Satan has asked…

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Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”             Luke 22:31-32

Why do bad and tragic things happen to the nicest of people? Why is there suffering in the world? While philosophers and theologians have sweated over these questions for years trying to come up with some convincing theodicy, I would venture to contribute a very simple answer to the debate.

Bad things happen because “Satan asks”.

It is as if the generous faculty of prayer which God has offered and built into his creation has been profoundly understood, yet usurped, by the prince of darkness and deception.

One of the earliest books of the Bible ever to be written is the book of Job. In the very first chapters, Job 1:6-11, we see a kind of angelic prayer meeting as the “sons of God” come to present themselves to the Lord. Satan joins in the gathering and tries to undermine the divine eulogy of Job by saying that his integrity is based merely on self interest. “…Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face…”  Satan has a perverse logic in his asking that demands a response from the Lord. Simply destroying Satan would leave his perverted prayer unanswered, raising a question mark in eternity. So the Lord chooses to answer, through the suffering of his servant – a suffering which prefigures the ultimate answer to Satan’s jibe which came in the suffering form of Christ at Calvary.

Satan asks about Job, but he is continually asking about the servants of the Lord. Now it is Simon Peter’s turn to become the unfortunate object of Satan’s prayer. I wonder how many mighty leaders may have underestimated the terrible power of this demonic asking and found themselves in compromising circumstances? How many tragic events in world history may also find their origin in this shadowy orison?

Satan has been asking throughout history. Even when the Father affirmed his pleasure in His Son Jesus by declaring in Luke 3:22:

“You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Satan counter attacked with the twice twisted prayer question: “If you are the Son of God”, hammering home his final prayer proposition to usurp the very position of God.

“…if you worship me…”

The world suffers under this Satan onslaught of damning prayer. Many never seem to be able to rise above the dark tide. However, good news is on the way. For those who believe, there is a greater asking. “But I have prayed for you”

God himself has incarnated into intercessory prayer which at the same time satisfies and overcomes the enemies’ demands. He bled out a greater cry of victory in a prayer that straddles the history of mankind and redeems us from the claims of the evil one.

What might Jesus have prayed?

The great intercession of John 17 gives us some direction. “Glorify…” Jesus quest was always glory for the Father through his own glory. This can also be our own prayer in the midst of suffering. “…What shall I say? (pray)…Save me?…No…Glorify your name…” John 12:27-28

This prayer for glory opens heaven –“it thundered”, casts out and annuls the supplications of the enemy.

“Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” John 12:31

Jesus also prayed for protection for his chosen ones. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…protect them from the evil one.” John 17:11 &15

In Zechariah 3:2 we can also overhear the Lord’s stinging rebuke of the evil one’s prayerful accusation. “The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!”

Jesus prayed for Simon, and he is praying for you. He ever lives to intercede for his people – Hebrews 7:25.

Jesus prayer means that your faith will not fail. Don’t ever give up – maintain your place in the prayer of Christ. The only reason for a failure of prayer is in its ceasing! Jesus, ever lives to pray so never stop! Enter more fully into this “slow burn” prayer of victory.

You can always come home! This was a lesson the prodigal son learned and we must all recognise that, in the heat of the battle – and even in dismal failure, we can still overhear the victorious prayer of grace echoing down from the cross through the ages, and we can find our way back to the Lord.

The school of hard knocks holds much wisdom, and when we return, like Peter, we can indeed strengthen our brothers and sisters. The body of Christ in the world today needs the encouragement of grace filled servants, possessing the word of God on their lips and the intercession of Christ in their hearts, to be strengthened for the last battle and powerful to resist the Satanic supplications of the enemy’s asking.

May we continually enter into a greater asking, basking in the overcoming prayer of Christ.

“I have prayed for you…”

 

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14 responses »

    • Hi my friend,

      Good question…the nearest I got to an answer was in the phrase “God himself has incarnated into intercessory prayer which at the same time satisfies and overcomes the enemies’ demands. He bled out a greater cry of victory in a prayer that straddles the history of mankind and redeems us from the claims of the evil one.”

      God initiates a “satisfying” (answering?) which also overcomes. This entails suffering, as the story of Job shows as the Lord needed to “satisfy” Satan’s supplications. Anyway, still groping for revelation in a field where greater minds than mine have tried to apply some light. I think that mine is a more unique approach via prayer…perhaps…Feel free to add any of your own thoughts on this which are always appreciated…

    • Hi Neil, another attempt to grasp this difficult nettle. Not all forms of theological or religious beliefs find a problem in the presence of suffering in God’s world. A dualistic faith, for example, would realize that evil and suffering come from an “evil principle” which stands in contrast to one that is good. Being that Christianity is monotheistic though, we have to acknowledge (traditionally speaking) that suffering and evil come way by the influence of the one God whom we worship. Of course this problem becomes even more problematic when we consider the nature of God in the New Testament. The God that was revealed in Jesus Christ, who demonstrated love par excellence. Christianity certainly has a problem attempting to reconcile a God with a loving nature and who has absolute power, with a contradictory notion of evil and suffering ever-present in the world. As Daniel Day Williams states, “When tested for finite standards for benevolence, the God of tradition failed miserably. The strategy devised to protect the ascription of benevolence to God ironically lead to an admission of God’s inscrutability. And if God is inscrutably benevolent, has anything been said at all?”

      A Neo-Reformed/ Neo-Orthodox approach: Karl Barth and “Das Nichtige”

      Karl Barth is acknowledged to be one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. His Neo-Orthodox/Neo-Reformed approach has been championed by many, disavowed by others, but no one can deny his impact on twentieth century Christian theology.

      While it is true that Barth completed an exhaustive account of Christian belief (at least with in the tradition of the Reformed church), he did not systematically consider the problem of evil or Theodicy as such in his writings. The closest consideration we have to a proposed “theory of evil” lies in his concept of Das Nichtige (loosely translated as nothingness) which was explored in the third volume of his Church Dogmatics (CD). Barth’s intention with Das Nichtige was not to take up the role of evil for the first and definitive time, per say. Rather, he sought to provide a “clarity of the role of evil within the creation experience as it deals with the shadowside (Schattenseite) of the created world.”

      We will begin our analysis of the concept of Schattenseite even though it is not evil per say. Schattenseitte is appropriate as a starting point because it is the means by which evil becomes tangible in existence, and hence a reality. Schattenseite or “Shadowside” of creation is the “negative aspect of the universe. It has often been mistakenly identified with Das Nichtige (nothingness or pure evil) in a strong sense, but it truly has a different status as a necessary antithesis within the total creative world which the creator saw to be ‘very good.’” The Shadowside is essential and necessary for all created beings, according to Barth, and is brought froth from God’s creative action from God’s “negative side” and “positive will”. This, as opposed to absolutely good creation which is created from God’s “positive side” and “positive will”. Yet while this creation or Shadowside is negative or imperfect, so to say, it is still very usable and in that case is somewhat good. I might venture here to consider prayer as being a discovery and participation in God’s “positive will” even if, in human frailty and reality, it often verges on the shadow side.

      Barth explains that God created this shadowside because in every created being, there must be a yes and a no, “not only a height but an abyss, not only clarity but obscurity…yet it is irrefutable that creation and creature are good even in the fact that all exist in contrast and antitheses.” So every created being has this negative or antithetical aspect in them. It was necessary for God to create this aspect of humanity. One can think of the creation of Schattenseite as very similar to the creation of “nonbeing” in Paul Tillich’s ontology. It has to be stressed though that this Shadowside is not evil, in and of itself. Rather it is value neutral and is the means by which evil influences humanity. For instance, Barth cites disease and bodily pain as an result of the shadowside of humanity. In and of themselves they are not evil despite the labels we would attach to them, rather they are value neutral (neither good nor bad). Philosopher John Hick concludes that Barth notion of the Shadowside is akin to “metaphysical evil” which puts created beings on the “verge of collapse into non-being” but this according to Barth is what keeps us dependent on the perfect, divine being which is not “nothing” but is something which secures us. So, as alluded to before, the shadowside is not the opposite of God’s will, but “is fulfilled and confirmed in it” Yet if it becomes affected by Das Nichtige, it is sinful. It is when this Schattenseite operates from Das Nichtige that we see witness cruelty, wickedness, and evil in the world. This, I think is where I might situate the “Satanic asking” I have written about. The evil product of God’s “unwill”, praying and striving to undermine the purpose of God.

      Barth’s discussion of the problem of evil in CDIII/3 begins from an existential or praxis oriented position. At the outset, Barth relates evil to nothingness, especially when set in contrast to divine providence. According to Barth, nothingness is “not only inimical to the creature and its nature and existence, but above all to God himself and his will and purpose.”

      Das Nichtige was created from that which God has separated himself and is what God rejects outright. Barth states, “God wills and therefore opposes what he does not will, He says ‘yes’ and therefore says ‘no’ to that which He has not said Yes. He works according to his purpose and in so doing, rejects and dismisses all that gainsays it.” Perhaps “Satanic asking” may be a striving to impose a yes where God has said no. It is no doubt a place of intense warfare. So good is brought into existence by God’s will to bring forth a good universe and by willing this good creation, God has thus unwilled its opposite and this is what becomes Das Nichtige. This breed of nothingness is what lies in opposition to God, and it is this “breed of nothingness” which has freedom, power to oppose and pray.

      It is important to realize that this Nothingness has definite being in the universe. Barth explicitly states, “Das Nichtige ist nicht das Nichts” (Nothingness is not nothing). It has a definite ontic quality in that it is evil. “What God does not will and therefore negates and rejects, what can thus only be the object of His opus alienum, of His jealousy, and wrath, is a being that refuses and resists and is adverse to grace, hence nothingness.” This Nothingness is in the world as we know it and constantly strives to undermine the purpose of God. This Das Nichtige takes advantage of what makes us limited (Schattenseite) and influences us to act under pure evil. This is how Das Nichtige (or evil) becomes tangible and enters the world, according to Barth.

      In true Barthian fashion, this whole creation of the Schattenseite and is potential to be corrupted by Das Nichtige, is kept in view of the Christological framework he will produce and the “Doctrine of Reconciliation” (CD IV.1 &2). So because Christ participated in the Shadowside of creation, being limited as thus is really not a reason to be dismayed. Hence Christ participated in prayer. He was able to overcome the undermining “prayer” of “Das Nichtige”. “But I have prayed for you Peter.” Rather, it should be a “cause for rejoicing, for it is out of such that God brings light and life back to creation.” In the end God, through Christ has defeated Das Nichtige in the form of sin, but we, as created beings, are living in a world that is between the time of Christ’s incarnation and coming again. In that way, it seems as if Das Nichtige has won, but in the end, we must realize the Christ is the victor over all Nothingness.

      Well, a nice short easy answer for you!

      I’m aware that I still don’t think I have fully grasped the nettle – can we ever, but I think the adding of a “prayer” hermeneutic to the Barthian concept of “Das Nichtige” brings his often philosophical approach into the realms of of our practical prayer endeavour on the harsh fields of spiritual warfare.

      Any additions etc welcomed…

      • I think Johnny captures somrthing about the additionality of imposed warfare in this song – there is somrthing about suffering that puts gravel in our guts and helps us grow. Enjoy

  1. The first part of the post opens up many questions that cannot easily be asked or answered in a blog post. It brings in questions of Divine Omniscience, Omnipotence and even Pre-Destination (Does God foreordain suffering? Does He allow Satan to work so He can somehow get greater glory? ) Anyways, if we get into these questions of which there may be some profound disagreement, we will not get anywhere.

    So I will instead focus on those things I can heartily agree with. You say:

    “God himself has incarnated into intercessory prayer….He bled out a greater cry of victory in a prayer that straddles the history of mankind and redeems us from the claims of the evil one…..

    The great intercession of John 17 gives us some direction.

    ‘Glorify…’

    Jesus quest was always glory for the Father….

    This can also be our own prayer in the midst of suffering. ‘…What shall I say? (pray)…Save me?…No…Glorify your name…’ John 12:27-28.

    This has been my understanding from the Scriptures, this has been my experience in the midst of familial and personal suffering.

    Seek to Glorify the Father in the midst of Life; Good and Bad.

    Glorify His Name through your suffering.

    This does not mean you “give in” to suffering, nor accept as from God or Satan, God calls us to resist anything that is not good. Jesus’ resisted and yet His resistance was not what we would call resistance. His resistance came through victory on the cross and at the grave. Which brought about victory over death, hell and sin.

    And He was Glorified.

    Blessings,

    Thomas

    • Thanks so much for this Thomas…As they say, an experience is always more powerful than an argument, so your own journey is in itself a testimony to the “greater asking”. May you and yours be a great encouragement to help many on their own paths of pain and purpose…

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