One of the most perplexing questions I struggle with concerning Satan is this:
Wait . . . first let me get something out on the table. I believe in Satan. No, not as an impersonal force of evil. No, not as the sin which exists within all of us. And certainly not as God’s equal on the ying/yang opposite side of good. I believe Satan is an intelligent creature who seeks to upset God’s plan at every turn. I believe Satan was created good and turned bad. I believe he is on a leash – often to my bewilderment, a very long leash.
Okay, now that that is out of the way. . .
One of the most perplexing things I struggle with concerning Satan is this: Does he actually think he can win?
I don’t know. Maybe he is so deluded he thinks the impossible to be possible (ala Origen’s view). Certainly he does not have insider intel that pushes his odds of success up a bit. His odds of success are perpetually set at 0. His odds of success, relatively speaking, are about the same as mine would be should I attempt a coup to make all of God’s plans backfire. However, God does give him freedom and uses him in ways that are very strange to me.
I mean, he has read Revelation, hasn’t he? You know the end? The fire and brimstone stuff? (Rev. 20:10) Even (at least some of) the demons seem to recognize their eventual defeat (Luke 8:31). Therefore, I don’t suppose he thinks he is going to win, though I am not totally dismmissive of the idea that his mind is so messed up that he may have hope.
But knowing that Satan cannot really win, I ask a second question: What is his goal?
Come on. Isn’t he a Calvinist? Doesn’t he know he cannot thwart the purpose of God?
I am not sure we can speak of his goal in the singular unless we go very general and say that his goal is just to dethrone God. But that can be understood in many ways. Certainly he is not attempting to take his place as Creator God, for Satan, like us, cannot create anything! Certainly he is not trying to take God’s place as the Unmoved Mover, for Satan is time-bound and … well … moving.
It seems this simple: like us, Satan is infected with sin and acts irrationally, desiring to elevate himself to be the center of the universe. How does he do this? By attempting to silence the worship of God.
With people, I am sure we might say that he simply wants to keep us from believing in God. I think this is illustrated well with the Parable of the Soils, where the first soil falls on the path and Satan immediately takes it, so that no belief is ever birthed (Matt. 13:19). He does not want people to believe God. That is what he does with you and me. He seeks to steal our belief in whatever way he can.
With Christians, however, I don’t believe this is possible. Nothing can snatch us out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29). Surely he knows this. However, I don’t think he has a clue as to who the true believers are and who are representatives of the second and third seed in the Parable of the Soils. You know, the seeds that gain root, but don’t last? He does not know whether your belief is from God, or if it is something that can wither and die.
Either way, his goal is simple: the destruction of belief in God.
However, I don’t think we should conceive of this as outright atheism. This is especially the case when it comes to believers. All he has to do is handicap our faith so that it becomes ineffective or counterproductive. As you know, there are not many outright atheists in the world. There never have been. I doubt there ever will be. But this does not mean that campaigns for atheism are ineffective in the mind of Satan or that he is not cheering them on. Why? Because he knows that these campaigns, while not creating many atheists, are shaking foundations nonetheless.
While Satan’s aspirations may not be to create atheists, he does want people to believe less deeply and less accurately today than they did yesterday.
Remember the first confrontation humanity had with this creature in Eden? Remember what he said to Eve? He did not say, “God is not real. Don’t believe in him. You have never seen him. He does not really exist. We can explain existence through natural processes.” No, he just twisted God’s word ever so slightly. He affirmed God’s existence, but began to chop down God’s integrity. “God has not said . . . he just does not want you to be like him, knowing good and evil.” The result was not that Eve became and atheist or an outright unbeliever, she just doubted God’s truthfulness.
Whatever doubts he can bring about in your life, he will use. Maybe it is God’s existence. Maybe you are not on the verge of becoming an atheist, but you are believing less today than yesterday. From Satan’s standpoint, this is why he clocks in every day. Maybe you are doubting God’s integrity, goodness, love, or plan. “Has God really said…?” is Satan’s message to you as he attempts to have you place God on whatever judgment stand he can. He hates God and he hates you.
It is not insignificant that when Christ taught the disciples to pray, he said about deliverance from Satan, “Deliver us from the Evil One” (Matt. 6: 13). I count six things Christ tells us to pray for. Six. That is it. Not one thousand. Not three hundred. Not even sixty-six. But six. Of these six, our battle against Satan is the subject of one of them. I think this is pretty significant.
There is a reason why the Bible begins by telling us about our confrontation with this odd creature. There is a reason why the end tells of his ultimate destruction. And there is a reason why the short Lord’s prayer tells us to recognize and pray about our battle with him. God has, for some reason, allowed him to roam. He is on a leash, but has been given permission. He wants to test your faith today. His goal right now is to make you believe less than you did before.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]