When I was much younger, I had this idea that there was a mighty struggle between good and evil. God was (of course) leading the forces of light, while the Devil (aka Satan) was leading the forces of darkness. You would see this epic clash play out in literature and film, with secular works such as Star Wars but even with obviously Christian fiction such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
But it turns out I that I was totally wrong. There were certain key events in the Bible that showed how obviously incorrect my view was, but I just didn’t have the capacity back then to take these passages at face value. Here are some examples:
==> Exodus 9: “11The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians. 12And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
13Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.””
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
8Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
9“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
==> Jeremiah 27:6: “Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him.”
==> 2 Chronicles 36: “22Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah—the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 23“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!’””
==> Isaiah 53: “9His [the Messiah’s] grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”
“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”h
39For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
40“He [the LORD] has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”i
Let me go again to my analogy workhorse, Star Wars. In the world of the movies, did Anakin Skywalker choose a path of evil? Yes he did. Wait, wasn’t it really his lightsaber that killed all those kids? Eh, sure, but the lightsaber didn’t have free will; it was purely an instrument in the hands of Anakin. He was the one who murdered the young Jedis in training.
Now it’s true, Anakin didn’t simply turn from a good little boy into Darth Vader on his own initiative. He was seduced by Palpatine (who would later become the Emperor). But even though Palpatine influenced Anakin, that is not the same thing as saying Anakin controlled his lightsaber. Anakin still had free will, even though he came under the spell of Palpatine.
We clearly see a battle between good and evil in Star Wars. But who is the analog of God? Is it Yoda? Nope. Is it “the Force”? Nope. It’s George Lucas. He not only creates and leads the good guys, he also creates and “leads” the bad guys. Darth Vader and the Emperor are the servants of Lucas, allowing him to tell the story so his work can fulfill its purpose. George Lucas isn’t a bad guy even though there is an obvious sense in which he killed the young Jedis in training, via his total sovereignty over the actions of Anakin Skywalker.
The same is true of God in our universe. He is in total control. We have free will, and choose to commit evil, and the Devil tempts us and tricks us into following a path that leads to our destruction. Yet, at the same time, God is in absolute control and oversees it all; everything unfolds according to His divine plan which He knew before the universe existed. God is not a sinner, even though He permits sin and has the power to stop it, and indeed incorporates sin into His plan.
At this point various Christian sects go in different directions. For example, Calvinists are pretty hardcore and go places with God’s sovereignty over Satan that even other born again Christians shy away from. (Check out this message from John Piper to see an example.) But for sure, every Bible-believing Christian acknowledged that there is no real battle between God and Satan, in the sense that it’s a nail biter and we’re not sure which side will triumph. If God had wanted to, He could have destroyed Satan in the Garden of Eden, or after the Flood, or two weeks after Jesus ascended into heaven, or… The reason Satan is still influencing our world is that God allows him to. This is nothing at all like Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, even though Aslan is a Christ figure. Aslan didn’t have the power to stop the Witch from hurting all of her victims over the years.