Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Friday, September 03, 2010

Why would God allow Satan to do stuff?

One of the reasons why belief in a devil - a malevolent being who tempts people into doing more bad things than they would otherwise do - is criticised is that it is hard to imagine why God would allow such a being to tempt humanity (another problem of a mind without a body is not as difficult because it's possible there can be bodies that aren't physical in the sense we're accustomed to). Let's re-examine this 'absurdity' from a philosophical point-of-view.

There was a debate on Nightline a while ago (YouTube link) which discussed the existence of the Biblical character Satan. One of the persons in favour of an actual Satan said that she became a Christian because such a character existed, or in a skeptical explanation because she experienced a negative force that acted like Satan (i.e. self-destructive urges in human nature).

I find this statement interesting because it seems that many, many people become Christians because there is a sort of self-destructive or selfish force within people. What sometimes happens is that people's lives are falling apart and they need to make a choice between giving in to the self-destructiveness, and falling into an 'abyss', or giving their life to the Jesus of the gospels. In this way many people decide to do a complete turnaround and commit their lives to Jesus.

I see hence a reason why God might allow humanity to be tempted beyond what would 'normally' occur. A Satan character could magnify and make more extreme the self-destructive impulses within us. A lot of the time this would just be bad. But sometimes, through being forced to make a stark choice between life/death, becoming like Jesus/self-destruction, 'Satan' would actually accomplish the opposite of what is intended (something like, 'Hey, this is what will turn my life around and give my life meaning and purpose').

This seems like a reason for God to allow a 'Satan' to tempt humanity, if that's what it would accomplish. But I think two conditions need to be satisfied from a secular moral point of view:

1. The first condition would have to be that people are being saved from an ultimate separation from God in the process, which is, in reality, a really horrible fate.
2. The second is that this process is the ONLY thing that will cause some people to change their mind and choose to live forever with God rather than apart from God.

Presumably, if there was another way to save someone, then God should employ that way instead.

Looking at the second condition, what's a list of things that often make people want to be with God rather than be apart from Him? Often people are drawn to Christianity by feeling some sort of emptiness, lack of fulfillment, a feeling of hopelessness or pointlessness to life without God, discontent with the whole idea of serving oneself rather than God after seeing the 'bad side' of sin, the idea of perfect relationships in the afterlife rather than messed up ones now, a hope for 'another kind of happiness' that is eternally fulfilling and great, as well as other reasons.

These thoughts are negative thoughts that Satan could easily magnify (i.e. in Satan's desire to make life harder for people). They are also thoughts that tend to encourage a lot of people to follow Jesus and be with God forever (note: one reason why I associate 'follow Jesus' and 'be with God forever' is that it makes sense to me that you could only ever go to heaven as a free gift and I don't know any religion that teaches this apart from Christianity).

So if Satan can magnify these thoughts, and having these thoughts sometimes makes the difference between someone choosing to be with God forever rather than be apart from Him, then does Satan have a useful role? Can God use Satan? It seems so.

So allowing a 'Satan' to do stuff under these two conditions and only if these two conditions are satisfied could make allowing Satan to do stuff an overall good thing, and these conditions make some sense.

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Blogger Gil S. said...

This would make sense, on a general level. I think that it doesn't cover people like Job who Satan may be tormenting in some way. For those people, it wouldn't be a matter of being saved. In fact, it will likely be something that they'd prefer to live without even if there was some "good" to be done in improving their character. Though, perhaps Job is simply a rare exception. I still need to study the issue myself because the entire issue is very interesting.

Blogger Will G said...

Yes, although it is possible that though Job was a very upright man, his sufferings were necessary to get him to admit that he was (still) a sinner like everyone else and therefore to accept God's grace. I'm not sure about this though. I studied Job a while back and here are some things I pasted onto a file:

"Scofield Reference Notes on Job 42:6: The problem, of which the book of Job is the profound discussion, finds here its solution. Brought into the presence of God, Job is revealed to himself. In no sense a hypocrite, but godly and possessing a faith which all his afflictions could not shake, Job was yet self-righteous and lacking in humility. Chapter 29 fully discloses this..."

On Job 40:4: "Matthew Henry makes an interesting comment that Job maybe didn't consider himself a sinner before now, and that means that although Job was a great man and upright, it's possible that, if he really didn't think he was a sinner, that he didn't believe in God's grace. So this whole exercise might have helped Job believe in God's grace by getting him to admit that he's a sinner, or something.

Matthew Henry: Job yields himself to the grace of God. He owns himself an offender, and has nothing to say to justify himself. He is now sensible that he has sinned."

I'm not sure about this though because it does say Job was 'really cool' in God's sight.

Also, just in general, I think that God could use Satan to make Christians more Christlike. For example, let's say no one ever sins against you, then you have no opportunity to exercise the virtue of forgiveness. I don't think that God needs to allow Satan to mess up Christians' lives to save them, because that's accomplished once and for all on the cross. But I do think it can help make Christians more Christlike.

This would only be really important if it's because of someone's Christlikeness that someone else decides to accept the gospel, which often happens. But I'm not sure how to word this idea as a good reason to allow temptation so I didn't put it into the article...


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