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What Purpose Satan?

The defeat of Satan in heaven should have rendered him obsolete. As odd as rebellion in Heaven seems, it’s even more strange that God should allow such a being as Satan to continue to exist at all. And not only to continue to exist, but to continue to exist in such a way that he is able to still interfere with God’s plans. What possible reason could God have for allowing this? Why not just eliminate Satan?

In Book I, after Satan has his initial discourse with Beelzebub (two separate persons in Paradise Lost), Milton reveals three reasons why God permits Satan to have freedom to rebel:

  1. Satan’s continued rebellion only serves to bring just damnation on himself. By allowing Satan freedom, it’s almost as if God makes Satan his own prison guard.
  2. It allows Satan to see all his evil intentions and actions merely end up being used by God for good in the end.
  3. It confuses Satan and shows both him and everyone else that he is ultimately powerless.

Here we see right off the bat the futility of rebellion against omnipotence. It’s not that God is powerless to stop it, it’s that the very act of rebellion is part of the plan.

But here’s the intriguing aspect to what Milton has written. It’s not enough that God is actually just and righteous. It seems more important to Milton that God is seen to be just and righteous – seen to be just not only by us, but by Satan as well. If Satan were annihilated, or made to be causally impotent, that would certainly demonstrate God’s power and his justice, but Satan himself would not be able to acknowledge the fact. Beelzebub begrudgingly admits this to himself after he realizes his defeat, when he speaks of God and says “whom I now of force believe almighty”.

Is this need to be ‘seen to be just’ a weakness on God’s part? Or does perfect justice demand it? I’m not certain. If Satan were to have been utterly destroyed after his rebellion, certainly Satan would have lost, but perhaps not. Perhaps in some way, Satan would have won.

A continued existence in which Satan is free to continue to rebel doesn’t seem cruel and unusual either, but rather compassionate. It’s not as if an existence in hell necessarily precludes the possibility of forgiveness, but rather – the state of being in hell is one in which you don’t want to be forgiven.

  1. James Rivera
    March 17, 2012 at 9:37 am

    I have a differing point of view satan. I believe satan was defeated at Calvary and rendered powerless. We as humans fall short because of our sinful nature passed down from Adam and Eve. So when we sin its not because satan or his fallen angels are causing us to stumble. Rather we consciencely deside to disobey God and satisfy our fleshly desires. The consequence of our sins empower a powerless being.

  2. March 17, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Certainly our sinful natures are responsible for much of our shortcomings, but I’m not sure how to reconcile your view with what Peter says (post Calvary) about being alert because Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion. I agree with you about Satan’s defeat at Calvary. But it seems like Scripture paints a picture of him that is still pretty active even though he’s defeated.

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