Satan’s Doubts

In Book I of Paradise Lost, Milton envisions the self-vindication of Satan and his host. You can read a summary of it here. It is a forceful and specious defense of Satan’s rebellion. How should we answer it?

In Book IV, Milton provides a rebuttal to Satan’s self-vindication. It comes from the mouth of Satan himself. After he falls to earth, he expresses doubt about his rebellion.

Satan considers all that God had given him and how little he asked in return:

“He deserved no such return from me, whom he created what I was in that bright eminence, and with his good upbraided none: nor was his service hard. What could be less than to afford him praise, the easiest recompense, and pay him thanks, how due!” (4.42–48).

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The Father’s Plan of Redemption

In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, it is clear that Satan can do what he does only because God permits it. Why does God permit Satan to enter earth and successfully tempt Eve? In order to show God’s glory in the work of redemption. Milton’s description of God’s decree of redemption a beautiful statement of God’s love.

The Father’s Decree of Redemption
After this determination to fight “war then war,” Satan comes up with a plan to find the new planet of which they had heard rumors. The goal is to disrupt “the Enemy’s” plan. The Father in heaven sees what Satan is doing, decrees to permit the fall, and then decrees to redeem the world through His Son. I found the conversation of the Father and the Son particularly moving.

Milton attempts to describe the glory of the Son as that of the glory of the divine Father:

Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance filled all heaven, and in the blessed Spirits elect sense of new joy ineffable diffused. Beyond compare the Son of God was seen most glorious; in him all his Father shone substantially expressed; and in his face divine compassion visibly appeared, love without end, and without measure grace; which uttering, thus he to his Father spake (3.135–143).

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Satan’s Self-Vindication

Paradise Lost is an epic like no other. In terms of imagination, language, and insight, I am not sure what can compare to it. I am in the process of slowly reading through it. Book 1 begins with Satan’s “after action report” following his fall from heaven.

The book begins in hell. Satan and his host are considering their loss, and he gives an explanation for his rebellion. It is so compelling that you can easily begin to wonder, “Was Satan right?” After all, there had to be some specious reason for Satan to rebel, did there not? Continue reading “Satan’s Self-Vindication”

Man Between God and the Devil

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the work of the devil.” So wrote the Apostle John.

The drama of the Christian faith takes place on the backdrop of the opposition of the devil.

The modern secularized, corporate world rejects the supernatural. So, in Western society, spiritual warfare often embarrasses Christians. Even those who believe the devil is real have trouble integrating that truth into their lives.

Theologian Richard Lovelace argued that this is problematic. It does not do justice to the content of biblical revelation or to the actual experience of Christians. It seems easier in the short term to ignore the Bible’s mention of the devil, but in the long run it won’t work. He writes:

Such a domesticated view of spiritual reality may be superficially comfortable for a while, but eventually it is simply not credible. We will have less anxiety ourselves and more of a hearing from the world if we will believe in and preach the awesome, dangerous, but solid realities taught in Scripture. (Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 144)

You just cannot get around the fact that the Bible is unapologetically supernatural in its approach.

Lovelace’s focus was not merely on defending the truth. His main interest was practical: how can individuals and churches be renewed and revived? One important aspect of renewal is recognizing the reality of spiritual warfare and the good news of the Christian’s spiritual authority in that warfare, he argued.

Lovelace illustrated this by recounting the history of the church’s teaching on Satan. He said that there was certainly superstitious approaches in the history of the church, but there has always been a bedrock of careful biblical teaching on this subject that can be found in the writings of the great teachers of the church. Martin Luther appropriated this teaching because it was biblical, and it is a significant part of the story of the Reformation.

During the Enlightenment, the church retreated from its emphasis on the supernatural in general idea of Satan and demons specifically. The focus was on the Bible as containing merely rules for a good life.

What Lovelace noticed in his studies of revival is that in times of revival such as the Welsh Revival of 1904 to 1905 and in missionary endeavors, an emphasis on spiritual warfare regularly developed. As the kingdom of God expanded into new areas, the conflict became clearer and much greater.

So, Lovelace concluded from Scripture and history that a necessary element of spiritual renewal is an awareness of spiritual warfare and of the authority that Christians have in it through Christ.

Lovelace went on his book to explain the strategies of Satan. These five strategies help flesh out how the devil attacks Christians.

1. Temptation: he seeks to get us to give in to things we shouldn’t do or distract us from what we should do.

2. Deception: he seeks to get us to believe wrong things about ourselves, others, God, and the world.

3. Accusation: he seeks to show us the faults of others and hide their good characteristics in order to increase division among Christians. He tries to show us our own real faults to make us believe God will have nothing to do with us. Note that the name “Satan” means “accuser.”

4. Possession: when a demon takes over the personality of an individual.

5. Physical attack: when he seeks to use physical force to keep Christians from following Christ, as he does with 300 million Christians around the world today.

So, how do we oppose the attacks of Satan?

1. Be aware that these things are attacks of Satan. There is more going on in the opposition to the Christian faith than what meets the eye.

2. Read Scripture. I have experienced times of intense temptation, and I have experienced it go away immediately as I read the Word of God out loud.

3. Pray. Be strong in the Lord’s power. We engage in faith by praying to the Lord and seeking His power and authority in this matter.

4. Call a Christian friend. The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of armor to explain how we fight against the devil. However, the Roman army was an army not just a group of individuals. They would use formations that made them much stronger as a collective than they would be individually. Often our first step when we sense spiritual warfare should be to put our shields together, that is, to get other Christians involved.

It is hard to maintain these truths in our society, which is perhaps itself an evidence of spiritual warfare. However, more awareness and emphasis on this conflict can bring renewal to our lives and churches. It can make us more aware of what is really going on and more appreciative of the power and triumph we have in Christ, who appeared to destroy the works of the devil.