him flee (James 4:7). Why wouldn’t we want that?
- The biggest threat the Devil poses is trickery. He plays mind games in the attempt to confuse us.
But even here you must limit the assumptions you make about the effectiveness of his tricks. He can’t make you believe anything or force conclusions down your throat. Peter said the Devil goes about looking, searching, trying to find someone vulnerable enough to devour (1 Peter 5:8). If his powers were unrestricted he would destroy us at will. He doesn’t because he can’t.
- Winning and losing with the Devil, like the rest of life, is a matter of character not ability. He may be more powerful than we but he has no character. Remember the tortoise and the hare. Character, not ability, won the race.
- As clever as the Devil is, even he is susceptible to delusions. He made the illogical assumption that he could manipulate the system and accede to the throne.
The Devil is powerful, yes, but he doesn’t have all power, all knowledge or the ability to be everywhere at once. His power is limited. Exactly how limited I nor anyone else can say. But, don’t let your imagination run wild and please don’t assume movie producers portray his abilities accurately.
So, to Agath: Judgment day for the Devil is coming but as long as he is serving God’s purposes there is no reason for God to eliminate him just yet.
And to Christians: Think before you speak. You’re not helping.
In The Screwtape Letters C. S. Lewis creates a fictionalized story of demons teaching demons how to be better demons, illustrating the fact that demons learn and use different strategies to match the times. Their purpose never changes their methods often do.