Faith and Life
Theology and Christian Faith
If God is the ultimate being, why would he allow Satan to exist?
Iappreciate your interest in this question. The "Problem of Evil" is a topic of discussion as far back as we have records of human thought. Your question is one form of that question.
This is actually a complex question. There are too many assumptions in your question to give any simple direct answer. We must ask several prior questions to clarify the complex topic.
I don't know what your idea of "Satan" is. So I don't know whether to blame God, or you or someone else. I certainly would not want to blame God for any common popular concepts of Satan.
I know a lot of people like to have some entity on which to blame their own evil or disobedience on, or to excuse their weaknesses or limitations. Some people seem to use the concept of satan as one way to avoid responsibility for their actions.
I think there is enough evil created in the world by people, without our having to blame God or Satan for it.
Human Source of Evil
So the first place to look for evil is in the human being, not in some Tempter or the Creator, who we are told would like to relate in a positive fashion to his creation, but the creation does not agree to.
To quote an authority millions of people still honor Jesus explained it this way. "Out of the heart come evil thought, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder .... All those come from your heart" Mark 7:20-21.
What Kind of World?
You also mentioned a question about God "allowing" a parent to hurt his child. This overlooks the more important question: Why does that parent do it? This is the cause, and thus the starting point of the problem.
The way the question is stated further assumes that the essence of God is power. Look again at the teachings and life of Jesus, and we might see a different character of God (whom Jesus said he revealed to us).
Value of Freedom
You assume that it is better to prevent someone from doing something bad than for them to have the opportunity to decide to do something good instead. This demeans the human being. It degrades the value of individual human beings. If there is no ability to do evil, then there is no ability to do good.
If God's role is simply to intervene to make everything go the way he wants, no one has any choice in anything. Are you willing to give up your own personal ability to choose? We have a sense that we consider actors and believe that we experience the actual decision we make ourselves. Is this to be discounted in your understanding of the reality of Evil?
Are you willing to give up this feeling of satisfaction that you have the ability to consider and the resulting feeling of satisfaction that you have made a decision? So a person's value in individual choice must be considered. If I am prevented from doing bad, then where is the value in any good that I might do? If my will is of no value, what value is any good that I might produce?
I do agree that as a society, we need to have limits and controls. That is not the issue here. Think of the contrast between a state which values individual freedoms and a totalitarian state which controls every aspect of life.
Any question dealing with the existence of evil must be answered in the context of the value of certain kinds of worlds. What value would there be to a world which allowed no decision-making or independent thought?
The risk with independent thought, or with free decisions at any level, is that thoughts may run in the wrong direction. Decisions may be made that produce bad results instead of good ones. What kind of world would God have to relate to if it was not alive and able to respond, react and relate to him?
What would life be worth if we were all robots? Yes, some decisions produce bad instead of good. But preventing the possibility of bad also eliminates the possibility of good, beauty, creativity and satisfaction.
The focus, I think, should be on producing good, not on preventing evil. If everyone was producing good instead of evil, the problems of the world would be solved. So here we come back to the debate between punishment and rehabilitation. Suffering is produced by many things.
And preventing someone from choosing to act wrongly would also prevent them from choosing to act rightly. Also there are other considerations, and longterm goals. People can change — for the better or for the worse.
What if God had prevented Chuck Colson from preventing a crime? Chuck never would have gone to prison, never would have changed his life to one of faith and service, never would have started a ministry to the prisoners, never would have been able to change the lives of thousands of other people who went bad. Now all those lives are turned around.
If God had taken from Chuck the ability to make a wrong decision, he would have stolen from Chuck the opportunity to experience the joy of making a right decision, which turned his life around and subsequently the lives of thousands of others.
This is compounded by two main problems in considering the sources of evil. No one creature has ultimate knowledge, to be able to control every factor around us. Thus we make decisions with limited knowledge. The first has to do with freedom and limitation. We may intend to do good, but miss some critical piece of knowledge and the result produces bad for us or someone else.
Conflict of Wills
The other problem is referred to as "the conflict of wills." Related to the limitation of knowledge, if you decide to do something that directly conflicts with another person's decision, like you step into the road just as someone else has driven into that same spot, you are going to receive a lot of evil, maybe death. But you were not being evil, maybe just careless.
Or maybe the wind or rain were so loud you could not hear or see the car, or someone yelled at you and you turned the wrong way and stepped off the curb. But you would still be injured or dead. How can God be responsible for that? And we could not very easily blame an entity called "Satan."
So the question is not so much why did God create "Satan" (the tempter) as how do we act responsibly so as to produce good rather than evil, for ourselves and those our life touches.
No Clear Teaching
Finally, the Bible certainly has no clear teaching about "Satan" or the "Evil One," two concepts that get woven together with others and with our own imaginings in our popular theologies. Most of the concepts of "Satan" in the West come from Dante's Inferno. The dramatic picture he paints draws on the foundation of pagan Celtic and Germanic spiritism, enhanced by Persian concepts of angels and demons that came to Europe through the Greeks and Romans.
But Dante mixes terms and images from the Bible and Medieval Christian terminology. Many second hand references to the Bible have been woven into a popular picture with a variety of names, for a portrayal not developed in the Bible.
God Grieves over Pain
What we do clearly know, in the biblical portrayal, is that God grieves over hurt, pain, evil, and suffering. And that he suffers WITH those of us who suffer, and that his efforts are to alleviate the suffering and pain. But he does so in a way that heightens the personal value of the individual, so that we are free to respond to him, learn from him and love him, and thus others.
Thus it is possible to produce more good than evil, not use up all our energies simply trying to prevent or contain evil.
This is the good news, and this is why hundreds of thousands, even millions, all over the world in almost every language of the world, are trying to cooperate with God to produce good for everyone, instead of the evil that humans keep committing against each other.
How do we "clearly know" God grieves at all?
The primary way we know is the view of God Jesus presents. He shows that God cares and feels sadness and grief over the situation of people. This is found in various gospel passages (the first 4 books of the New Testament).
But even in the Old Testament, this is a common portrayal of God in his relationship with Israel. Grief or sadness over the actions of his creatures is a key element in the Biblical picture of God's character. Of course some people would have other sources for getting a view of God.
This is a matter beyond our individual knowledge, of course, and depends on acceptance of certain authorities. A reason for accepting the Biblical concepts of God's character of concern for us is the long centuries of consistent testimony in the writings now collected into the collection we call the Bible.
You referred to my assumptions. I do not know of any particular assumptions I had in my question.
Most of my first answer was pointing out the assumptions in the question you ask. Your question contains several layers of ideas and concepts, so any answer clearly depends on just what definition or concept you had in mind in each of the terms you used. Let me briefly indicate again the main ones.
What Does"Satan" Mean?
One unstated assumption I mentioned is exactly what you mean by "Satan." Your question assumes some single something or someone named or called "Satan" exists. That is, you focus on the assumed entity, rather than on how the word is used.
The word "satan" is the general Hebrew word for a tempter or tester. The earliest reference to this is in the book of Job, thought to be the oldest portion of the Bible, where Satan is a member of God's council, whose job it is to test the faithfulness of those who follow Yahweh. The name occurs a few other times in Biblical passages.
Without knowing just what you think this term "satan" refers to, I cannot tell whether it/he exists or not, and thus whether to blame God for allowing that to exist. My question, then, to your assumption is, "What do you mean by "Satan."
I also mentioned in my first answer that you assume that to have power requires action to suppress what that being or powerful one disagrees with. I pointed out some critical moral reasons why God would not exercise his power to override the will of any entity. Coerced friendship, fellowship or belief is of no value.
An important theme in the Bible is that God seeks fellowship with others on a basis of willing relationship. If God prevented you from making choices he did not like, it would logically entail that he would also prevent you from making decisions he did like.
What kind of friend would you be if I force you to be my friend? Apparently God feels the same way.
There is no actual teaching in the Bible about angels or other spiritual beings, only some references to some spiritual entities. "Angel" is just the English for the Greek word translators failed to translate. It means messenger or representative.
There is no direct teaching or explanation anywhere in the whole Bible on just what messengers of God may be or not be, nor demons nor tempters. Most popular concepts of angels and demons or devils come from cultural and mythical sources.
A common source in European popular ideas of evil is Dante's writings in the middle ages. His writings reflect traditional concepts of Germanic occult concepts mixed with biblical images and terminology. Much of Italy was part of various Germanic kingdoms and empires over most of its history after the fall of the city of Rome in 476.
Dante reflects the popular cultural view of that time in western Europe that persisted in popular culture and even came to be considered Christian by some. But his ideas of heaven and hell are not found in the Bible.
Unfortunately many people have not gone and studied it for themselves, just accepted the common American folk culture concepts.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
The Book of Enoch the Prophet, translated by Richard Laurence
Justice and Vengeance in Dante's Medieval World
Principalities and Powers: Notes On Demonic Hierarchies
First addressed in an exchange on an Internet discussion group in October 2000
Finalized as an article and posted on Thoughts and Resources 29 August 2005
Last updated 11 February 2009
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2005 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.