One of the most disturbing trends in Christianity over the last couple hundred years is the idea of a sovereign devil. Personally I have never met a single Christian who would vocally affirm that they believe in a sovereign Satan; however I have found countless believers whose praxis affirms what their words would never say.
Allow me to make a few real case studies of how this plays out:
I have served on a number of Chrysalis Flights in my day. Chrysalis is a 3 day retreat for youth that inculcates them with the Gospel message in a meaningful way. (This study is not a dis of Chrysalis, I am gladly serving on the next retreat.) During the process of preparation for a Chrysalis weekend the team meets for 4 to 6 weeks prior to the weekend itself. At the conclusion of the last team meeting prior to the weekend there will be, without fail, a discussion among team members to be on the lookout for attacks from the ‘evil one’ during the week. In other words there is this thought that what is going to happen on that weekend is so wonderful that Satan is going to do everything in his power to stop it. When the team arrives on Thursday night to prepare for the weekend there inevitably is the conversation between some team members about the things Satan allegedly did to try to thwart the weekend. Usually it is their kid getting sick, having car trouble, or a stressful week at work. After these exchanges those involved in the discourse typically sit back and marvel at the work the evil did to try to distract them.
Case #1 analysis:
For those involved in these conversations Satan is sovereign over the work place which caused the stress. Satan is sovereign over the pot hole that sent their care to the shop. Satan is sovereign over the bacteria that gave their kid a cold… etc. Can you see it? Can this really be? Um… if Satan has that kind of authority, well I might be better off worshiping him, because it appears to me that it is he who is really the one true god. God forbid that someone acknowledges the real possibility that God himself would orchestrate said events in order to sharpen one’s focus… or *gasp* that those events might be chalked up to the basic course of life in a fallen world over which God sovereignly reigns.
A young woman leaves her fundamentalist home and heads off to a fundamentalist Christian college. While away at college she decides that this particular college is not right for her because she had a bad experience with the faculty, her classmates, and the curriculum. The parents of this child grow deeply concerned that ‘the evil one’ has thwarted God’s will for her to go to this college.
Case #2 analysis:
Satan is sovereign over the experiences this girl had with the faculty… or at least is sovereign over her interpretation of those events. Satan is sovereign over here interactions with her classmates. Or Satan has directly influenced her perception of the curriculum. Again, I would be willing to bet my home that the parents of this girl would never vocalize that they believe in a sovereign devil, but their praxis proves that they do. God forbid that her leaving the college might actually be the will of God (which in this case it likely was.) Or God forbid that her leaving this college is *gasp* caused by living life in a world effected by the fall.
Case #3 Analysis
Countless people seem to believe that our government is under the authority of the evil one, and that the presence of certain elected officials proves that. Um… I do not give a lick where you stand on political issues. It seems, to these folks, that Satan somehow is sovereign over our entire political process, which means that Satan somehow has the authority to pull voting levers, run political campaigns, make chads hang from ballots, and swap out the internals of Diebold voting machines. Just stop people, you sound ridiculous.
I could lay out countless more cases of this ad nauseum, but these three will suffice.
Every time a person gives credit to the evil one for something they personally do not like, they without knowing are actually affirming that they themselves are gods. While that sounds bold, it is true. The definition of evil is “that which displeases God”. In affirming that all is evil which displeases one’s self, or interferes with one’s perceived notion of what ‘should be’, one is affirming themselves as god. They make their own thoughts out as though they were God’s thoughts. It is a dangerous road to walk.
Moreover when a person credits every hiccup in their plans to a work of the evil one, they are without even realizing it, affirming the sovereignty of Satan. The devil is not sovereign, God is in authority of all your situations, not simply the ones where you feel that you are being moved of the Spirit. In more charismatic circles there is a heavy emphasis on experiencing the Holy Spirit, but the reality is that God is at work in all, ALL, things and while these people tread through this world looking for the next experience they miss the simple fact that they are in the midst of a constant experience of God’s sovereignty. Unfortunately they attribute the sovereign work of God in making their tire go flat out to be the work of the evil and by doing so they blaspheme God. That’s right, it is blasphemy to credit the working of God to be the work of Satan, yet this is common place not only among charismatics, but among most of evangelicalism.
I do offer this one caution, evil things do happen! Things which displease God actually occur. God is not pleased with tyranny and war, or with genocide, or abuse, sexual license, etc… however the question we ought to ask is ‘why does God allow that which displeases Him?’ That is a good question, and it is one that I do not have an easy answer to. Nonetheless I am not, nor should you be willing to chalk up evil to a sovereign Satan.
Remember that Satan is bound, he is limited, and he is NOT the reason you spilled spaghetti sauce on your nice church clothes.