Tag Archives: Salvation

Remembering the Last Things – Part 1

There are many things that we can think and meditate upon for the profit of our souls. One that is often recommended to us by the Christians of antiquity is our inevitable death and judgment before God. Granted, in a time in which we have seen and continue to see such topics handled with all the finesse and discretion of rusty cleaver, contemplating death and judgment is less than appealing and seems to be the purview of a rabid and thoughtless theology. However, what I would like to ask of you is to set those impressions aside as best you can and approach this idea on its own, for what it is.

Let’s start with a Scriptural precedent for such contemplations, for they do not have their origins in the desire of one person to control another. Rather, they spring from the desire that a person should control him/herself. (While I won’t touch on it directly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the entirety of the book of Revelation here.)

Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

-2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul calls the church’s attention to the final judgment in order to give them perspective on their current condition; a perspective that includes eternity.

Peter also urges us to remain mindful of the Day of Judgment in light of the evils we encounter in life:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

-1 Peter 4:17-19

In both of these instances from Scripture, the final judgment is not presented to invoke mindless fear, but as occasion for thoughtful reflection and, in particular, introspection. It is such recollection that helps to keep us anchored to God as we navigate the seas of life.

Yet another instance in Scripture in which are urged to be mindful of the last things comes from Christ Himself. Throughout Matthew 24:45-25:46, Jesus provides us with four parables that we might meditate upon the final judgment; namely, the parable of the faithful servant and the evil servant (24:45-51), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), the parable of the talents (25:14-30), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). To whom is Christ telling these parables? His disciples. The meditation of judgment is presented to those following Christ that we should be careful to be prepared; that we should search our hearts and see to it that, insofar as it has been given to us, we live our lives in response to the grace we receive from God. Sometimes we may fall into overlooking our daily struggle with sin and become self-conceited. It is from such pride, I think, that a great many errors of churches spring. It leads us to veer from our calling to follow God and to instead serve ourselves and act as though we were self-sufficient, having no need of God other than as a mascot of our organization.

Now it bears mentioning where the idea of assurance of salvation/“perseverance of the saints” fits into this topic we’ve been discussing. If we trust in God to bring us safely to the port of heaven, what practical gain is there for us in contemplating His judgment? There is much that could be said of this concept, but here I will only provide a brief and pragmatically oriented response. First, when Scripture speaks to us of election, assurance of salvation, and so forth, a large portion of what is being communicated to us is that our trust in God in never misplaced. Second, concerning the intersection of our trust in God’s grace and our consideration of the fires of hell, I offer 2 Peter 1:10 where the apostle writes the following after a brief call to continued spiritual growth, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

So we can see that Scripture encourages us to pause and remember that God will judge all people at the appointed time. Such practice is good for our soul because it reminds us not to become complacent or careless in our Christian walk. Paul sums up well the purpose of the reminders of fearsome judgment and precious hope we see in Scripture when he writes the following concerning the instances seen in the Old Testament:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:11-13

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The Great Commission Abridged

One of the core values of the Church and of Christianity as a whole is the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to the disciples just before He ascended into Heaven after the Resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) I think that much of our understanding of this passage boils down to something along the lines of “get people to join the church” or “get people to convert”. However, such an understanding is inadequate because it amounts to putting butts in the pews and nothing more. Other times we cut it down to the baptism part and even that we reduce down to formalities and bestowing certificates (never mind the schisms that have arisen surrounding the mode of baptism, i.e. immersion vs. anointing, discounting baptisms from different denominations, etc.). If we make the Great Commission strictly about winning converts we would do well to also consider Christ’s admonishment in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

There is much more to the Christ’s words than a mere numbers game. First we are told, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Before equating disciple-making to adding to the church membership list, let’s reflect a moment on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In basic word-sense, to be a disciple is to be a learner or a pupil. As disciples of Christ, we are His students learning from Him. We strive to follow His lead and to imitate Him, hence the term “Christian” (Little Christ). As it relates to sharing Christ with others, Paul sums it up well when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) For we are all fellow disciples seeking to be more fully conformed to Christ. Just as we are invited to share in the loving relationship that overflows from the Triune God, we allow that love to overflow from us and we invite others to join in this transformational journey of growing in God’s love and grace. To make disciples of all the nations is more than just handing out certificates or trying to increase Sunday morning or Bible study attendance, it is about inviting others to travel with us as we all follow Christ.

Next, we move on to baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Baptism is an important part of our Christian walk. It is a vital milestone in our spiritual development because it is in baptism that we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3-5) In baptism we are unified with Christ and, in Him, with each other. It is a public witness of our accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, but what’s more, it is a spiritual witness of our new identity in Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and accounted righteous through the shed blood of Christ. With this in mind, we see that baptism is not something that we get, but it is an ordinance that we receive in harmony with the transformation that has already begun to take place in our lives by the grace and working of God. Baptism goes hand in hand with being a disciple of Christ: as imitators of Christ we identify with His death and resurrection. As such, we ought not to treat baptism as if it were a stand-alone event. We ought rather to keep it in a holistic perspective, recognizing it as a flower of grace, an outgrowth of our being in Christ and He in us.

Finally we come to “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” We ought not to construe this as merely handing down and enforcing a set of rules. In John 14:15, Christ says “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since our minds are conditioned to think in terms of “do this in order to achieve that,” it is often our first instinct to read Christ’s words as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commands.” This, however, is to get the flow backwards. Our love for Christ is prompted by God’s love for us. (1 John 4:19) Our obedience arises as an expression of our love: it is a way that we go about loving God. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, Christ is helping us to respond to God’s love. (I don’t think it is an accident that in this passage He immediately proceeds to promise the coming of the One who helps us to abide in God, the Holy Spirit.) So when the topic of obeying Christ’s commandments comes up, it is not about exerting control or being controlled. It is about teaching and learning to love God as a way of life, to live our lives with God. To essentially give someone a set of rules and say “do this” is an immense disservice to the Gospel message. One might think of the giving of the Law in the Old Testament as God’s giving us a set of rules and saying “do this,” but even then God was with the people of Israel and was in relationship with them as they struggled to keep the Law and to remain in God by their own power. God is relational and teaching to obey Christ’s commands is an invitation to join in living our lives with God.

The Great Commission is much more than the missional boilerplate we often take it as. It is much deeper and something that we all take part in in various ways, beyond our typical picture of a missionary. It is Christ handing over to us, as His friends (John 15:15), His work of sharing God with others. As the commissioned, we invite and help others to be fellow pupils of Christ; with faith blooming into the flower of baptism which gives rise to the spiritual fruit of life lived with God. However, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves or others for abridging the Great Commission. As we have seen (and speaking from my own, I believe, not uncommon experience), the Great Commission is a rather scary investment of time, effort, and, most poignantly, our heart. However, we can take peace and encouragement from Christ’s closing words, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Following Christ requires that we become vulnerable, so it is inevitable that we will get bumped and hurt. That is part of why it is so important that we, ourselves, remain anchored in and sustained by Christ. The other part is that what we ultimately share with others in fulfilling the Great Commission is our own relationship with God. Our abiding in Christ is the light that we share with others. As we walk with God together, our lights strengthen and rekindle each other, all fed by the Lord. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

Chibi Abridged


What If

What if?  It’s a question we ask ourselves often.  It opens the door to exciting possibilities and hellish nightmares.  The tricky part is that this question is a lot like a television set:  some of the things it shows us are real and some of the things it shows us are mere images with no factual basis.  These images can be wonderful excursions into the realm of imagination that builds up our spirits.  They can also be a dark flame used by ourselves and our enemy, the devil, to burn and torment our hearts.  It is said of St. Anthony the Great that demons came to frighten him in the shapes of fantastic monsters and beasts.  Nowadays it seems that rather than wild beasts, demons come to scare us in the form of what ifs, phantasms claiming to be things to come.  In such ways, they seek to frighten us from living our lives in the fullness that God intends.  They seek to make us recoil in fear from ourselves and others.  Fortunately, though they may raise a terrible ruckus, God will put them to shame when we rest in Him.

As Christmas approaches, we are confronted by one of God’s “what if’s.”  What if there were something coming that is going to change our lives, something that will divide our lives into “before this” and “after this”?  This may sound overwhelming and even frightening.  Change this big typically causes us to at least pause.  Here we need to keep in mind who is asking and inviting us to ask “what if?”  This is not some diabolical scare tactic.  Rather, it is the opening of a door.  We receive a glimpse of something above and beyond our comfort zones, which makes us nervous, but it is only our worldview and false self that are threatened, not our real, true self.  What if we met someone who turned our world upside down and opened the way for us to become our true selves?  It is the coming of such a Person that we look forward to as we count down the days to Christmas.  The Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” captures the implications of Christ’s birth well with the lines,

“The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight”

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

Original image by Fiona the Awesome


Heroes and Villains – The Ringwraiths

“Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them.  Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”

-Gandalf concerning the Ringwraiths

Nazgul_1

They cast a shadow far before them and seem to materialize out of the rumors whispered throughout Middle Earth.  The Ringwraiths’ sinister presence leaves an impression on any audience.  Originally humans, the Ringwraiths, or Nazgûl, were each given a ring of power by Sauron (the chief antagonist of Tolkien’s trilogy) which corrupted them and eventually led to them being enslaved to his will.  Despite their former glory and vivacity, they have been rendered mere shades that lead a nightmarish existence between worlds.  They ruthlessly and tirelessly serve their master and inspire fear and despair wherever they tread.

Dark as the Nazgûl are, their story casts light on the nature of sin in our lives.  James writes:  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)  James states that sin has its beginnings in desire.  This is why we cannot be right with God just by doing the right things (being a “good person”, following the Law, etc.).  Despite our outward appearance, our first loyalty is still to ourselves and sin rather than God.  Our own efforts are not able to get deep enough to reach sin’s root.  Thus, though we may chop and hack away at the branches, they will quickly grow back, tougher than ever.

In the case of the Nazgûl, their desire for greater power and prestige led them to accept the nine rings from Sauron.  It was at this point that their fates were sealed because they had given him the foothold he needed to corrupt them.  It is worth noting that we find ourselves in the same straits because our desire is already in rebellion against God, leading us away from Him and indulging our pride, greed, and base sensuality.  The difference is that we have a Savior who has broken the power of darkness over us and given us a way of escape that we may “have life and have it more abundantly”.  Part of the renewing work that God does within us is to reclaim our desires so that they are conformed to Christ.  That is to say, we come to desire the same things as God:  we are pleased by the same things which please God, we are saddened by the same things which sadden God, etc.

Sinful desire, in its due course, eventually gives rise to sinful action:  the outworking of that desire.  The rebellion that began as desire has diffused throughout our body like a poison and manifests itself as words, deeds, and thoughts.  In the Book of Romans, Paul admonishes:  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.  And do not present our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:12-13)  When we fall into sin, we surrender to our sinful desires and allow them to rule over us.  As Christians, the times when we stumble ought to serve as a stark reminder that we must seek the grace of God daily and constantly strive to remain in His love, for sin only requires a small foothold to scale the walls of our heart.  The Ringwraiths did not become shades overnight, but were slowly and steadily consumed by the power of the rings they held and brought under Sauron’s dominion.  It is often said of them that they are slaves to his will.  The desire in which they took the rings led them, inevitably, to give their very beings over to serve the will of Sauron.

Sin ultimately leads to death, and not mere physical death.  The death that we die through sin is more extensive than that:  sin leads to our spiritual death.  It may be the misery that we find under the veneer of sinful pleasure or it may be the emptiness that we are left with when the moment of sinful delight is gone.  Regardless of the form, sin always leaves us less of who we are.  God creates us all to be beautiful mirrors who each reflect His likeness in a unique way.  (How else can finite creatures begin to show the likeness of the infinite Creator in the world?)  The result of sin is to warp and tarnish us so that we are no longer what we’re created to be.  We become bent upon ourselves so that we reflect nothing and take part in nothing other than our continuing destruction until sin is cast into hell to be infinitely destroyed and us as well because we cling to it.

What is perhaps most horrifying about the Ringwraiths is what they are, or rather, what they are not.  They are vacuums of existence, having been gutted and hollowed out by the power of the rings and filled with Sauron’s evil.  They really are personifications of darkness, being mere extensions of Sauron’s will.  When we allow sin to reign in us, it hollows us out and we are consumed rather than conformed.  Life becomes death to us and death, our existence.  “…when desire has conceived, it give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

The Ringwraiths provide a representation of what we become when we allow ourselves to be consumed by sin.  We lose ourselves and become a mere shadow within a greater shadow.  This is the end that awaits us and we ourselves can do nothing about it.  It appears that we are destined to be wraiths.  We cry with Paul “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  However, a door is open to us that we may leave our death-defined existence and enter into life.  Through His sacrifice on the cross, Christ has made a way for us.  Thus He says, “I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

Food for Thought:

  1. What is the sin in my life holding me back from?  How can I better pursue those things by making Christ my top priority?
  2. What does it mean to have life in Christ and have it abundantly?
  3. Consider what an excellent thing it is to receive life in and from Christ.

WTH 4 – The End

Over the last couple of weeks, we have considered what hell really is, how it fits with God’s holiness, and how we fit into the mix.  Now we return to our original question of how God, who is love, could also be the same, unchanging God who created hell.

God’s love for us is perfect, therefore, by definition, it is not half-hearted and He also desires for us to know and love Him to the fullest extent possible.  As long as there is sin in and around us, we will never be able to know and love God to our fullest potential.  Sin (unlike the sinner) is irredeemable and breeds only death.  This is where hell comes into play:  it is the result of God’s righteous anger and disgust towards sin with respect to His holiness.  But God’s holiness gives rise to love and mercy in addition to righteous indignation.  It is in holy love that Christ came to earth and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world that we may be credited with His righteousness and spared the wrath of God laid up against us.  It is also holy love that motivates God to give us the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and walks alongside us; quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) revealing the things of God to us and interceding for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.”

If we were to hazard a short answer the question we began with, it would be that God is holy.  In all things He is holy.  He is holy in love and in wrath, in mercy and in judgment.  Hell is the outworking of His holy wrath and judgment while the cross is the outworking of His holy love and mercy.  Everything about God is holy, which is why it is such a remarkable thing that He chooses to create and associate with us.

Many times, God’s holiness is something that we view as cold and alienating.  It is true that His being holy puts some distance between us and Him.  However, we must not forget that it is this same holiness that He is drawing us closer to as we grow and develop and Christians.  His holiness is not something that we ought to view negatively, as if it were some lifeless barrier.  Perhaps a better way to view it would be as the perfection of being that burns so hot and so bright that we cannot draw too close to it right now, for it burns up all that is unclean with unquenchable fire.  However, we nonetheless move towards it along the trail blazed for us by Christ, the firstborn from the dead, guided carefully and lovingly by the Holy Spirit.  This is, at least in part, why Christian growth is not a fast-moving affair.  It is like coming out of a dark room into the sunlight.  It takes time for our eyes to adjust to the brightness.  Likewise, our hearts and souls, after being warped by sin, must have time to be shaped and sanctified according to the righteousness we are credited with in Christ.

Why can God create a place as terrifying as hell and also perform the greatest act of love the world has and will ever know?   It is because He is “holy, holy, holy”.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And present you faultless

Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

To God our Savior,

Who alone is wise,

Be glory and majesty,

Dominion and power,

Both now and forever.

Amen.

-Jude 24-25

Practical questions:

  1. Have you ever thought of God’s holiness including His love or mercy?  Why or why not?
  2. How can putting God’s holiness at center-stage change our perceptions of the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together as a unified whole?

A challenge:

Set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that block of time reading, re-reading, thinking, and meditating on the passage from Jude above.  Let this reading and thinking lead you into prayer about whatever you are led to say to God.


WTH 3 – Divine Intervention

Last week’s topic was God’s holiness and why sin cannot exist with that holiness.  God deals with sin by disposing of it in hell.  Thus, we cannot take our sin to be with God.  The question we are left with is how we fit into the picture.  However, before we get to us, it is worth talking about angels.  The fallen angels were cast out of heaven when they rebelled against God and became sinful.  The ringleader of this detestable lot was none other than our adversary and accuser, Satan.  Now, when Satan and his ilk were cast out, it wasn’t merely being kicked to the curb.  Jesus states that He, “…saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)  Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem, The Inferno, paints a humorous picture of the result of this bolt-like descent.  He places Satan at the very bottom of hell, where, after having performed the mother of all face-plants, he is buried up to his waist in ice, heels to the heavens.

In 2 Peter 2:4, we are reminded that God, “did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment”.  We often think of hell as a kingdom ruled by Satan.  However, this is simply not the case.  The Bible never speaks of Satan holding any kind of power or authority in hell.  Satan is sometimes described has being the ruler of this world, but not hell.  He may perhaps be the most notorious inmate, but he is certainly not the warden.  In the words of a preacher I once heard, “He’s down there soaking up the heat like everyone else!”

Thus is the state of the fallen angels and ours would be no different.  We, too, are marred by sin and it is not something that we can separate ourselves from.  We are incapable of living sinless lives.  Because of the sin we’re attached to, we find ourselves staring down the maw of hell.  Simply put, God is set apart from all unclean things, including us.  This however, is not the end of the story; it is at this point that God intervenes:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Romans 5:6-8

In His death on the cross, Christ took upon Himself everything in us that is hellbound.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Additionally, He received the wrath of God laid up for us on account of our sin.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

-Isaiah 53:4-5

In doing this, our bounds to sin where severed and we are free to lay down our burden.

Christ’s work on the cross and continuing ministry as our great High Priest separates us from our sin so that we may be counted among the holy.  (This isn’t to say that we don’t still stumble into sin, hence His continuing ministry.)  Additionally, God makes His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and carry out the sanctification and conversion of our hearts.

God looks upon our state, our inability to stand before His holiness on our own, and is filled with compassion.  He gave His only begotten Son so that we may be reconciled to Him and stand before His holiness, not by our own strength, but by His.  It is God who casts into hell, but it is also God who saves from hell.  To get a more complete handle on the love that God has shown us in Christ, consider this:  “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18)  Christ did not die for Satan who is described with the powerful images of a dragon and a roaring lion, or for the other fallen angels described as stars.  Rather He died for us, who have frames that are weak like dust.  With this in view, we can truly say with the Psalmist:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?  For you made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Practical Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we are led to think of Satan as a ruler and king over hell?
  2. What dimensions does the idea of defilement and uncleanness add to our view of sin?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He takes action to bridge the gap we are unable to?

Who’s the Boss?

Many times we fall under the impression that being a Christian means that things will be “nice” from now on and all of our troubles will be over.  However, we soon discover that this is far from the reality.  Rather than being moved to a retirement community, we find ourselves in the midst of strife.  When we gave our life to Christ, we rejected our sin and agreed with God that it is vile and worthy of destruction.  Thus, we stepped out the dark and into the light.  Our former partners in crime (our sinful nature, the World, and all enemies of God), are loathe to see us go over to Him and do all that they can to regain control of our lives.  Perhaps the most intimidating of these foes is Satan and the rest of the fallen angels.  They are often portrayed as immensely powerful beings seeking to deceive, destroy, and dominate.  Peter refers to Satan as a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and John uses the terms “dragon” and “serpent” to describe him.  We read in the book of Job how Satan afflicts Job and destroys all his worldly possessions (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-10).  Later, in the Gospels, we read of the terrifying results of demonic possession such as the man who wandered among the tombs crying out and cutting himself (Mark 5:1-5).  Many stories exist of the desert monks being harassed by demons appearing in many fantastic and horrifying shapes.  Even today we see churches torn apart by petty quarrels, cults rising up to spread false doctrines, and all manner of death, suffering, and destruction.  The size and scope of the threat posed by demons often leaves us dumbfounded.

It is easy, when confronted by Satan and his works, to forget a profound truth:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

-1 John 4:4

We often speak of the war between good and evil, but consider this: when has God ever fought a war or a battle?  God does not fight, He smites or refrains from smiting.  Satan and his ilk run around and cause trouble only because God does not strike them down as He can at any given moment.  To ask why God refrains is to ask why there is suffering in the world; this is a question that God is not obliged to answer us on and we must trust in His goodness and holiness.  Returning to the main point, two instances illustrate that God has complete power to do as He wishes with devils.  These are the same two instances cited by St. Anthony in his speech to encourage his fellow monks in the desert.

The first instance is Jesus’ casting a legion of demons out of the man who lived among the tombs.  At the very sight of Christ the demons cried out and begged Jesus, saying, “If you cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  Not exactly the words of someone who getting ready for a battle.  Rather, it rings more of a scoundrel caught in some mischief by the king and who begins to plead for his life without the king saying a word.  Perhaps more startling is the fact that the legion of demons is begging Christ for permission to enter into a bunch of pigs and it is only after Christ says they can that they are able to do so.

The second instance involves the story of Job.  While Satan’s affliction of Job is what may first come to mind, recall the events leading up to it:  the angels are coming and presenting themselves before God and Satan shows up as well.  The conversation between God and Satan soon turns to Job, a man who “fears God and shuns evil”.  After Satan slanders Job before God, God gives Satan permission to do what he will with everything that Job has.  However, God sets a limit on Satan’s power, commanding him not to lay a finger on Job’s person.  Satan destroys Job’s children and possessions, but leaves the man untouched.  Again Satan comes to God and slanders Job and this time God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s health but sets another strict limit on his power by commanding him not to kill Job.  Here we have Satan himself, the leader of all demons and ruler of the World, unable to do a thing without God letting him.

It is important to keep in mind that God is not ordering the demons to cause havoc, but instead He allows them to carry out what is in their minds to do.  Jesus allows the demons to go into the pigs as they requested.  Satan is allowed to carry out his plan against Job only after God permits him to and only to the degree that God allows him (first not to harm Job himself and second not to kill Job).

What this means to us is that although it may seem like Satan is in control, we can still trust in God who is the One really in control.  We may not understand why God doesn’t just destroy all of the rebellious angels rather than allowing them to pursue their wicked schemes, but we know that they act only as far as God permits them to.  This is one of the reasons why Paul can encourage the Corinthian church by writing,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:13

Why should demons, who have no interest in our welfare (quite the opposite, actually), refrain from overwhelming us with their wickedness and despair save that the hand of God holds them back?

Thus, despite their apparent power and authority, Satan and the other angels who have rebelled against God, are still subject to God’s power and authority.  They are “reserved in everlasting chains of darkness for the judgment of the great day,” unable to do anything without God’s allowing it.  We are not held at Satan’s mercy, we are given refuge under God’s.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

–James 4:7