What Is the Adversary's Role in our sufferings?
Dr. Jack Van Impe
We've briefly examined events in the lives of Adam and Eve, Job, and the apostle Paul, and we have, in fact, seen that the devil did have his hand in bringing suffering and trouble into their lives. Remember Paul's comment that his thorn in the flesh was the messenger of Satan to buffet him (see 2 Corinthians 12:7)?
One man, a failed-suicide, expressed the belief that the devil was responsible for his giving in to the urge to do away with himself. He said he felt like a pawn in a chess game going on between God and the devil. He felt he was being manipulated by both sides. This man's life was spared when a friend came to him before the overdosed medicine could do its deadly work. God, in His mercy, affected that rescue. There is much in Scripture which teaches that God's sovereign will in the affairs of men and nations will be accomplished. Here are just a few examples:
A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps (Proverbs 16:9).
We . . . being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11).
The devil is an adversary, and his many schemes to disturb the Christian's peace and bring unhappiness and suffering upon mankind have been with us since the Fall. However, we must recognize the clear teaching of the Bible that God both orders and controls all things. Satan does not always win. We are told in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that, The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Satan won a real victory in his temptation of Adam and Eve. They fell into his trap just as many people still do today in so many different ways. Yet, we Christians must recognize that Isaiah 25:8 is also in the Bible when we are confronted with this final blow of the enemy. It is a strong promise that provides sure footing for those who are trusting in God's sovereignty:
He [the Lord] will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.
Death is an enemy. Suffering and affliction often precede this enemy. This is all a part of the strategic battle plan between Satan and God, but the final victory for the Christian is God's. His solution to the thorns in the flesh and to death is to usher us into His presence in His own good time. And when that moment comes, the prophet Isaiah wrote, And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation (Isaiah 25:9).
Those Unfathomable "Secret Things"
Nor do I understand why the enemy "death" should rob Mary Dorr of the love and presence of her bright and promising young college-age son. His death came shortly after the tragic death of her husband who died while flying his private plane. It was only through the Lord's intervention that Mary's other son, who was with his father when he died, was able to bring that plane safely in for a landing. A year or so after this, Mary went through the death experience again when this second son died in his sleep at home.
When we hear about things like this, we often say, "It just doesn't make sense." From our vantage point, many of these things do not seem to have any rhyme or reason. But I like what Barbara Johnson told Rexella, "These are heartache situations, but God doesn't always promise a quick end to heartache situations:" Then she called attention to Deuteronomy 29:29, The secret things belong unto the Lord our God . . . .
Barbara added, "No, we don't understand these `secret' situations - why God allows a beautiful 20year-old Christian boy to go off the deep end and get involved in a homosexual lifestyle (or some other problem), bringing such sorrow and heartache to his family and to others. But through it all, I can tell you, God has used it to mold and shape us and to bring a depth of trusting Him into our lives unlike anything we ever experienced before. Through sorrow there can come joy and peace. It comes as you relinquish yourself and the `secret situation' causing you such heartache into the hands of God, and then God releases you so that you can reach out in loving care to others who need help . . . .
Barbara and others who have known deep suffering are testimonies to God's grace. I have heard them say they are glad that God has thrown a veil, as it were, across their way so that they haven't known what the immediate future held. We may not know the future, but we can know the One who holds the future in His hands and simply take life a step at a time. We can walk moment-by-moment with the One who controls our steps as well as our stops.
I've heard people say, "When I get to heaven, I'm going to ask the Lord . . . ." Then they will name the event that has brought such heartache to them or to others. But in the next breath I've heard many of those same people admit, "Still, I know that when I get to heaven all that has happened here won't matter there because all the pain, the sorrow, and the tears will be done." And how biblical that is. The Bible assures us that God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Revelation 21:4).
The apostle Paul talked of the mortal putting on immortality, and then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Paul is saying that God continues daily to give us this victory.
Doing Battle With the "Prince of This World"
The apostle Paul writes of the battle of the heavenlies and the work of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).
Satan's camouflaged attacks come in many forms. We are warned that they will come:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
But we are also told:
Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world (1 Peter 5:9).
And we are promised:
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you (1 Peter 5:10).
In Hebrews 11 we have what is often referred to as "The Roll Call of Faith." There we have a definition of faith: Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (v. 1). What does faith do? It gives substance to our hope.
These heroes and heroines of the faith demonstrated their faith in spite of suffering, affliction, pain, problems, and not being able to understand the "Whys?" of their particularly difficult circumstances. We are the recipients of the lessons their faithfulness teaches. After naming many of the Old Testament people, almost breathlessly, it seems, the writer says, And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of. . ." Then he names others (see verse 32) and goes on to say:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (vv. 33-38).
But the writer doesn't stop with that catalog of horrors. He goes on to remind us that these all, having obtained a good report through faith went on to their eternal reward. He speaks of them as being so great a cloud of witnesses and urges that we lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and . . . run with patience the race that is set before us (Hebrews, 12:1).
Still the writer is not finished. We are told how we can do this:
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds (vv. 2, 3).
Satan's planned afflictions are designed specifically to wear us down, to weary us, to exhaust us, to make us lose heart, and to turn against God. All too often we are tempted to murmur, complain, and criticize - and in these ways to give up on the Lord. Oh, how much we need to learn that WE CAN BE OVERCOMERS through the blood of the Lamb (see Revelation 12:11). The wedges Satan attempts to put between us and the Father are real, and they are designed to make us stop loving and trusting God. Satan, you see, is attacking God indirectly through His children. At such times we must shout boldly for any and all to hear, "Thanks be to God who giveth the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ!"
That is the only way to do battle with this enemy of our souls.
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Jack Van Impe Ministries
Troy MI 48007