Why Does God Allow the Devil to Live? (and a Couple Other Good Questions)

A friend of mine posted these questions, which her children had asked her, on Facebook today.  They were such good questions, and they struck me as the kind of questions people are asking at every age–certainly not just in childhood. I humbly submitted my response (which were written for kids, mind you), and I share that now with you.

The questions:

  • Why did God just not send Satan to death?
  • Why didn’t God just restart the world?
  • God knew that Satan was going to keep doing bad stuff so why didn’t He just put him in a cage or something?
  • Why did God create Satan if He knew he’d do bad things?

My response:

The Bible answers these questions, but not always exactly in the way we would like! There are three perspectives the Bible offers to the question.

First, God is God, and His ways are not our ways. We know He is good, but He is also WAY smarter than we are (obviously! He’s GOD!). Romans 9:20 says “But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God?” In other words, at some point we just have to trust Him, that He knows what He’s doing!

Second, God is so GOOD, that He has a plan to make everything work out for good. He has already planned it out ahead of time. He has even planned it so that, when bad people or spirits (like the devil) choose to do evil things, God makes those bad things work out for good in the end. That’s pretty amazing, right? Romans 8:28 says that, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers (who had been super evil to him), “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!” The worst thing that ever happened was when the Son of God, who had NEVER done ANYTHING wrong, was killed. Satan probably thought he had won–that he had beaten God! But God used that terrible sin to save all His people! The joke’s on the devil, because Jesus wins every time!

Third, we can have peace about these questions, the more we get to know Jesus. In Philippians 4:7, God tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The more we live with God, trusting in Jesus, following the Holy Spirit who lives inside God’s children, the better we feel about life, and God’s control over the world. The Bible says (in Romans 1:17) that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel (the good news about Jesus) “from faith for faith.” In other words, when we trust in Jesus, God gives us His Holy Spirit who helps us trust in Jesus more and more and more.

So to summarize it…

  1. God knows what He’s doing… even though we don’t!
  2. God’s plan is not just to make a good world, but to bring about a good world in which good completely wins the victory over evil. God will bring every bad thing that the evil devil does around for good. Take that, Devil!
  3. God will help you understand and trust Him more and more–even when you don’t totally get it, because He’s always with you!

Spread the News! New Resources Posted!

FYI, I’ve just posted two new resources that I hope will be useful. The first is for Spanish-speaking parents: a Spanish translation of the New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones (thanks to Antonio Salgado).

And the second is for churches to use in equipping their people to share their faith. You can find them both at the top of this page in the Resources & Media tab.

Catechism Qs 6-7

What did God make?  

God made me and everything.

How did God make everything?

Out of nothing, by His word.  

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (NIrV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:1-3 (ESV)

Q5 teaches a truth about reality, that sets Christianity apart from other religions. In its essence, it is answering the question, “Is all one?” The Bible’s answer to the question is no. All is not one. Rather, reality is clearly and distinctly divided into two separate categories: Creator and creation. The Creator is not part of creation, but He is instead its explanation. Why is this so important? Because as a human species, we have so often gotten this wrong. In fact, Peter Jones has pointed out that every other concept of reality, besides the biblical one, is really just another way of saying, “all is one.” Ever since the Garden of Eden, we humans have been attempting to blur the line between God and man, between creation and Creator. It is in our natures to do this–which is evident when we survey world religions and the various worldviews that exist out there. We humans are constantly trying to (a) make ourselves equal to God, or (b) make God equal to His creation. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to survey all the worldviews that do this right now, but we will look quickly at one example: Philosophical Materialism.

Philosophical Materialism is a worldview that says that matter and energy is all that exists. There is no soul (the mind is a product of physical processes); there is no God. The material universe is all there is. The cosmos is its own creator. In other words, all is one. Think about this: if there is no God, and matter is all there is, and we are matter–and we are the “highest evolved” form of matter in the universe, then we get to define our own reality for ourselves. After all, there is no one and nothing higher than homo sapiens to define reality for us. We are the ultimate authority in the cosmos. We are, for all intents and purposes, gods.

Of course, when you follow this line of thinking out to its inevitable conclusions, this means that those who are stronger have more authority to define reality than those who are weaker (after all, who’s to say they don’t?), and it opens the door to all kinds of oppression of the powerless by the powerful. Isn’t it ironic, that a worldview which strives to free humanity ultimately ends up enslaving it? That is what happens when we substitute our own ideas for the truth about reality, expressed in Scripture. We are not going to come up with a better system than the loving God has put in place. After all, He is Creator, and we are merely creation. 

The Bible contradicts Materialism (and its twin siblings Naturalism and Scientism) in its very first sentence: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Right from the start, Scripture teaches that all is not one. The cosmos is not all there is, and it did not and could not create itself. There is a distinction between the contingent creation, which might not have existed, and the necessary Creator, who could not not exist.

Someone could be a practical materialist, even if he or she did not consciously subscribe to Philosophical Materialism. How? By living as though material things were all that mattered. There is a reason why greedy and vain people are called “materialistic.” It is important to check our hearts, because the “stuff” of this world can easily become more important to us than the Lord who made all the stuff, and graciously provides it to us to enjoy, steward, and share with others. One day Jesus will return, and it will not matter then how much “material” we have accumulated.

So, the “bad news” for us is this: we are not the highest authority in the universe. God made us, and He made everything. He has the rights of the Builder, and He gets to do what He wants. To our natural, sinful selves, this really seems like bad news. We want to be creator–in charge, autonomous.

But when the Lord opens a sinner’s eyes, and when He causes us to see Jesus as He truly is–as the rightful king of creation–our relative cosmic powerlessness becomes the best news in the world. It is the very thing that brings us into the relationship we were designed to enjoy. When we confess that we are utterly helpless to right our wrongs and reconcile us to Him, and when we trust in His Son alone to save us, He makes us children of the Creator God, who made us and everything.

Further reading: 

Only Two Religions, a book and teaching series by Peter Jones. Find it at Ligonier Ministries.

Catechism Q5

How much does God know? 

God knows everything! 

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking plainly. You are using examples that are clear.  Now we can see that you know everything. You don’t even need anyone to ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

John 16:29-30 (NIrV)

Jesus spoke to him a third time. He asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter felt bad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He answered, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:17 (NIrV)

If our hearts judge us, we know that God is greater than our hearts. And he knows everything.

1 John 3:20 (NIrV)

So far, we have seen that there is one true God, who exists in three Persons. Question five teaches us that God knows all things. He is omniscient [omnishuh nt], or all-knowing.

Theologians disagree about how exactly the Lord knows everything.

Is God like an observer, standing outside time and viewing it all, as one might look down at a village in a valley from the top of a mountain, where the houses in the village are moments in time, all laid out before Him?

Or does God know the future because He has declared it? Does He know all things because He is the Author of the universe’s story? This certainly seems to be what the Bible teaches. The Lord is portrayed in Scripture as not only an observer but as the Author; yet He did not just pre-determine what would happen and then sit back.

The Bible presents God as intimately involved in the narrative of the world. And of course, the ultimate example of His involvement is in the person of Jesus Christ–God in the flesh, who entered into our world to experience humanity firsthand and save us from ourselves.

God is the God who knows us, both by virtue of being our Designer, as well as by His own experience.

What does all this mean for you and your family? It means many things, but among them is the truth that God really knows you–not just about you. If you are His child, if you are part of His family, then He knows you as a Father. Everything you have ever thought, said and done–and all that you ever will–is laid out before the Lord who wrote your story and knows everything.

He has been providing for you since the moment you were conceived. This is the God who invites you and your children into a relationship with Himself–as His servant, as His subject, but also as His child and His friend.

As the New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones progresses, we will get into the weeds of the human story, what went wrong with us, what is our only hope, and how to enjoy a relationship with the all-knowing God. Stay tuned. And again, if this has been helpful to you, your family, or your church, please let me know in the comments.

Catechism Qs 3-4

How many Persons are in the Godhead?

Three!

Who are the Persons in the Godhead?

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened. Jesus saw the Spirit of God coming down on him like a dove.  A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, and I love him. I am very pleased with him.”

Matthew 3:16-17 (NIrV)

May the grace shown by the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. May the love that God has given us be with you. And may the sharing of life brought about by the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIrV)

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit….

Matthew 18:19 (NET)

Going back to the early years of this American experiment, there was a growing concern around the issue of diversity. The first settlers to arrive here from the Old World were English, but it did not take long for a large number of German immigrants to arrive. The Americans of English descent, then, began to worry that their anglo culture would be overcome by the norms, traditions, and religion of the Germans. It was a question of, how will this country achieve a sense of unity amidst all this diversity. Of course, there were two other people groups on the scene–namely the Native Americans and African-Americans–and it could be argued that the anglos did not exactly incorporate these two groups very well (but that is a discussion for another time).

Today, the question of unity amidst diversity has not gone away. In many ways it has intensified. And the question is relevant on every level, from a global scale (how will refugees from Syria integrate into Western culture?) down to our own homes (how will my son who wants to watch “Ninja Turtles” get along with his sister who is dying to watch “Strawberry Shortcake?”)

In the Bible, the question of unity and diversity is solved. And the answer comes in the very nature of who God is. The Scriptures present God to us as one God, ever-existing in three Persons. These are not three “personalities,” as though God were schizophrenic, but actual, distinct Persons. And yet God is one.

So, Christianity is monotheistic, believing in the one true God. Yet the one God has revealed to us as a Trinity–a tri-unity or “three-one-ity.” So there it is: God, the foundation of reality, in whom we all live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28) is united-in-diversity. The Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. And these three are one.

If your children are toddlers, do not expect them to grasp this concept (as an adult, do you grasp it?!). It is enough for now that they know that there is one true God, and there are three persons in the “Godhead,” or divine nature. And this basic doctrine can be the foundation upon which you can build into your kids the complementary truths that (1) different does not automatically mean bad, and (2) it’s good to be united around what really matters.

The Doctrine of the Trinity is essential for understanding how the Church, which is a diverse bunch if ever there was one(!), can be one family–and how a family can love each other, even if its members are not all the same.

How does the Doctrine of the Trinity affect the way you see the world? Let me know.

Catechism Q2: Is there more than one true God?

Is there more than one true God?

No!

Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is the one and only God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIrV)

I wanted you to understand that I am the one and only God. Before me, there was no other god at all. And there will not be any god after me.

Isaiah 43:10b (NIrV)

You are my witnesses. Is there any other God but me? No! There is no other Rock. I do not know even one.

Isaiah 44:8b (NIrV)

The Bible makes it clear, over and over again, that there is one God. There is one great King who sits on the universe’s throne. Sure, there are many false claimants to God’s throne–many who are called “gods”–but there is only one true God. In a way, this makes Christianity a very simple faith. And it sets Christianity against a litany of other religious options, such as…

  • Polytheism–(ancient paganism and modern Hinduism) teaches that there are many gods and spirits, who must be appealed to for different needs. However the Bible teaches one God, who supplies all our needs.
  • Henotheism (ancient regional religions and similar to Mormonism) teaches that there are many gods, but only one “for us.” Yet the Bible says that there is only one God, and He is God of all, and must be worshiped by all.
  • Pluralism (modern, Western political correctness) teaches that all views of God are equally valid. However, the Bible teaches that there is only one correct view of God, and that is the view He Himself reveals to us.
  • Gnosticism and Arianism (practiced in the first few centuries A.D. and similar to what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe) teach that there is one high God, and at least one created, demi-god under Him. Yet the Bible teaches that there is only One deserving of the title “God,” and that is the uncreated God, the Lord, the Creator of everything.

Whether or not someone subscribes to one of the religions mentioned above, our modern world is filled with false gods–as my son Cubby and I call them, “pretend gods.” Scripture calls them idols.

An idol–a pretend god–is not just something you bow down in front of. Tim Keller defines an idol this way:

It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

We are tempted to give our hearts over to false “gods” every day. That’s why this basic, biblical truth, summed up in just one short word, is so important: “Is there more than one true God? No!

Catechism Q1: Who is God?

The Lord is God! 

“Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is the one and only God”

Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIrV)

“Know that the Lord is God. He made us, and we belong to him. We are his people. We are the sheep belonging to his flock.”

Psalm 100:3 (NIrV)

“The Lord is God. He has been good to us.”

Psalm 118:27a (NIrV)

Many people say they believe in “God,” but that begs the question, What do you mean by “God?” The Bible teaches us that there is only one God, and He has a name–revealed in Scripture as “YHWH,” which is often written as “Yahweh” (this is also where the name “Jehovah” comes from).

For the ancient Israelites, the name of God was considered too sacred to say, so when Scripture was read aloud, the word Adoni (Hebrew for Lord) was used as a substitute. By the time the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the word Kyrios (Lord) was standing in for YHWH. This is where we get our contemporary practice of writing “LORD” (all caps) in our English Bible translations. Whenever you see LORD in the Old Testament, you’re reading a stand-in for God’s name, YHWH.

The almighty God, the Creator of everything, is the God who reveals Himself to us. He has told us His name. We do not have to pontificate and postulate our own ideas about who the Divine Being might be. He has told us: “The Lord is God!”

Here’s an excerpt of me doing this question with my two-year-old daughter, AnnaSophia:

Introducing the New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones

Back in 2014, I got the bright idea to start catechizing our children, beginning with our oldest son, Jakob, who was two at the time. Jakob (“Cubby”) and I started in on the New City Catechism by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas, which is a really helpful resource. Over the last three years, however, I found that my theology was developing, and I wanted a catechism for my kids that was a little more specific in certain areas, and that reflected some of my own clarified theological convictions. I did some research online, and discovered a number of really good catechisms aimed at children–many of which date back to the 18th and even the 17th Centuries–written by Puritans, Reformers, and even my personal hero and mentor, Charles Spurgeon. However, while these catechisms were good, none of them was quite what I was looking for.

So I decided to write my own.

I pored over the catechisms I had discovered, as well as historic and modern confessions of the faith.  I drew on them extensively, with my Bible open, checking the cross-references for biblical accuracy. After months and months of work, I finished it. Then I submitted it to some pastor friends, to put fresh eyes on it and tell me any changes they would make (the “New Covenant” in the title comes from Brother Paul Kaiser of New Covenant Baptist Church in Sacramento, CA).

The finished product, which I humbly present to you, is in accordance with the historic, orthodox Christian faith, rediscovered by the Reformation and restored recently by the movement known as New-Covenant Theology. It is not explicitly “confessional,” though it is in agreement with the 1644/1646 First London Baptist Confession of Faith.

I hope the New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones is of help to parents, children, and everyone who wants to grasp the foundational beliefs of Christianity. Eventually, I want to post some videos of me teaching it to my own children.

Antonio Salgado (missionary at Iglesia Bautisto de Hato Mayor) is currently working on a Spanish translation, so stay tuned for that.

Please, do not reproduce and distribute this without my express permission; if you do use it, give me proper attribution. And if you find it useful, let me know! I am happy to help in any way I can.

Click here for the catechism.

Frame (& Settecase) on Education

John M. Frame, in Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction” (Presbyterian & Reformed: Phillipsburg, 1994), writes:

One of the more unfortunate repercussions of America’s distorted view of “the separation of church and state” is that the public school children are able to hear advocacy of every system of thought except those that are arbitrarily labeled ‘religious.’ Who is to say that the truth might not be found in, or even limited to, one of these religious positions? Is it even remotely fair, in terms of freedom of thought and speech, to restrict public education to allegedly secular viewpoints? Is this not brainwashing of the worst kind?

While it’s not possible to advocate for every worldview extant in the world, it doesn’t really seem fair to exclude worldviews solely because the department heads have decided they fit into the category of “Religion,” does it?

Where does that distinction come from, anyway? Is anyone seriously going to argue that Atheistic Communism does not have all the trappings of religion, or that radical Islam does not meet the definition of “worldview?”

Christian parents need to remain vigilant as to what our kids are learning “out there,” and we must prepare to address Christianity’s conflict (and overlap) with all the worldviews our children may encounter, whether religious or “secular.”

As a Christian, your Lord, Jesus Christ, has all authority in heaven and on earth. Because that is true, you can be confident that the Bible (the fountainhead of the Christian worldview) has answers to all the questions and inconsistencies posed by the other worldviews. Is it arrogant to think that your worldview is the only totally correct worldview? Yes–but only if you invented it yourself. But you didn’t invent it yourself. You got it (and get it) from God. And you can trust Him to tell you the truth.

Here are a few Bible verses about that to chew on:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

Now go tear down some ideological strongholds for your kids! Unless you trust their public schoolteachers to do it for you.