“So is Satan an agent of God?”
There is a knee-jerk response, “Of course not.” But is that response correct? The question had been asked by an incredibly intelligent man, a lawyer no less, trained in logic, argument, and debate. His question was valid and a direct result of our conversation that morning in small group. His question came from a position of humility; he was not trying to prove a point but genuinely trying to learn more about Christ. So how do we explain our temptations?
Our temptations come from a number of sources. The world (or our culture and values we absorb from our culture) is a common source of temptation. (Romans 12:2) Our fallen nature produces plenty all by itself, but God tempts no one. (James 1:13-14). The devil tempts us, as we know from Jesus’ battle in the wilderness. He is also allowed from time to time and in order to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives, to “sift us like wheat,” (Luke 22:31). But that is not the same as being God’s agent. Satan, it appears, is always looking for ways, and has to ask permission, to do evil things in order to break our faith. As Paul says, Satan is allowed to poke us with various pains in order to help us maintain humility
Why must we endure, like Paul, our “thorn in the flesh”? (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). There have been many times in my life that I have prayed for Christ to deliver me from sin, to take away the temptations. “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36 ESV. If Christ came that I might be free and free indeed, then why don’t I feel free? Why doesn’t the almighty, omniscient, creator of the universe, release me from this pain and suffering? Is he just sadistic? May it never be. Jesus loves us beyond our comprehension. His motivation in all things is first and foremost love for us. If this is true and he desires the very best for us, then why must we suffer our particular “thorns”? Paul wrote, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV
What exactly was Paul’s thorn? We aren’t really sure. Some theologians believe it was a chronic eye infection; in which case, a physical weakness could not be construed as a temptation. On the other hand, it seems Paul, a gifted and well-educated speaker and writer, was intentionally ambiguous and vague in the description of his thorn.
First Paul says he has a thorn in order that he might not become conceited. Paul had been given great revelation by God in order that the saints through the ages might know Christ through His inspired word. That had to be a very heady experience for the apostle, yet he was humbled in order that he might not be puffed up. Paul prayed that the thorn would be removed but it wasn’t. Christ accepts our prayers even if He doesn’t remove our thorns. Christ gives us Grace in a sufficient and equal measure to our thorn. Why? So that our strength is made perfect in our weakness. If we had no weakness, what would there be to overcome? If we were never tempted, how would we rely on Christ’s strength to work in us?
Is it indeed possible that Christ Jesus, who loves us more than his own life (Greater love has no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends.), is it possible that He has a plan for our good that outsmarts our enemy, that uses our temptations, a plan to train us into warriors for his Kingdom? I knew two different friends in high school who had their own thorns and just gave in or gave up. I knew them both as children and believe that they met Jesus but they succumbed to their thorns. One died of AIDS. The other has disappeared and even his family doesn’t know where he is. He is either living under a bridge somewhere, or in jail, or in a grave. Nevertheless, if they truly did meet Jesus, they will be in heaven and at the great feast.
What then is the benefit to fighting and struggling and suffering? When someone gives up and succumbs to their battle, there are no works that survive. They can be saved “as through fire”, but what is the long-term eternal consequence? Their experience of Jesus and his salvation is limited to an eternity of mild gratitude. An overcomer, however, gets to know Jesus now and their works will be proven on the day of judgment. Only the works of gold, silver, and precious stones will survive. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Ultimately the most important reward may be a much deeper intimacy with Jesus Christ for all of eternity.
So, is Satan an agent of God? I don’t believe that God’s original plan was that we suffer so, but I also believe that our God is so far greater than our adversary, that He uses Satan’s plans against us and turns them on their head so that we might gain a greater reward because of our perseverance.
Thank you, Jesus, for my infirmities, my thorns, my weaknesses, that I might know you and your redemption and dwell with you in a growing intimate relationship for all eternity.