Q. Did God really know that Satan would rebel? Why would such a monster be allowed to live? I just don’t think He would have let Satan near His other angels, or more importantly, near His earthly creation. I love my children, and if someone threatened them in any way I would do anything in my power to stop it. Satan went after Adam, and ever since then he’s been messing with people’s chances for salvation. God’s judgement was harsh on the enemies of the Israelites. Satan was and is much more wicked. Why hasn’t he been annihilated long ago? Is God really more powerful?
It’s difficult for us to reconcile the belief that God supremely loves his creatures with the thought that God created a monster that he knew would wreak horrible and eternal devastation among them.
So how do we explain the creation and continuing existence of Satan? Is God not all-knowing? (He didn’t realize Satan would rebel?) Or is God not all-powerful? (He thought he could stop Satan but then wasn’t able to?) Or is God simply not all-good? (He doesn’t care whether his creatures are destroyed?)
I think the solution to this problem lies in appreciating the radical nature of the freedom that God has endowed each of His intelligent creatures with. It’s hard for us to understand this because we are created and finite, but an eternal and infinite God can make creatures who are so free that their moral choices are not predetermined and so cannot be known in advance.
But isn’t God supposed to be omniscient and know everything, even the choices that we’re going to make? No, it is no failure in omniscience not to know what cannot be known. And the freedom God has given us is so radical and profound that the essential moral choices we will make cannot be known in advance.
Perhaps an illustration will help. The question of how God can be all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good at the same time, and still allow Satan to exist, is comparable to another question that has often been asked about God: If God is omnipotent, can God make a rock so big that he can’t move it?
The answer is “No.” Not because God isn’t omnipotent and therefore can’t either make the rock or move the rock. The answer is no because the contemplated action involves a logical contradiction and is therefore impossible, and it is no failure in omnipotence not to be able to do the impossible.
The logical contradiction is this: Any created thing is by definition finite, including the largest rock God could possibly make. A rock so big that God’s infinite power couldn’t move it would have to be of infinite mass instead. But nothing can be both finite (created) and infinite at the same time. This question is ultimately asking whether God can do the logically impossible (make something that’s “A” and “not-A” at the same time), and that’s something that by definition can’t be done. (I’m not talking about miracles here; God can do what is naturally impossible and beyond the scope of any earthly power.)
It’s a similar logical contradiction to ask whether God can know in advance what choice a truly free moral agent will make. Can God know what cannot be known? No, no one can.
The implications of this are that when God created the great angel Lucifer, who became Satan when he chose to disobey, God didn’t know for a fact in advance that Lucifer would fall. God’s intentions in creating Lucifer were not to turn a monster loose on his creation. Rather, God intended Lucifer to be an agent of good and blessing just like the archangels Michael and Gabriel, who throughout the Bible are recognized, in glimpses at least, as powerful agents of God’s salvation.
Imagine what good Lucifer could have done if he had used all of his splendor, intelligence, and might to serve God’s purposes in the creation! Imagine what any evil person could have done if they had used their powers in a positive way, and you’ll get a sense of what God had in mind when he created them.
Perhaps one question still remains: Why would God give his creatures freedom if the consequences of bad choices would be so devastating? Here’s the best way I’ve been able to understand this: God knows, in a way that we cannot know, that a world in which there is freedom, and thus the potential for both love and suffering, is infinitely better than a world that has no freedom, and thus neither love nor suffering, and God also knows that these are the only two possibilities.
Anything beyond this is mystery. But we don’t need to wonder about the goodness and power of God.
For a conversation with a reader about this post, see this follow-up.
For responses to two questions asked in a comment (below) about why a loving father would allow anything evil to tempt his daughter, see this post, and about whether God is so different in His dealings with us today as to be almost a different God from the one in the Bible, see this post.
This photograph of an angel sculpture from a church in Glasgow suggests the beauty, power, and potential for good that Lucifer had when he was originally created. (Photo by Norma Desmond)