This article is just one in a long series addressing questions posed by agnostic blogger Larry Simons in his article entitled, 31 Questions Christians Can’t Answer. For the rest of series click here. Enjoy!
20. Where did Satan get the power to tempt us into all of our sins?
21. If God chooses to allow the devil to continue to exist, knowing he is going to tempt us into sin, isn’t God making the devil his agent?
The usual premise is this, Satan is able to act with either God’s implied approval (i.e. God doesn’t stop him) or His explicit approval (Jude 1, “have you considered my servant Job?”) therefore Satan is simply a pawn of sorts in God’s cosmic game of “good” vs. “evil”. God is made responsible by inference. I want to break this one down, as we often do here, and look at the individual parts and see if they really fit together. Part one is agency, part two is Satan, and part three is God.
An agent, for the purposes of this discussion, is a person or object that acts on behalf of another. An FBI agent arrests a bank robber not on any authority he may or may not otherwise have as a citizen, but on the authority of the government of the United States of America. Agent is a very well chosen word in this case for the person skeptical of Christianity because it’s the perfect word to convey the idea in their heart. If Satan is God’s agent, God is responsible for his actions. Essentially Satan’s defense would be, “I was just following orders.” On the other hand, in philosophical terms, agency describes one who is able to think and act on it’s own. It is the ability to make choices. One can only have agency and be the agent of another simultaneously when the actions to be taken by the agent are the actions he/ she would have chosen to take on their own.
Satan began his existence as the most beautiful of God’s angels ministering directly to the Godhead itself, but at some point he began to think his privileged position was because of his importance and not God’s favor. At some point his pride began to dictate his choices and he rebelled (see Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28). At this point he and those who followed him were cast out of heaven. Since then his every act has been and is a malicious act against God himself. Question is does this seem compatible with someone who would be willing to be an agent, under the control of another? God is the easy one to discuss for the purposes of these questions, just click here for my full article on the attributes of God.
I know what you’re saying, I still haven’t even approached the question. There is a really good argument for Satan having agency and also being God’s agent. The way the original question is presented doesn’t posit God as actively directing Satan, it presents God in a passive role. I wonder if the intention is to look at Satan’s actions as his own choices (agency) but falling by design into God’s plan. If this is the case then God is no more or less culpable for Satan’s actions than for any other thing that has happened in the universe, ever. This is a few steps down the road to determinism which is the opposite of the argument we’re making. Yet, even if this is the correct conclusion God is literally the only being, by virtue of being the creator and having the attributes discussed in the previous article, who could have a morally justifiable reason to commit an otherwise immoral act, such as employing an evil agent and allowing him to do evil things. It should be no surprise if His reasons are sometimes (often!) imponderable to those of us who are finite and have limited knowledge. Besides it’s not like Satan is the sole author of the evil in this world. At best you could say he got the ball rolling (original sin) but I could have really went on vacation after that and we’d have kept the evil train rolling quite well.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Jeremiah 17:9
What questions do you have that you’ve struggled with or that you think Christians can’t answer? Have an idea for the next series of issues/ questions/ subjects I should address? Comment below and let me know.