Prince of Darkness
Angel of Light
“If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” (2Cor 4:3-4 NLT-SE)
Who is this prince of darkness, angel of light (talk about contradictions) or my personal favorite, god of this world? That last one must have given translators fits. In fact, it did. You can tell by just flipping through several translations to see how they treated this passage. Most, if not all, try to downplay the god part by using a small letter g instead of a capital. Some downplay it by changing world to age so that it reads god of this age. That is a very significant difference. God of this world implies supremacy. God of this age implies limitations.
The above quote takes it head on and names Satan as the god of this world. It also suggests that those who are perishing are doing so because the gospel has been hidden from them, and that Satan, the god of this world is the one doing the blinding. Take a moment to digest the full implications of this passage. There are those who are going to be lost. There will be no salvation for them. They are without hope. They are in this condition because Satan, the god of this world has hidden the truth from them. If Satan has that kind of power, then he is truly a foe to be reckoned with.
Some translations deal with this problem by downplaying the devil’s role in causing people to perish. They render the passage so that those who are perishing do so by their own choosing. They are simply drawn to Satan because of their having been already blinded rather than Satan being the one who blinds them with his godlike power.
The problem is there is simply no way to exonerate god and keep him all powerful at the same time. Something has to give. The consensus has spoken. Some of gods power has to go. He is very powerful. Yet he is limited by his very goodness. There are some things that he cannot do, such as lie or do anything wrong.
If god is incapable of doing all of the wrong things in this world, then someone else must be to blame. There has to be a foe with godlike powers who’s mission is to contend with god. The evil one is the god of this world, but his plans are subverted by the god of good. God manages to take the evil that Satan planned and turn it for good. It is a cosmic tug of war, punch and counterpunch, thrust and parry. God is stronger and will ultimately win. But make no mistake about it, between the two cosmic superpowers, it’s game on.
“Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”” (Matt 13:24-30 NLT-SE)
What’s this? It seems the enemy has considerably more power than many Christians wish to grant him. According to the parable, the farmer: god, plants good seed. This is classic theodicy. God did everything right and is not to blame when things go wrong. Back to the story. After the undocumented workers planted the good seed, something happened that was beyond the farmer’s control.
That night when the workers were sleeping, the enemy came in and planted weeds among the wheat. Time to pause and reflect. If the farmer is god, how did the enemy get into the field in the first place? God does not sleep. God is the ever vigilant, good shepherd who watches over his flock so that things like this do not happen. Was god asleep at the wheel? Did he not post a guard? Who is this enemy that he can bypass all god’s vaunted security and have the time to plant weeds all through the field of wheat?
When the workers come to the master to tell him what happened, they rightfully ask the same question, how did this thing happen? The master plants the blame squarely on the shoulders of the enemy. He defends himself by saying that he did everything right. It was the enemy who ruined things. The workers are still troubled and want to know what to do about the problem. The master is helpless to do anything about it until harvest time. Let the wheat and the weeds grow up together. We will sort it out later.
The reason this particular theodicy is so indigestible to me is because it portrays god as helpless. The master in this parable is not all powerful or all knowing. He did not know that the enemy was going to come that night. The enemy was able to sneak in past his guard. The master was not able to keep the enemy from planting weeds. Nor was the master able to do anything about the weeds once they were planted. The master is getting his lunch eaten by a bully and can do nothing about it for the time being.
Who, then, is this enemy? Where does he come from? For many Christians, the first time he is named is in Isaiah 14.
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations” (Is 14:12-13 KJVS)
The word, Lucifer, means morning star. It probably refers to Venus. The word can also be rendered bearer, or angel, of light. Many Christians believe that the morning start referenced in the passage must be speaking of Satan: the devil. We latch hold of the description of a being who was cast out of heaven because of his arrogance. The Jews do not have a doctrine of Satan, however. They, and many others, see this passage clearly referring to the King of Babylon, not a superhuman foe of the almighty god.
Still, the imagery surfaces again in the new testament.
“When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”
“Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”” (Luke 10:17-20 NLT-SE)
“But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.” (2Cor 11:12-15 NLT-SE)
In both passages, Satan is described as a fallen light or an angel of light. This is a fascinating description for the undisputed prince of darkness. Both the above passages have other interesting components. In the first, Jesus’ disciples come back from a successful mission trip. They are excited because of all of the miracles they were able to perform. Jesus seems to break out into a bit of a song. Right there, on the spot, he declares victory over the enemy.
The problem with his declaration is that it seems a bit premature. The enemy is still walking among us and is more powerful than ever. He is causing sickness and suffering, storms and sadness. The blind are still blind and the lame are wheelchair bound. A few passages in the bible may declare victory over such things, but experience tells us a different story. If those things were a sign of the enemy’s power, then the enemy is stronger than ever.
In the second passage, Paul suggests that the enemy is able to disguise himself as an angel of light. This was a real problem for Paul. In other places, we are told that the very elect might be deceived. He said to some of his followers not to listen even if an angel from heaven came to tell them something different. Obviously, Paul was worried about the metamorphic power of Satan to convincingly appear as an angel.
The other thing Paul is worried about is that Satan is not alone. He has followers here on earth who are also able to disguise themselves as good guys. The passage seems to imply that these are people who are intentionally throwing their hat in with Satan. The people of god have quite a fight on their hands. First, they have a god who may not be as all powerful as they were led to believe. Second, they have a rogue angel with unfathomable powers who has aligned himself against god and his people. Third, the enemy has friends, all with masterful disguises that can deceive even the very elect. With all this aligned against us, how are we to cope?
Partners in Crime
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, you open the book of Job and find that god and Satan are not the arch enemies we were led to believe.
“One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. “Where have you come from?” the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”
Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”
Satan replied to the LORD, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”
“All right, you may test him,” the LORD said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence.” (Job 1:6-12 NLT-SE)
There are so many troubling aspects of the book of Job, I hardly know where to begin. I suppose the first thing to consider is whether the story is a portrayal of real events or just a sort of religious fiction. Should it be taken literally or allegorically? Who wrote the story? Was it Moses? Was it Job? Was it a variety of sources compiled and conflated into one story? There are no definitive answers to any of these questions. Scholars do not agree on the historicity, authorship, or even the message of Job. Some would love to vote it out of the canon entirely. Personally, I believe you have to completely jettison the book of Job in order to maintain any form of theodicy.
One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is that all of the bad things that happen to us come from god, and god alone. Job is an absolute repudiation of any theodicy that includes an all powerful god and the enemy known as Satan. In fact, the book of Job is a repudiation to all theodicy. God neither requires or desires your defense.
Job’s three friends present the traditional view and defense of god. They proclaim that god would not abuse a person without good reason. They believe that Job must be harboring some secret sin. This would justify the harsh actions taken by god. It never crosses their minds that Job is being attacked by some superhuman enemy of god. They never suggest that Job must endure because Satan is loose in the world and attacks the righteous. They know that all things, good and bad, come from god.
The book of Job does nothing to repudiate this belief. Rather, it strengthens it. The repudiation is of the notion that god does not inflict the righteous. At the end of the story, Job’s three friends are made to repent of their belief that god would not do such a thing. They are the ones who are proven wrong, as are all who wrongly try to exonerate god for the evil done in this world. To make the point even stronger, Job, throughout the book, accuses god of treating him unfairly. Job maintains his innocence and insists that he is a righteous man. He refuses to lie about his character just to let god off the hook. God vindicates this stance by saying that Job was right all along. Jobs rejection of theodicy earns him a gold star. Make no mistake about it, according to the book of Job, god is in control and is the sole reason why bad things happen to good people.
Naturally, this is a problem for many Christians and non-Christians alike. Who needs a god that allows bad things to happen to you even when you are doing what is right, especially when you are doing what is right? With a god like that, who needs a devil?
In the previous section, I pointed out that the new testament renders the devil as a powerful being who is able to frustrate god’s sovereign plans. The devil of the new testament is a master of disguise and has plenty of help. He can actually take possession of people. Even Jesus’ disciples could not cast out all the demons.
In Job, Satan is not the arch enemy of god. In fact, he, though having been cast out, still has a key to the throne room of god. More than a key, he seems to have a right to be there. He was among the angels. He was not in disguise. No alarm was sounded. God is not alarmed by his presence. God and Satan engage in a friendly chat. When god asks Satan where he came from, Satan does not attempt to lie or misdirect. He says that he has been patrolling the earth and watching what was going on.
God does not condemn or berate the prince of darkness. He does not send him away in disgust. He does not ban him from his activities on earth. Instead, god suggests Satan’s next project. He wants to know if Satan has considered his servant, Job. Make a note, here, it was not Satan’s idea to test Job; it was god’s. Satan could not get to Job because god had a hedge of protection around him. The new testament Satan would have been able to overcome this hedge of protection. In fact, the new testament god provides no such hedge. The Satan of Job, however, could not get past god’s defenses.
The story would be unpalatable enough at this point, but it gets considerably worse. God revokes his protection of Job so that Satan can have his way. Satan has to ask permission and is also limited to the rules god laid out. This type of arrangement is suggested once in the new testament.
““Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31-32 NLT-SE)
Here, again, is an example of Satan asking permission to run god’s people through the sifter. This does not sound like the same Satan that is able to overpower and deceive god’s elect at will. As we know, Jesus’ disciples were run through the blender. Does that mean that god gave Satan permission to sift them? Perhaps god pointed them out and asked Satan to do his worst, Just as he did with Job?
My point is, with this view from Job, Satan is powerless to do anything that god does not want him to do. It is not just that god passively allows bad things to happen to good people; he actively participates in singling them out and telling the enemy just how to attack them.
It gets worse.
Job is innocent of any wrong doing. Also, god had no good reason to inflict Job with suffering. This is not just my opinion; this is taken from the story.
“On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”” (Job 2:1-3 NIV)
This is almost a repeat of the passage in chapter one. Again, Satan is presented along with the angels before the lord. Again, Satan is back from a search and destroy mission. Again, god points out Job as a blameless and upright man. This time, however, god points out that Job has maintained his integrity even though Satan has incited him to ruin Job’s life without any reason.
This passage is troubling for two reasons. One, god implies that he was incited, tempted, by Satan. However you render the word, clearly, god was influenced by Satan’s challenge. The purveyors of theodicy will defend god by suggesting that god was always planning to test Job in this way. He just chose to do it in a way that coincided with Satan’s request. In other words, Satan was fulfilling god’s preexistent will. Unfortunately, the bible says that Satan incited god to do it. Did god initiate the ruin of Job, or did Satan? Either answer is equally bad as the other.
The second problem with this passage is that god acknowledges this ruination of Job was done without cause. Again, the defenders of god will say that god had a hidden purpose that would bring about a greater good. This is not what the bible says. It says that it was done without cause. The whole incident is reduced to little more than a cosmic bar bet. Job is reduced to nothing more than a pawn so that god can make his point to Satan. God already knew that Job was faithful and righteous. God did not need to test him. If you are still defending god after reading Job, you missed the point.
It gets worse.
God is a bully who does not have to be accountable to anyone for his actions because he is bigger and stronger than you. This is not my opinion. It is right there in the text.
“Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up [God’s] dominion over the earth? “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”
Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.
Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. [You asked,] ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. [“You said,] ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 38:1-5, 12-13, 17-23, 32-35; 40:1-14; 42:1-7 NIV)
Understand the sequence of events. These last few passages happen near the end of the 42 chapter book. It starts with god conspiring with Satan to destroy a perfectly good man for no good reason except to make a point. With god’s help, Satan takes everything away from Job including the lives of his wife, children, servants, and his dog. He then takes away Job’s health. Job is left in such misery, he can barely take a breath without torment.
Job’s friends defend god and try to get Job to repent. When Job maintains his innocence, his friends accuse him of at least being prideful. Job refused to acknowledge even that, insisting that god was doing this to him despite his innocence, not because of any guilt on Job’s part. Job makes the mistake of questioning god, demanding to know why this was happening to him. Job made it clear that he was prepared to accept his punishment if sin was found in him. By that point, Job just wanted to know what he had done to be so offensive to the most high god whom he had served all his life.
Job feared that if god ever answered him, he would come as an angry whirlwind and beat him down to a pulp. He was afraid of god. He thought that god would not listen to him or allow him to present his case. As it turned out, Job was right. All of his fears came true. God appeared in a whirlwind and gave Job the dressing down of a lifetime. God came with booming voice and fearsome visuals. He let Job know how powerless he, Job, was, and how powerful, he, god, was.
At one point, god suggested that when Job could match him in power, only then would god dane to listen. Job was cowed before the all mighty god of the whirlwind and apologized profusely. At that point, he hated himself and just wanted to curl up and die. By the way, god never answered for his actions by giving even a hint of justification accept that he could. In classic bully form, might makes right.
It has been suggested that the Satan in the book of Job is different from the one mentioned in the rest of scripture. This argument is based on the fact that the character, role, and limitations of this Satan are different from the true lord of the flies. I have no real problem with that argument except that it seems a bit arbitrary. Still, if one can argue for a different Satan in Job, it is also fair to argue for a different god. The god of Job also has nothing in common with the god of the bible. Job’s god is capricious and malevolent. Job’s god is the stuff of nightmares. Job’s god dispenses with any need of a devil. He neither requires nor appreciates your theodicy.
Over the last two chapters, we have explored various causes of evil and suffering in the world. One by one we have eliminated all of them as having any explanatory power. Human nature, original sin, the fall, and the devil all fail to account for all the sin and suffering in the world. They all fail, in part, because the bible does not fully support any of them. All of these causes ultimately end up going back to the original source of all things, god.