(7 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)
If Satan is the author of evil and his plan includes harming believers, how do we rightly evaluate the bad things that happen to us? That is, how do we recognize the difference between God’s training program and Satan’s attacks? We start by interpreting our situation through “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:6). We ask ourselves, “Is this harm that has befallen us consistent with what we expect when we look into the face of Jesus? Is this the kind of discipline we expect from our Savior, or is this so outside the realm of His love that it must be an attack from Satan? Let’s think about some example situations that might help us out.
Suppose you have a problem with procrastination and are always just squeaking by at the last minute with your college application, paying your bills, or filing your taxes. Then your passport application is denied as late because it got held up in the mail. You thought you sent it in in plenty of time, but you also know you should have done it much sooner. I think it is safe to say that this “bad outcome” is not the likely work of Satan, but rather an opportunity for God to show you the consequence of your laziness.
Or maybe a lack of patience is a besetting challenge for you. You stop into the Home Depot to pick up some things. When you go to pay by check, your check is denied by the system. You know you have the money in the bank. You have a choice to make. Do you blow your top, blame this on an incompetent cashier, and make a scene that the check should go through, or do you step back and recognize a pop quiz, as it were, from the Lord; a test from God in which you respond by patiently taking out your credit card, paying the bill, and saying goodbye to the cashier with a blessing?
Compare these examples to our missionary friend who applies for a visa to a South American country. As part of the application process, he must fill out a form verifying that he was never convicted of a drug crime. Sounds simple enough except the form must be accompanied by a $3200 “fee”. This is capricious, random extortion, and the exorbitant amount has no connection to a service rendered. The most straightforward explanation is that this is the work of Satan to slow down our friend’s return to ministry. Of course, God could have a lesson in here for our friend about money, but only he could answer that based on what he knows of his own heart. But it sounds like the work of Satan to me.
Or how about one of the most painful experiences of all, the death of our children? My cousin lost her daughter, Nikki, who died of breast cancer at the age of 29. Nikki left behind a husband and two small children. You know many stories like this. I don’t believe God “took” Nikki to teach her husband, or her parents, or others close to her some kind of a lesson. Does this sound in any way like the Jesus you know from the Gospels? I believe in Jesus, we see not only the image of God, but the character of God and the work of God. I believe a stroke in a two-year-old child, cancer in a loved one, and untimely death are the work of the evil one, the power behind death and disease.
So when our life situation carries a harm that is capricious and random, unexplainable and unpredictable, mercurial and fickle, I think we need to consider the possibility that Satan is throwing a roadblock into our way, because this is not how God’s training program works. So if Satan is at fault in a particular situation, what is our next move? It is one thing to recognize the enemy’s attack (and this is indeed the first step to understanding the bad things that happen to us), but in light of that understanding what do we do next about the pain? We will cover this topic next time.