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The Agency of the Adversary

In Job 1–2, we see a couple scenes of a heavenly council. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). I think a common view of these scenes is to see Satan, the Adversary, barging into heaven to bring his accusations uninvited. I’m told, however, the language does not support this idea. The sentence above could just as easily describe a day when the angels came before the Lord and Michael was among them. The point of the scene is what Satan has to say. In short, the Adversary was one of the heavenly council at this time. (And if he was not, how could he have barged in anyway? No one gains an audience with God on his own terms.)

Why was he there? What purpose could this being serve in the council of God? That’s the most disturbing message in the book of Job. It’s much easier to view God as the conqueror of evil, someone who hates evil will a pure hatred, and he is that, but evil persists like weeds in my yard. (In that sense, my yard is the epitome of evil.) God does hate wickedness and all the rebellion that has brought evil into our world, and he is the Almighty, able to snuff it all out. A new dawn is coming that will overtake the night forever and “take hold of the skirts of the earth” in order to shake the wicked out of it (Job 38:13), but that dawn has yet to come. Today, evil still has a place in creation.

I may be getting ahead of myself here.

Read the first couple chapters of Job and notice what the Lord says about Job’s afflictions. Clearly, Satan is the one making Job suffer. He accuses him of serving God only for profit and is allowed to destroy his wealth and family. To this, the Lord responds, “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (2:3, emphasis added). The Lord takes responsibility for the Adversary’s work. You can see a similar sharing of responsibility by comparing 1 Chronicles 21:1 with 2 Samuel 24:1. Who is the one inciting David to number Israel? In one verse it’s the Lord; in the other verse, it’s the Adversary.

The uncomfortable reality appears to be what we can see in the heavenly council scenes of Job: Satan is an agent of the Almighty. Somehow all of the harm accomplished by wicked men and the oppression we attribute directly to Satan is part of God’s work in the world for his good purposes. Some of that suffering is God’s judgment for sin, but some of it is the pain of living in a sin-sick world.

If you think about it, the alternatives to this idea make even less sense. Satan is not equal to the Almighty in authority or power such that he can barge in and do whatever he wants. He can’t outwit the Lord for a time, making God scramble to catch up. And God hasn’t made mistakes in creation that allow for Satan to work. No, the devil is an agent of God’s work in the world, making accusations and receiving permission to carry them through. If Revelation 12:7–11 is a guide, we live in a post-crucifixion world, so Satan and his allies have been thrown out of heaven. He no longer has this level of access to the Lord’s council chamber, but the accusations and the agency continue.

Evil has a place in the current creation, but God has set its limits. I’ll get into that next time.

(Photo of Budapest Parliament by 12019 via Pixabay)

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