Christianity commits every Christian to believing that ‘the Devil is (in the long run) an ass.’
(C.S. Lewis, “A Preface to Paradise Lost”)
The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.
(Martin Luther, Table Talk)
In Book 2 of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan holds council in Pandemonium with his fallen angels in the wake of their expulsion from heaven. Moloc presses for further war. Mammon suggests that devils should form an independent republic, preferring “hard liberty before the easie yoke” of heaven. Beelzebub proposes that hell might exact revenge on God and “interrupt his joy” by corrupting the newly created race of men.
But in the midst of this, one of them actually says something sensible. Advising against further hostile action, the devil Belial makes the observation that such plans cannot hope to succeed against God:
… what can force or guile [achieve against] him? Or who deceive his mind, whose eye Views all things at one view? He from heav’ns highth, all these our motions vain, sees and derides … Then wise to frustrate all our plots and wiles.
Now this is all poetic speculation, of course. And yet Belial’s comment contains a deep theological truth. If God is actually GOD—not just a demigod; not just a bigger version of humans or angels—then no plan can succeed against him. His relationship to time and history is entirely different. He is outside the system. Satan is no more likely to overcome or surprise him than Sauron might overcome J.R.R. Tolkien or Darth Vader defeat George Lucas.
If God is actually GOD, Satan is no more likely to overcome or surprise him than Sauron might overcome J.R.R. Tolkien or Darth Vader defeat George Lucas.
The good news for us (and bad news for the Devil) is that God is GOD. He alone declares the future (Is 41:26; 45:21 etc.) He alone “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). He alone has the final say over chance and politics (Prov 16:33; 21:1). He alone (together with his Son) holds the scroll of history (Rev 5).
God’s Proven Sovereignty
These declarations of Scripture are more than vindicated by the events of history. As evil crucifies Jesus it suddenly finds itself working out “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). When it scatters the church it spreads the word (Acts 8:1-4). When it persecutes and murders Christ’s people it causes the Spirit of glory to shine forth (1Pet 1:14).
God will win. His power is so incomparable that he deliberately does things that look stupid to show that there is no contest at all. As Paul writes:
… the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Cor 1:25)
And to rub it in…
None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (2Cor 2:8)
These are great truths to remember as we come back to Halloween and our society’s burgeoning preoccupation with stories of darkness and the occult. It’s even better to remember them when we look around the world and see real evil at work: howling down God’s people; mocking the truth; burning churches and killing Christians.
God is not constrained, surprised or thwarted by any of this. As the nations rage “he who sits in the heavens laughs [and] holds them in derision” (Ps 2:4). He steals the prey out from the devil’s teeth. He exposes the weakness of Satan by defeating him with a cross. He sends out a gospel that allows puny humans to defeat the prince of darkness (Rev 12:11).
So, in the end, evil is stupid. It’s real; it causes a lot of fuss. But it’s a fantasy. It’s founded on myths that are laughably untrue and makes plans that cannot possibly succeed. From the perspective of Heaven, evil is a “small and passing thing”*; a silly night of make believe and dress-ups where creatures pretend that God isn’t GOD.
It will over be soon.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
* J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King