Tag Archives: Satan

Did Satan Give Super Tuesday to Trump and Clinton? (Luke 4:6)

As I write this post, Trump and Clinton are racking up victories in the race to the White House. As you read this post, you may be celebrating or bemoaning the results of last night. You may also be wondering who is to blame for the results. Apart from human voters and strategists, who gets the credit? Satan? Or God?

If you like what happened, you might be tempted to give God credit. And if you don’t like the results, we all know whom to blame, right?

Actually, it’s not that simple. The Bible presents a complex picture of how heavenly beings affect the affairs of earthly kingdoms.

Satan, on the other hand, paints a simple picture. At least that is the picture he painted as he tempted Jesus. Listen to Satan’s claim:

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7)

What should we make of Satan’s claim? What did Jesus make of it?

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t dispute Satan’s claim. Ignoring Satan’s claim of authority, Jesus’ response zeroed in on the actual moral crux of Satan’s temptation:

“It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
    and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:8)

Jesus didn’t dispute Satan’s claim of authority. Does this mean that Jesus agreed with Satan? Did Jesus believe that all the authority and glory of all the kingdoms of the world belonged to Satan, and that he could give it to whomever he wished? Is this true of Satan today?

Some readers think Satan was speaking the truth. The kingdoms of this world are clearly full of evil, and the Bible clearly states that Satan wields great power over unbelievers. Consider these texts:

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31; cf. John 14:30; 16:11)

The god of this world [or age] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ… (2 Cor. 4:4)

…You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:1-2)

Consider Paul’s words about how all creation was “subjected to futility” and is in “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:19-22). Worse, John the Revelator saw a time when a terrible beast “was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months”; indeed, “authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev. 13:5-8). Some interpreters think this depicts future events, but others argue convincingly that what John saw is real already today.

And perhaps most clearly of all, who can dispute this confident assertion of John?

We know that… the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)

If we stop here, considering only this evidence, two conclusions seem undisputable to me:

  1. Satan’s claim to Jesus was true: he does indeed possess the authority and glory of all earthly kingdoms and gives them to whoever he wishes.
  2. Satan is the one who gave the Super Tuesday victories to Trump and Clinton.

But I think this analysis is too simple. Good theology deals with all the evidence, not just the evidence in favor of Satan.

For example, what about Paul’s words to the Romans?

…There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed… (Rom. 13:1-2)

With the vast majority of interpreters, I understand Paul is referring to civil government leaders. Paul says these leaders have been “instituted” and “appointed” by God.

How can we reconcile this statement with Satan’s claim to Jesus? Or with John’s assertion that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”?

One solution is the idea of secondary causation. What do I mean? First, an imprecise informal example. Let’s say I leave a sharp knife on the table and my three-year-old picks it up and cuts herself. Who caused the cut? Ultimately, I am the primary cause of the cut. But my daughter is also a secondary cause. Thus, we both can rightly be said to have caused the cut.

More precisely, here is the Wikipedia definition of secondary causation:

The philosophical proposition that all material and corporeal objects, having been created by God with their own intrinsic potentialities, are subsequently empowered to evolve independently in accordance with natural law.

This is the idea that God sets up the universe to run in certain ways, then steps back and (at least normally) lets the universe run without direct intervention.

Similarly, we can observe that Satan, as a being created by God, has been permitted a sphere of authority, particularly after successfully tempting Adam and Eve. Thus Satan operates as a “secondary cause” in the affairs of earth. Meanwhile God, who first permitted Satan to gain authority, remains sovereign over all, as the ultimate “First Cause.” (As a personal being he is also much more than that!)

Thus both God and Satan can be said to be, in different senses, the C/cause of the same events, the A/authority over the same sphere of influence.

A strict application of the philosophical idea of secondary causation would mean that God no longer directly interferes in the affairs of earthly kingdoms, having given that authority over to Satan.

So, back to Satan’s claim to Jesus. Has God has sovereignly delegated all authority over earthly kingdoms to Satan, so that Satan is now free to do whatever he wishes with these kingdoms? Is secondary causation the secret for reconciling Romans 13 (God the distant, primary cause) and Luke 4 (Satan the immediate, secondary cause)?

No, I don’t think so. At least not fully. Again, I think this is too simple to explain all the biblical evidence.

Consider the two biblical accounts of David’s sin of calling for a census of Israel. In Samuel we read that “the LORD… incited David” to number Israel and Judah (2 Sam. 24:1). In Chronicles we read that “Satan stood up against Israel and incited David” (1 Chron. 21:1).

One solution for this apparent contradiction may be to see God as the ultimate cause, but Satan as the secondary cause. I do think this distinction is helpful. But I don’t think it’s enough.

It seems that God was more directly involved than that. It hardly seems that God simply allowed Satan to tempt David. The verb “incited” in Samuel suggests that God was an active agent.

Perhaps we could say that God incited David by nudging Satan to tempt him, or by permitting Satan to carry out his evil intent against David. This solution would mirror what happened with Job, where God intentionally brings Job to Satan’s attention, knowing that doing so would trigger Satan’s intent to test Job.

In summary, while I do think the philosophical concept of secondary causation has some validity, I don’t think it recognizes God’s direct agency sufficiently. Yes, there is a sense in which God has turned this fallen earth over to Satan so that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). But I think God still directly and regularly intervenes, controlling events not only through his sovereign “set-up” of how the universe runs, but also through directly permitting and limiting and even overriding Satan’s authority.

Consider some more biblical evidence. In the following accounts, God is pictured as shaping the course of earthly kingdoms. While some of these situations may possibly permit Satan’s involvement as a secondary cause, others seem indisputably to be direct interventions by God. All of these, it seems to me, challenge Satan’s claim that he freely gives the authority and glory of earthly kingdoms to whoever he wishes:

  • At the tower of Babel God frustrated the language and purposes of earthly leaders. “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language,” he said. Then “the Lord dispersed them” (Gen. 11:7-8).
  • In the Exodus God directly sent plagues on Egypt, countering Pharaoh’s aims and ultimately drowning him in the Red Sea. “For this purpose I have raised you up,” the Lord told Pharaoh, “to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex. 9:16).
  • In the conquest of Canaan God waged holy war against idolatrous nations, giving the land over to his people in fulfillment of his ancient promises. Similarly, many accounts describe God actively defeating enemy nations and removing kings during the time of Israel’s monarchy.
  • In Daniel God is repeatedly described as sovereign over earthly kingdoms. In particular, consider how God, in fulfillment of his own prophetic word, took the Babylonian kingdom away from proud Nebuchadnezzar. Then—in an act that leaves even less room for Satan’s authority and agency—God restored Nebuchadezzar’s reason and kingdom, bringing him to humble repentance (Dan. 4:28-37). Why did God do this? So that “the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).
  • God chose Cyrus before he was born to be the one who would oversee the return of exiled Israel and the rebuilding of the temple. Listen to God’s words of direct agency: He “anointed” Cyrus; he “grasped” Cyrus’s right hand to make him a military victor; he said “I will go before you… I call you by your name.” Why did God do all this? “That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other… I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Is. 45:1-7).
  • When Herod allowed the people to praise him as a god, “immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down” (Acts 12:23).

As I consider accounts such as these, I have to call Satan’s bluff. Yes, there is a sense in which the kingdoms of the world have been “delivered” to him. But he does not “give [them] to whom [he] will.” Only God can rightly make that claim.

Satan is a liar. And his temptations usually include lies. Often he takes the truth, then subtly twists it, or tells only half of it. This is what he did when he tempted Jesus.

Darrell Bock, in his commentary on Luke, comes to the same conclusion:

It is probably best to say that the devil’s offer is a mixture of truth and error. He is pictured as wielding great authority on the earth, so much so that some interpreters regard the offer as totally genuine… He certainly claims such authority in saying he can give these things to whomever he wishes. It is possible that Satan believes the claim, so that the offer should be seen as involving diabolical self-delusion.

But there is evidence in the Gospel that suggests the offer is exaggerated. Jesus’ expulsion of demons is against such a view of Satan’s absolute authority. Later in Luke, Jesus’ authority triumphs over the demons, and the demons respond to his rebuke… Their fear shows that the demons are aware of a limitation on their power. That Satan can be dismissed, as he is in Matt. 4:10, may also suggest this limitation. From the text’s perspective, Satan’s offer is at best characterized as an oversell (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and at worst it is a lie (John 8:44).1 (bold added)

So, back to our opening question: Did Satan give Trump and Clinton their Super Tuesday victories? My short answer is “I don’t know.” I suspect both God and Satan were actively involved, though with God firmly overseeing Satan’s activity–prodding it and limiting it for his purposes.

I think that in most situations like this we are much like Job. He had no idea why he was experiencing what he experienced. He didn’t know Satan was behind the raiding bands, the whirlwind, and the boils. Neither did he know that God had “set him up,” intentionally inviting Satan’s attention.

We know more about heavenly involvement in the affairs of man than Job did—thanks in part to reading Job’s story. But we, like him, still don’t usually know in the moment the ways of God with Satan and man.

So, do we credit Satan or God for the results last night? I can’t give a full answer. But this much I do know: “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”

May we trust and honor him, no matter where he bestows his gifts.

What do you make of Satan’s claim? Do you agree with the understanding I’ve presented here? How do you trace the hand of God in the affairs of earthly kingdoms? I’m not interested in hosting a political debate, but I do welcome your reflections in the comments below. Thank you!

  1. Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 376.

Does the Resurrection Matter? (Albert Mast’s Memorial Service)

Two days ago I was privileged to speak at the memorial service of my father-in-law, Albert Mast. This was a great honor, and a wonderful opportunity to ponder the life that is ours in Christ Jesus–resurrection already and resurrection not yet!

This post will be a bit of a tossed salad, so here’s an ingredient list to help you proceed:

 Audio of Sermon and “So What?” Thoughts about Resurrection

Thanks to each of you who prayed for me regarding this sermon! I felt God’s strength and zeal as I spoke, and I sensed people were listening. Our primary texts were Romans 6:11 and 1 Peter 1:13, and my primary goal was to help people rejoice in the blessings of Christ’s resurrection and long for his return.

Here is the sermon: “The Lord Is Risen! Come Lord Jesus!” (right-click title to download audio or listen below)

After the sermon, a friend who had read my recent post about resurrection to come (What is the Christian’s True Hope in Death?) and who heard me share similar thoughts in the sermon asked me a question: Why does it matter? Why is it important for us to fix our hopes on Christ’s return and our resurrection then, rather than merely anticipating dying and going to heaven? My friend agreed with what I had shared, but wasn’t sure what difference it made.

Good question! I shared with my friend an illustration that I didn’t have time to share during the sermon. I’d like to share it here, too.

Imagine, if you can, that you agree with me that the “good guys” in the American Rebellion–er, the American Revolutionary War, that is–were the British, and not the American colonists. (I’m speaking here as my adolescent Canadian self, not my adult kingdom-of-God self.) Now imagine that you and I are both British soldiers, returned from the war. Imagine I come up to you after the war is over and say something like this:

“Isn’t it great how we won the war! We had wonderful campaigns in the king’s colonies. We really knocked those rebellious colonists around in some good fights. Sure, we lost some battles, but look at how those Loyalists escaped to Canada! And just when things looked the worst, wasn’t it wonderful to get on our ships and sail safely home to England? Now those colonists can never touch us. Yes, isn’t it great how we won the war?”

How would you respond? I suspect you’d knock me about the head a time or two to bring me to my senses and shout, “But what about the kingdom? What about the king’s colonies? How can you say we won the war when the king lost his kingdom?

(If that illustration is too difficult for your imagination, then use the American invasion of Iraq instead.)

Now imagine a similar conversation, this time between you and me as we discuss our Christian war against sin and Satan. Imagine if I say something like this:

“Isn’t it great how we’ll win this war! Saints in the past have engaged in quite the battles with Satan, and there have been wonderful victories. Think of Noah, and Abraham, Moses, and David–a long list of heroes of the faith that have stood firm against the forces of darkness. Sure, the nation of Israel eventually fell away from God and was sent into exile, but then God started a whole new campaign with his Church! Peter, John, Paul, then Augustine, Saint Francis, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Felix Manz, Menno Simons, William Carey, Billy Graham, and countless more [edit the list as you wish]–what a list of victors! Each one of them, at his death, escaped safely to heaven. And now, just as the war is raging at its fiercest, and the Church is being reduced to a tiny remnant band, we have this wonderful confidence: God is going to call us home and we’ll all go sailing off safely into heaven! Isn’t it wonderful how we’re going to win the war!”

Now, what would be a proper response to such an outburst? I suggest the following: Hopefully you’d knock me about the head a bit (metaphorically, of course) and sober me up with these words: “But what about the kingdom? What about God’s original purposes for the wonderful world that he created? How can you say we will win the war if the King will loose his kingdom?

When God created the world (Gen. 1-2), he created it perfect but incomplete. It possessed the perfection of an immature child. God put humans into his world to steward it and to bring about his creative purposes for his world. But Satan and sin hijacked God’s original intent. More accurately, God foreknew sin’s entrance, and planned all along to work through it. However we word it, this fact remains: God’s purposes for his world remained incomplete at the time when sin entered. If this is true, then salvation alone–the removal of sin from human hearts or even from the cosmos–is not the sum total of God’s purposes for his creation. No, after sin is removed God will want to get on with his other plans for his creation.

Ask a cook, “What do you want to do with these dishes?” and he might answer, “I want them washed.” Ask a 16-year-old what he plans to do with his car and he might say, “I plan to give it a wash and a wax.” But no cook would be satisfied washing dishes without ever getting to cook with them, and it is a rare teen who would be content working at a car wash all day and never driving a car! To reduce God’s purposes for his world to his “plan of salvation” is like reducing a cook’s purposes for dishes to his plan for washing them.

So what difference does it make if we focus on dying and going to heaven rather than on Christ’s return and our final resurrection? I think it is the difference between being satisfied with human salvation or rejoicing in God’s victory. Is it enough for me that I win? Or do I care about God winning? Do I imagine a grand conclusion where Satan succeeds, kamikaze-style, in demolishing God’s good creation? Where Satan, like Samson, dies while bringing down God’s house? Where God wins the war but looses half his kingdom? Or do I grasp God’s vision for creating “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13)? Do I remember that my own eternal glory is bound up in his, and that the Bible hints at things like us reigning with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12) and judging angels (1 Cor. 6:3)–things seemingly timed to happen only long after my death, when Christ returns?

More could be said, but hopefully that begins to answer the “so what” question that my friend raised. There is much I don’t understand yet about God’s purposes for his creation. God still has some big secrets up his sleeve. But this much I do understand: God’s purposes matter, and they will be fulfilled! Through Christ God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col. 1:20).

If you want to read more, the book that has shaped my thinking as much as any other (besides Scripture) is on sale on Kindle right now: Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright.

“On the Resurrection Morning” — A Gospel Song that “Gets” Life After Death

In my sermon I quoted an old gospel song by Sabine Bar­ing-Gould that I a friend shared with me just a few days ago. Here are two of its eight stanzas. Notice especially the lines I’ve emboldened. How often do you hear such ideas in a gospel song?  I think this author understood our Christian hope well.

For a while the wearied body
Lies with feet toward the morn;
Till the last and brightest Easter
Day be born.

But the soul in contemplation,
Utters earnest prayer and strong,
Bursting at the resurrection
Into song.

For the rest of the song, click here.

“Burial Ground” — An Article by My Mother

If our sights are to be fixed on our final resurrection and not merely on going to heaven, then how should we bury our loved ones? During the sermon I answered this question by quoting from an article written by my mother (Elaine Gingrich). Mom wrote this article over 20 years ago, after death touched my life significantly for the first time by claiming the lives of five young friends in a car accident.

Here is the article: Burial Ground  (By the way, I discovered just now that in my sermon I misquoted a Tozer quote that Mom uses in this article: It should be “It is hard to imagine anything less hopeful than the sight of a burial”–not “more hopeful.” But sorry, Tozer; I think I like my version at least as well.)

“How Firm A Foundation” — How a Hymn Helped Strengthen Albert’s Faith

At Albert’s memorial service his “little” brother Glen Mast told a story that few of us knew. Five or six years ago, when Albert’s pain was at its worst, he experienced a severe trial of his faith. One time when Glen was visiting, Albert confessed that he felt “worthless.” Worse still, Albert was troubled by this question: What if someday he would stand before God and hear these terrible words: “I never knew you, depart from me.”

Glen reassured Albert, reminding him that, while each of us is unworthy, none of us are worthless. God paid a dear price for us! Glen also explained that when Jesus foretold those terrible words, “I never knew you,” he was warning religious leaders who felt no need for Jesus. Albert, on the other hand, had relied from his youth on the grace of God given through Christ (Eph. 2:8-10). God knew his name! (I might add that Jesus was describing false prophets who seemed more interested in wielding the power of God than in doing the will of God.)

Then Glen showed Albert and Katie (my mother-in-law) a video of a presentation by David Powlison, called “Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings.” (Click the link for audio and video options. Or go to page 145 of this free PDF book for a transcript.) Powlison shapes his talk around the grand old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation“–a hymn which, unlike most hymns, has God speaking directly to us for most of its verses. (When re-enacting this story at Albert’s memorial, Glen had us turn and face each other while singing verse one, then turn our hands palms-up toward God while singing the rest of the song.)

Glen’s words, Powlison’s presentation, and the words of this hymn were used by God to renew Albert’s faith. Perhaps they will renew the faith of someone reading this blog, too.

Albert Mast’s Obituary

Finally, here is Albert Mast’s obituary:

Alberts Obituary PictureAlbert Mast was born on May 2, 1943 in Thomas, Oklahoma,  the son of Joas and Katie Mast.  He was married to Katie Stoltzfus on November 10, 1973.  Later that year, they moved to Leon, Iowa, where they farmed and eventually established the family baking business, Mast Family Farm.

From a young age, Albert faced many challenges related to what was eventually diagnosed as dystonia.  Though some of those challenges shook him at times, he held fast to his faith in Christ, and lived a vibrant testimony of joy in the midst of pain.  He was known for his determination, his smile in spite of his pain, his care for others who were hurting, and for planting straight rows.  Some of Albert’s favorite quotes: “I may be crippled, but I am NOT handicapped.”  “If you can do it, so can I.”  One of his life verses was Philippians 4:13.

Albert was released from his body on December 15, 2014.  Albert is survived by his dedicated wife, Katie, and their children Zonya (Dwight) Gingrich, Albert L. Mast, and Joy (Craig) Miller; Grandchildren Priya, Shani, and Ayla Gingrich, and Dexter Miller; Siblings Susie Joy Mast, Moses (Sadie) Mast, William (Betty) Mast, Lydia Mae (the late Virgil) Wagler, John (Esther) Mast, Harry (Flo) Mast, Glen (Ellen) Mast, and many nieces and nephews. Albert was preceded in death by his parents, and his daughter Angela.

Donations in memory of Albert may be made to Dystonia-Foundation.org or Hospice of Central Iowa.

“When people add to the Word of God”

(Old Facebook Post)

[amazon template=thumbnail11&asin=0764206494]Dennis McCallum on adding to God’s Word:

“How much should we make of Eve’s addition to God’s Word–that even touching the fruit would cause death? [See Genesis 3:2. God had only said, “If you eat it’s fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:17, italics added.] Some commentators think this is significant, and I tend to agree.

“Remember, Eve wasn’t around when God spoke his directive to Adam… Therefore, Adam probably had to convey what God had said. Perhaps he decided to play it safe and, just in case, add a restriction that God never mentioned. If so, his addition is similar to what believers have historically done with God’s Word. Instead of sticking with what God has said, we tend to add extra restrictions, as layers of protection or control…

“When people add to the Word of God, they tend to add more boundaries and guidelines than he gave in the original. Such additions can become openings for Satan because they represent God as being needlessly restrictive and portray the Christian life as stuffy and unlivable. Satan then uses this to call God’s character into question.”

Excerpts from [amazon text=Satan and His Kingdom: What the Bible Says and How It Matters to You&asin=0764206494] (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2009), page 29. (The bracketed comment and the boldface were added by me.)