I watched the Nightline Face-Off: Does Satan Exist? debate with great interest last week. Not only has Pastor Mark been a topic of conversation in the paths I’m walking, I had finished preaching Genesis 3:1-7 the previous Sunday. Satan was on my mind.
The condensed version aired on ABC was almost useless, overhyped and overedited. As long as you can stomach multiple BlackBerry commercials, watching online is the way to go.
For the record, I think Driscoll spoke graciously, boldly, and biblically on the issue at hand, especially while sharing a stage with the “super-spiritual.”1 Deepak has no problem loving himself, and his love cup appears to be full as ever. Most importantly, Driscoll proclaimed Jesus as the only way of salvation and the ultimate Conqueror of Satan. His unaired closing statement, in which he read 1 John 5:19-20, could not have been better chosen.
But one particular part of the night keeps percolating in my head. After the opening statements from all four participants, the moderator pursued the Why? questions with Driscoll. I don’t know if he wanted to jab Driscoll with the apparent lunacy of believing in a good God who allows Satan to run amuck, or if he was giving Driscoll a bona fide head start. Either way, he volleyed the question back multiple times.
I haven’t found a transcript of the debate anywhere, so I (unofficially) typed out the interchange of interest, the beginning of Part 3 titled: Fairytale Versus Faith. I’ll be right back after these messages.
Moderator: Pastor Mark, if God is a loving God, why would he create Satan?
Driscoll: I think he created angels and people, and He gave us the capacity to have free will. For there to be virtue, there must be the possibility of vice. And that’s what distinguishes those of us, people and angels, from other forms of creation: trees, animals and the like. We have volitional will, we have consciousness, we have moral decision-making. And so God didn’t create evil, God didn’t create injustice or tyranny or oppression. He created free will in angels and people. And Satan and the demons and humans beings have chosen to disobey, to rebel, and that’s the source of the trouble.
Moderator: And so He can create us, and He could create the devil, and we can engage in evil, but He didn’t create that, the results?
Driscoll: No, initially, according to the teaching of the Bible, Satan was an angel. Angels are perfectly good. Those that didn’t rebel, the Bible says that they honor God and they help us and they are spirit beings that assist in God’s purposes on the earth. So Satan started as one of those, and then went astray. And so he walked away from God’s intention for him, he’s a rebel.
Moderator: So why would God allow somebody who’s an avowed enemy of God, to continue to exist? Why doesn’t God just stop it?
Driscoll: Yeah, and the point of the cross of Jesus, according to Colossians 2, is that, on the cross, in dying for our sins, Jesus canceled the right that Satan had to rule over us, to influence our thoughts, to have an effect on our eternity. And that ultimately Jesus is coming back to put a final end to Satan and his work. So we’re in the middle of history, and the Bible says that God works out all things for good, and so ultimately Satan will be ultimately, finally, defeated. Sin and all of its effects will be lifted, and the earth and humanity will be returned back to the state God intended, which was very good.
Moderator: So even though God loves us, He does allow Satan to exist in our lives, tempt us, and make us miserable?
Driscoll: And He also sends Jesus to die for our sins, sends God the Holy Spirit to tell us the truth so we don’t believe [Satan’s] lies, to give us the strength to say no to his temptations. And He allows and enables us to win in the battle we are in spiritually.
Moderator: Why create that choice? Why not just let everything be peaceful?
Driscoll: Well, I think if you don’t allow choice, the theologians will say you don’t have love. That love requires volition, and that God does not want automatons, He wants persons. And so the argument is made that if God were not allowing choice, then you wouldn’t have evil, but you would also not have love.
I understand that on a stage like this, quick-fire answers are the norm and must be addressed to a general audience. And again, the emphasis on the final defeat of Satan by Lord Jesus is unmistakable and commendable. But I think his answers at this crucial point are weak.
Driscoll serves the conservative bread-and-butter explanation behind the Why? “For there to be virtue, there must be the possibility of vice.” Men must be able to choose. True “love requires volition.” “[I]f God were not allowing choice, then you wouldn’t have evil, but you would also not have love.” After that last statement, much of the crowd erupted with clapping and cheering. We are not automatons, and “theologians” suggest this gives God greater glory.
I think there are two severe, biblical problems with that answer: man showed no virtue with his choosing ability, and also, man’s love for God, even at its best, is no great demonstration of love.
Man Showed No Virtue with His Choice
Driscoll–and I’m really only picking on him because the Face-Off was recent and seen by so many, as well as because I think his answer does represent the majority position–put forward that there can be no virtue where there is no, at least possibility of, vice. Let’s grant that proposition for the sake of argument.2 God created the first man, Adam, placed him in a paradisiacal garden, and prohibited him from only one thing: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17).
As the story goes, Satan lures Eve through a serpent, she bites, and gave to her husband and he ate. With his “choice,” man disobeyed. It’s worse than that, actually.
- Man rebelled. Adam intentionally defied the only prohibition given to him.
- Man ran. When the LORD God came to fellowship with man, Adam took his wife and hid. He attempted to conceal himself from God. (Genesis 3:8-10)
- Man rationalized. Not only did Adam fail to answer God’s questions directly, he blamed the woman and God who gave him the woman. (Genesis 3:12)
- Man didn’t even repent. After disobeying and beginning to experience the negative effects, you’d think Adam would have anxiously confessed and pleaded for God’s mercy and forgiveness. He did nothing of the sort.
So my question is, where is this great virtue that man displays with his choosing ability?
God showed patience with Adam and pursued him rather than push him away. Though He does punish the man, God also makes preparations to redeem him. God does not wait for us to cry out to Him, because we won’t. Even Adam, pre-fall and pre-sin nature, failed to show any virtuous choosing. The answer to “Why [did God] create that choice?” cannot be to show something noble about man.
Man’s Love for God is No Great Demonstration of Love
Driscoll states that “if God were not allowing choice, then you wouldn’t have evil, but you would not have love.” I think I agree with what he said, but not with what he meant.
What he meant was that robots, if they could “love,” would love because they were programmed to do so, not because they wanted to. If love is going to mean something, it has to mean something to the one loving. Robots carry out a task; they do not care. Who wants affection-less, android love?
But let’s say that Adam didn’t eat from the fruit of the tree, that he recognized his sweet deal: a gorgeous, God-given, perfect partner, the opportunity to steward and rule the planet, a fantastic home, daily, face-to-face fellowship with his Maker, and only one restriction. What degree of love would Adam demonstrate by loving the One who gave him all that?
Isn’t that the gist of Satan’s accusations toward Job? “Of course he’ll love You! You’ve given him everything he could ever want!” (Job 1:9-11 It is no surprise when men love those who love them (Matthew 5:43-48), nor is it a wonder that much love comes from those forgiven from many sins (Luke 7:41-47). Besides, why wouldn’t Adam–or we–love the infinitely lovely anyway?3
I agree that the Genesis 3 story is about love. God writes Satan and evil into the script for the sake of love.4 But it is not love from man, it is love for man that is the climax. The fall is all about love. However, here’s the point:
God is not glorious because forgiven rebels love Him. He is glorious because He loves and forgives rebels.
That’s what Paul wrote in Romans.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Full demonstration of God’s holy love and the riches of His glorious grace are the reason He endures vessels of wrath. His love is the infinitely eminent love, proven by His initiating sacrifice.
Greater love has no man than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:13-14)
If Satan and evil and vice exist so that man has choice, and then can choose virtue and love, then that plan failed miserably. Man chose–and we by nature keep choosing–sin. And even if we had chosen obedience, our love for the most worthy-to-be-loved Being in the universe would be no awe-inspiring thing.
Again, the answer to “Why [did God] create that choice?” cannot be to show off something about man’s love. What is amazing and glorious and worth singing about for eternity is that amazing love that bled for Adam’s helpless, unlovely, rebellious race. Rather than trying to defend God by asserting man’s ability for virtue and love, we should settle our feet in the stirrups of a God-centered worldview that enables us to ride through life hating sin and Satan, yet never wavering in confidence (and even celebration) that God is in control over the rough terrain.
- Even the customarily (constructively?) critical Steve Camp couldn’t keep from gushing about the whole thing. ↩
- Though Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, He was not capable of sin. In His case, impeccability does not diminish His virtue, it accentuates it. ↩
- I’m totally channeling Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World here. Please read that. ↩
- Though, Satan is fully culpable for his actions as God’s curse on him demonstrates (Genesis 3:14-15). The same principle applies to Pharoah (Romans 9:14-23) and Judas (Matthew 26:34). ↩