Joining the Fight

“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:8).  And I believe Jesus calls us to join Him in this work.  So rather than throwing our hands up with insufficient or pat answers to the problem of “disappointment with God regarding personal and widespread suffering,” let’s lay a solid biblical foundation for our young people and then enlist them in the fight against Satan; against his works of evil, violence, disease, and corruption in this world.  What might this effort look like in our everyday lives?

  • Encouraging and assisting our friends who are experiencing marriage challenges to work through their problems and keep a household together that Satan would like to tear apart.
  • Helping a friend find answers for their depression.  Asking God to get out in front of this malady induced by Satan and heal our friend as well as helping them find treatment to alleviate this condition.
  • Joining a ministry to drill wells for clean water in a country where the water supply is contaminated by Satan’s disease bearing pathogens.
  • Building a house in Juarez Mexico for a family suffering in Satan’s poverty prison.
  • Sponsoring a child in a third world country through Compassion International or a like-minded organization to help break the cycle of poverty in one community.
  • Fighting disease at the prevention and treatment level such as the recent successful efforts against Guinea worm disease in Africa led by the Carter Center.
  • Rescuing children from a life of exploitation at the hands of Satan and his intermediaries.
  • Bringing simple western medicine and surgery to a specific group of suffering women in Africa.

The apostle Paul often used wartime language in describing our interaction with Satan (Eph 6).  Satan has indeed declared war on not only the people of God, but the people of the whole world made in God’s image.  And Paul entreats us – including our young people – to join the fight.  “Suffer hardship with me as a worthy soldier of Christ Jesus” (I Tim 2:3).  May we be found to be “worthy soldiers.”

Destroying the Works of the Devil

One of the crucial distinctions to make in our understanding of suffering and evil is the difference between the error of calling God the author of evil and the truth that God is in the business of turning evil into good.  The difference between these two concepts may seem subtle, but the implications are tremendous.  We do our young people a great service when we help them understand this distinction.  As the late Ralph Winter wrote, “God is not ‘behind’ the evil in the world, He is ‘in front’ working good out of evil.”

The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is an example of this.  In their jealousy and dislike of Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  After many twists and turns, the story ends with Joseph, now in a position of power, saving his brothers and their families during a time of famine.  Joseph summarizes God’s work in the story with, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20).  Who set the evil in motion?  Joseph’s brothers were the authors of evil against Joseph, not God.  But as is His habit, God turned the evil to good.

Not surprisingly, Jesus, “the exact imprint of God’s nature” (Heb 1:3), emulated the Father in this regard during His time on earth.  The apostle John wrote, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:8).  We are familiar with the great “work of the devil” destruction Jesus accomplished on the cross that set us free from both the penalty and power of sin; sin introduced in the world by Satan.  But are we as familiar with Jesus destroying “the works of the devil” in His earthly ministry?

Acts 10:38 describes Jesus’ ministry like this, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him.”  Is it possible that all the sick people Jesus healed were “oppressed by the devil”, not just those identified as demon-possessed in the classic sense?

We do know that in the case of the woman with the eighteen year illness that it was caused by Satan.  And in turning evil into good, Jesus “unwound” the evil, sickness, and suffering when He healed her.  Jesus also turned evil into good when He healed the Gerasene demoniac and returned him to his right mind.  Was every healing Jesus performed an “unwinding” of Satan’s work and turning the evil intentions of Satan into God’s redeeming purpose for good?  Just a thought.

In any case, the Jesus who went about doing good emulated God, the Father, by consistently turning what Satan meant for evil into His good purpose.  And of direct import to us, Jesus has enlisted us to join Him and continue the task of “destroying the works of the devil.”  Let’s talk about our role in the unfinished work next time.

The Author of Evil

Consider these passages from the New Testament:

“And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all” (Lk 13:11).  After healing the woman on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk 13:16).  Jesus ascribes this woman’s illness to Satan himself.

“And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.  And when Jesus had come out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an evil spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs.  And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.  And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out and gashing himself with stones” (Mk 5:1-6).  Jesus healed the man by driving out what turned out to be a multitude of evil spirits.  When the townspeople came to see what had happened they were stunned to “observe the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the ‘legion’ [of evil spirits]” (Mk 5:15).  Mark ascribes this man’s insanity to Satan’s minions.

“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3).  Peter ascribes Ananias’ lie to the influence of Satan himself.

“For we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, more than once – and yet Satan thwarted us” (I Thess 2:18).  Paul was thwarted by Satan himself.

“Be sober of spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But resist him firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (I Pet 5:8-9).  Given the context and sentence structure, could the exhortation to “resist Satan” be directly tied to Satan, the roaring lion, being responsible for their suffering?

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:…’Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days’ ” (Rev 2:8,10).  The trip to prison and the suffering that goes with it is directly controlled by Satan himself.

Paul referred to his “thorn in the flesh” – thought to be an illness or malady – as “a messenger of Satan” (II Cor 12:7).

Did God prescribe eighteen years of sickness for the Jewish woman?  No, Satan did.  Did God prescribe insanity for the Gerasene demoniac?  No, Satan did.  Did God thwart Paul’s plans to take the gospel message to Thessalonica.  No, Satan did.  Did God throw his followers in the Smyrna church in jail as some kind of a test?  No, Satan did.

Do you see the pattern?  In each case, evil and suffering are the handiwork of Satan.  His fingerprints are all over it.  So where is the God we worship in all of this?  Where is the God of love, goodness, and omnipotence?  The short answer:  God is not the author of evil, but is moving out in front of Satan’s evil intentions, and is actively, powerfully, and passionately turning what Satan meant for evil into good.  We will take up this topic next post.