Mission and Theodicy, Part II

God’s Sovereignty and Satan’s Authority

The question asked of “theodicy” in Part I – “How can God be righteous since there is so much physical and moral evil in his universe?” – is one that has plagued philosophers and theologians throughout human history. It was brought to mind by a conversation I had with a relative. She had shared about a friend who is angry with God because a close acquaintance was senselessly killed in a traffic accident. Judging from the e-mail responses in September, theodicy is of great interest to our readers.

I realize if countless books over the centuries have not succeeded in laying this topic to rest, a couple of blog posts will not finally solve the problem of human suffering and the presence of evil in the world. (My son slyly thanked me that I was going to be the one who finally resolves this issue!)

The options available to resolve this conundrum are varied: (1) It’s a fallen world and bad stuff happens; (2) Obviously God does not exist; (3) God is weak. If he were powerful, he would eliminate evil; (4) God is not good. He is unfair, even sadistic; (5) God is apathetic, distanced, indifferent to human suffering. (6) And, there is the response that is often embraced by evangelicals: God has ordained all suffering for (sometimes) mysterious purposes so that he might get greater glory.

Of course, when I listed these responses in Part I, I purposely omitted a 7th crucial perspective, namely the role of Satan in all of this. Efforts to try to explain this problem by blaming God have only succeeded in bringing us to our present state where people are irate at God for what is decidedly NOT his doing. In such a climate, God gets a bad rap.

An understanding of the power and authority of the evil one, Satan, is the piece missing from the conversation on the problem of evil. God has chosen to run his universe by allowing enormous authority and power to Satan and his minions. Though God remains sovereign, he has seen fit to allow Satan to wield massive power in wreaking havoc. Three times in the Gospel of John Jesus calls Satan “the prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). This prince has the authority to offer the kingdoms of the world to Jesus (Lk. 4:5). “The ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens” (Eph. 2:2, Holman CSB) loves misery, despises God’s goodness, and gleefully grips the suffering of this world in his diabolical claws.

Reconciling God’s sovereignty and Satan’s authority is the great challenge in formulating a coherent theodicy. The first two chapters of Job dive right into this mystery. Clearly Job’s problems are instigated by Satan out of a loathing of those who love and serve God. And the final chapters of Job make it apparent that, even as he is bludgeoned by the evil one, Job can only trust in God.

People who are angry with God are legion. And in the ensuing chaos, the focus for many has drifted from seeing evil the problem to  viewing God as the problem. To many, it’s God’s fault when a child is molested, a teen gets cancer, or an adult is senselessly killed. “Surely an all-powerful, compassionate God who hates evil can and should prevent that kind of thing,” they reason. To those people, the advice of Job’s wife seems justified: “Curse God and die!”

Nevertheless, Job seems content with the mystery even as the rest of Scripture invites us to dig deeper into this seemingly irreconcilable conundrum. This “digging deeper” draws us into the topic of spiritual warfare.

The third (next) blog in this series will continue this theme by exploring the relationship between God’s rule and Satan’s dominion. The nexus where God’s sovereignty and Satan’s authority meet is called “spiritual warfare.” The role to which God has called his Church in confronting the powers of darkness draws us into battle. Recognizing that we live in a war zone and are on the front lines of battle against a powerful and hideous enemy enables us to develop a perspective from which we can become strategically engaged in what God is doing. We will never begin to provide hurting people with satisfying biblical answers to the problem of evil without a healthy emphasis on spiritual warfare.