“God and the devil are at war in the universe, and the battlefield is the human heart.”
Feodor Dostoevski, in The Brothers Karamazov
“…When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy…” Job 38:7
“I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the most high.” Isaiah 14:12-14
“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of the present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
“They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.”
A few years ago I went home after work and put my favorite symphony recording on the stereo. Retiring to the recliner, I began to relax and let the music tranquilize me, when suddenly the needle began to skip and static mingled with the music. What had happened? Well, Mozart wrote the music, an orchestra performed it, and I bought the record and played it on my stereo. That explains the beauty, the music. But how to explain the ugly? Unfortunately, my pre-school son had been where he shouldn’t and had scratched my album. That explains the ugly.
The world we live in is like that, isn’t it? There is beauty. Yet there is ugly as well! There is good and evil mingled together in our human experience. And how do you explain it? How do you explain a world of joyful marriage and woeful divorce? A world of vibrant health and rotting cancer? A world of heartfelt worship and brotherhood, and a world of hatred and bloodshed? The explanation is found in the Bible as it defines human nature, the realm of the satanic, and the creative, loving power of God.
God, we have studied, is responsible for the beauty and goodness of creation. Now, for a closer look at Satan, the one responsible for the ugly and evil of creation.
Before the Fall
Job 38:7 describes a time before the creation of man “When all the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Here Scripture tells us that all of creation was once in harmony like a well-trained choir. Each dimension of God’s creation, each angel, each stone and river, everything was in its place. And God looked on all He made and said, “It’s very good!” (Genesis 1:31). The world was once like that. Free will beings all freely obeyed God.
Evidently, Satan was a part of this original creation. Ezekiel 28:1-9 describes an angelic being “created” by God (vs. 13), “Wiser than Daniel” and from whom “no secret is hidden” (vs. 3). He is “the signet of perfection,” “perfect in beauty” (vs. 12), even “blameless” in his ways (vs. 15).
The labor this mighty angel seems to have been given is that of tending the garden. Perhaps he was God’s chief steward of the earth. Ezekiel only hints at it saying, “You were in Eden, the garden of God” (vs. 13), and “by your wisdom and your understanding you have gotten wealth for yourself” (vs. 4).
Oddly enough, the first Eden here is described in terms of its great mineral wealth— topaz, emeralds, and gold (vs. 13) and this great angel walks as a steward in the midst of it all. He is “placed” there by God (vs. 14).
So, God takes credit for the existence of Satan. He made him and made him well. “Blameless.” “The signet of perfection.” “Wise.” But God also gave Satan a free will. He had the power to love and the power to hate. The choice was freely his.
And for a while, at least, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”
So, all was in its place. This explains the beauty of the world. It explains what harmony there is. But what of the static? How does one explain the ugly, the disharmonious with us today?
After the Fall
Isaiah 14:12-14 points out rebellion. Remember the choir? Well, somebody began to get out of place. Scripture points out that Lucifer, the mighty angel, one called the “Day Star,” the “Son of the Morning,” began to be proud and plot rebellion. He didn’t want to fit in. He didn’t want to praise God. He wanted to praise himself.
Hear Lucifer’s vain remarks in Isaiah 14: “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.” Notice that this vain angel uses the word “I” five times in two verses. “I” this. “I” that. “I, I, I!” It’s no mistake that the middle letter of the word sin is I. Once I took my typewriter to the shop to be repaired. Just out of curiosity I asked the gentleman what most broke about a typewriter. He said it was the letter “I”. “It breaks,” he said, “not because it is a vowel and is used so much, but because people strike it so hard.” And isn’t Satan struck on himself in Isaiah 14! He’s going to reject the true God and be a god himself! Though he is but a creature he is going to throw off God’s authority and set up his domain. “I will make myself like the Most High.” Ezekiel 28:1-19 also describes this angel’s corruption. “Your heart has become proud in your wealth” (vs. 5). “You have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods’” (vs. 2). “Iniquity was found in you” (vs. 15) and “In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you have sinned” (vs. 16).
It seems that this angel, often called “Lucifer,” “Day star” or “Son of the Morning,” grew restless with the limited responsibility God had given him as a steward of the earth. He wanted more! In fact, he wanted it all! So he gathered his sympathizers and stormed heaven to wrest control from God and rule it all himself!
Revelation 12:4 teaches that Lucifer’s rebellion spread so infectiously that one third of the angels of heaven were swept along with his plot.
But for Satan it was not to be. Revelation 12:7-9 tells us the outcome of the battle. “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
Did you catch that? Satan and his angels were thrown down to earth! That’s where we live, isn’t it? So here on this planet we inhabit also lives a rebel angel and his warring hoard. And that brings us to the opening sentences of Scripture. Notice how Genesis 1:1-2 seems to describe a battlefield. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” It is as if the rebellion and subsequent war had left the earth a smoldering battlefield!
But “the Spirit of God was moving” over the face of the earth. And while Satan watched in what undoubtedly for him was defeated fascination, God recreated the earth. Fourteen times God spoke, saying, “Let there be light,” “Let there be a firmament”…”Let the earth put forth vegetation.” He but spoke the word and it was so! But the fourteenth time God spoke He said, “Let us make man,” and “Let him have dominion over the earth” (1:26).
This final act of creation must have outraged Satan. Once he had ruled Eden as God’s steward. Now God had defeated his rebellious grab for all rule and authority, thrown him back down to earth, remade the garden, and created man and woman to take Satan’s job of steward. Lucifer now had a rival— Adam and Eve!
Of course, the rest is history. In earlier chapters we’ve seen how Satan possessed a serpent and slithered into the garden to tempt the woman and man to join his rebellion. We’ve seen their sinful choice and traced the tragic results. And this leads us to the present condition we live in today, a condition the apostle Paul described in Ephesians 6:12. “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the world rule of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” That’s heavy, isn’t it? Yet Paul laid it on the church! “This is war,” he said, “You’re not on a picnic arm wrestling with children. You’re contending for your life with Satan himself!” Martin Luther, the 16th century church reformer, also warned the church that we are fighting with Satan. In his hymn “A Mighty Fortress” he said of the devil, “(He is) armed with cruel hate, his craft and power are great, on earth is not his equal.
So, what is Satan’s power? If we’ve got to live with him here on earth, what are his abilities?
Well, certainly, as we have seen in earlier chapters, Satan can tempt us. He can try to infect us with his own rebellion against the Lord. We have already studied in Genesis 3 how Satan came so subtly to tempt Eve. He appealed to her through her eyes and through food. He first got her to question God’s word. And then he out and out lied, promising, “Ye shall be as gods!” And you know what happened; Eve believed Satan more than she believed God. She disobeyed and in temptation fell to Satan.
Satan can not only tempt us to disobey God’s word, he can also oppress us. This happens when we sin so often that bad habits are formed which carry us to ruin in their momentum. Take for instance a fellow who has smoked for years two packs of cigarettes a day. His doctor warned him to quit. But when he tried, he ate more food out of nervousness and his weight went up dangerously. So he quit overeating and went back to smoking. Either way you lose! Do you see the oppression of his bad habits? And can’t you see Satan smiling over the predicament he’s got that fellow in?
Temptation, oppression— Satan does have power here on earth. But that’s not all. He can also possess people. Through an act of faith and willful surrender people can open themselves to the power of the devil. And he can come in and actually take possession of you. The novel and the movie, The Exorcist, that horrible gross tale, is actually a very accurate portrayal of what demon possession is like.
So, how do you explain the harmony, the beauty of the earth? It’s God’s good creation. He made it so. And the ugly, the disharmony? The evil? How do you explain that? Proud and corrupted angels in rebellion against God were thrown out of heaven
to earth and here they seek to share with us their disobedience through temptation, oppression and even possession. And we’ve a world utterly bound up in all of this.
Did you hear about the American tourist looking over the rim of the volcanic crater in Iceland? Seeing the ashes, the hardened lava flow, and the smoke, the tourist remarked, “It looks like hell!” With that the tour guide threw up his hands and shouted, “You Americans! You’ve been everywhere!” Well, maybe we haven’t been so far as that, but we’ve all lived long enough to find out for sure that evil is real and that the world is fallen. I’m reminded of a sign I saw near a civil war battlefield in New Market, Virginia. The hotel marquee said, “Stay with us! Sleep tonight on the battlefield!” And that’s how it is, isn’t it? We live and sleep and play and work on a battlefield in which Satan and God are at war.
What Will the Outcome Be?
But what will the outcome of all this conflict be? Who will win? And what will the victor do?
We have already seen that God is involved. He is not indifferent nor afraid. After Adam and Eve fell to temptation God came looking for them to redeem them from Satan’s power. And in Legion’s life in Mark 5 we have seen that the Lord is wonderfully able to save us from Satan’s temptation, oppression, and even possession.
The situation we live in now is really like that historical time we call World War II. Remember how people chose sides? There was an invasion, numerous battles and bloodshed. There was a fight until Germany and Japan surrendered unconditionally. The Axis war machine was utterly destroyed and then the Marshall Plan went into effect to rebuild Europe and settle it with people of peace. God’s activity is just like this episode in history. He is allowing us to choose sides. He has invaded the earth with Christians. Christ shed his blood. Satan is routed. And now He is battling for the complete annihilation of Satan and his followers. When that is accomplished God will make all things new again, restore earth’s harmony, and his children in Christ will settle the kingdom in peace.
And what of Satan and his followers? What of those who refuse to follow Christ? II Thessalonians 1:9 tells of their fate. “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.”
But you say, “Stephen, do you really believe in hell? Would a loving God really condemn someone to eternal punishment? Yes, I do believe in hell. And, yes, I do believe in eternal punishment. God is a loving God, but He is also a judge. He shut the door of the ark (Genesis 7:6). He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 19:24-28). He exiled the Jews. And Jesus, with the most beautiful lips in the world, often spoke of judgement and hell. “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of the kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).
Once in Dublin, Ireland, the opera “Faust” was being produced. It’s all about a man who sold his soul to the devil for a few years of pleasure, power and prestige. But now his time is up! And toward the end of the drama Satan is conducting Faust through a trap-door which represented the gates of hell. His majesty the devil got through all right, but Faust was quite plump, got half-way in, and no amount of squeezing would get him any farther. Suddenly an Irishman in the audience shouted devoutly, “Praise God! Hell’s full!” And won’t it be to God’s praise when He ends the war, judges the enemy, fills hell with rebel sinners, and sets up the new kingdom?
Revelation 21:1 and the following verses describe that kingdom as a new Eden, a new optimum human habitat! “Then I saw a new
heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murders, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars— their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.’” (NIV).
“Once upon a time, in a faraway land…” Isn’t that how many exciting tales begin? And that’s how the Bible narratives begin. Once upon a time God created. “And the morning stars sang together.” But Satan rebelled and was thrown to earth where he has influenced us to rebellion as well. But God has come and reclaimed us and is fighting to destroy Satan and rebuild the kingdom in newness of life. But right now we are being pulled from below and pressed from above. We can be born from above in faith and love, or we can be born from below in rebellion. And we alone do the choosing.
On the wall in a nearby college someone has scrawled the graffiti, “Where will you spend eternity?” Below it some defeated student has written, “The way things look now, in German 201.” Seriously, man will not spend eternity on this strife-torn planet. Christ has conquered! Satan will be vanquished! And Christians will inhabit the new creation in peace.
Have you chosen which side you will enlist under yet? Will it be Satan or Christ? Rebellion or Faith? Where will you spend eternity?
Lord Jesus, with my whole life I choose you! Amen!