The Bible tells us that God knows everything in the entire universe (Jeremiah 23:24). He's also perflectly powerful. Nothing is too difficult for Him to do (Jeremiah 32:27). And He’s infinitely good (Psalm 52:1, NKJV).* He designed everything in the entire universe to work in perfect harmony.
Logically speaking, if God is all-powerful, all-knowing and infinitely good, there should be no opportunity for sin to take root, much less to thrive. And yet sin does exist. You have suffered from it and so have I.
So does God have good intentions but lacks the power to prevent sin? Or does He have the power but not care enough about us to eliminate it? Or is His knowledge limited so that sin took Him unawares and now He doesn’t know what to do about the problem?
A deity limited in any of these ways wouldn’t be a creating, sustaining, infinite God worthy of our complete devotion. Our perfect God and sin are morally and logically incompatible. They cannot exist in the same universe. Yet they do.
There can be only one way this impossibility can be possible: God chose, for some compelling reason, to allow sin to continue.
Behind the scenes
The first chapters of Genesis describe a flawless created world. When the Bible says, “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25), it means that everything on our planet operated flawlessly. There was no death, there were no accidents or natural disasters, no creatures with an appetite for other creatures, and no corrupt or selfish thoughts in the minds of the first man and woman. Furthermore, God created us in His image (Genesis 1:27), meaning that He intended us to be as sinless and happy as He is.
But a drama unfolded in another part of God’s universe. It began with a superior angel in heaven. The prophet Isaiah calls him the “morning star” (Isaiah 14:12), though we know him better by his Latin name, Lucifer. He truly was a superior being whom the Bible describes as “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12). God gave him tremendous responsibilities in the heavenly realms.
He was “anointed as a guardian cherub . . . on the holy mount of God” (verse 14). Lucifer was “blameless in [his] ways from the day [he was] created till wickedness was found in [him]” (verse 15).
How can wickedness suddenly appear in an otherwise perfect being? The Bible ascribes it to pride: “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendour” (verse 17). This led Lucifer to say to himself, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God. . . . I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13, 14).
This angel, nurturing an arrogant aspiration to be God, started a war in heaven between the angels who were loyal to God and those who followed him. By now he was no longer the morning star but “that ancient ser- pent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).
Losing the war, Satan was “hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (verse 9), where, eventually, he confronted the newly created, and apparently still somewhat naive, first inhabitants of our planet.
The fateful choice
Satan’s temptation of Eve (Genesis 3:1–6) was more than a decision about a piece of fruit. That encounter beneath a tree in Eden defined God’s problem with evil.
Please remember that God had created human beings with a spark of Godlikeness. Like Him, we were to be free creatures—free to create, reason and grow. God didn’t want programmed robots with never a surprise or a tinge of novelty. He wanted us to make choices, just as He makes choices; to create, just as He creates. And so we, like Adam and Eve, are free to decide to follow either God or His challenger, Satan. Sadly for Eve, she doubted God’s instructions, choosing instead to listen to Satan.
But God couldn’t simply zap Satan, his evil angels and the fallen Adam and Eve out of existence and tart over. Anyone looking on (for example, the angels who’d remained true to God) would always have been gnawed by this suspicion: If I don’t do precisely what God wants me to— if I say anything but “yes” to His every whim—He’ll obliterate me too! How could you have a happy, relaxed relationship with God if you felt like that around Him? And moreover could you love Him?
That’s why God, in His infinite wisdom, let humans choose between obedience to Him and the temptations of Satan. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose disobedience, an outcome that has marred God’s creation and our happiness down to the present day. Today, you and I are bombarded with choices in matters of belief, morality and behaviour. Sometimes we make good choices and other times we succumb to the temptations of Satan.
How God won
A football coach once commented to me that “sometimes, it’s pretty clear in the first quarter how the game is going to end, but we don’t call off the game. We let it play out so it’s clear to everyone that the process was fair.”
So it was with God and His created universe. Rather than calling a halt to this tainted creation, God allowed it to “play out” so it would be clear to everyone in the universe that He was being fair. And He devised a way for you and me to be saved from the effects of sin—even from our own bad choices! He sent Jesus, a Member of the Godhead, to live among us, to overcome temptation and to pay the price for our sins (John 3:16). We can’t overcome evil on our own, but Jesus can—and did. If we place our trust in Jesus, He will get us through the difficulties of a sinful world to a world restored to as perfect a state as He created it in the first place.
The Reformer Martin Luther recounted a dream where he’d found himself before God on judgement day and Satan was there to accuse him. Satan unrolled a scroll on which were recorded all of Luther’s sins. Luther despaired when Satan pointed them out. Everything Satan said was true. So how could Luther possibly escape God’s condemnation and be saved?
Then Luther remembered the cross of Christ and turning to Satan he said, “There is one entry which you have not made, Satan. It is this: ‘The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin’ [1 John 1:7].”
It’s natural for us to feel afraid when we think about God’s judgement. We’ve all committed sins (Romans 3:23). But the story of the conflict between God and Satan teaches us that our salvation is God’s responsibility. He made us. He knows we’ve been born into a world of sin. So as you and I appear before God, a bigger question than our own behaviour is this: Did God treat fairly all of us who have entrusted our lives to His Son, Jesus?
The answer, of course, is Yes! Jesus is our Advocate—our Attorney. He has lived among us. He knows how hard life is for us. He offers us the perfect defence. He can say, “I’ve paid the price of sin for every one of these people. Father, they’re Mine! Take them into Our kingdom!”
That’s why the disciple John reassured us that we can “know that [we] have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Not just wonder whether we’ll have eternal life. Not merely hope for it. No! Because of Jesus, we can know that we have a home in heaven (John 14:1–3).
The great controversy between God and Satan hasn’t ended, but the victor has already been decided. And that, through Jesus Christ, is you!