Pondering the Mystery of Satan’s Fall
2 Part Article by John Piper – Founder / Teacher desiringGod.org
Why is there a Satan? Why does a being exist whose name means accuser — a “devil,” which means slanderer, a “deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), a “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), a “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NKJV), a “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), a “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24)? Where does he come from? How did it come about that he ever sinned?
The letters of Jude and 2 Peter give us clues. Jude 6 says, “The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” And 2 Peter 2:4 says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.”
It appears, then, that some of God’s holy angels (we may assume, in principle, that Satan is included, whether these verses refer to his original rebellion or a later one) “sinned,” or as Jude says, “did not stay within their own position of authority.” In other words, the sin was a kind of insurrection, a desire for more power and more authority than they were appointed by God to have.
So Satan and the other fallen angels originate as created holy angels who rebel against God, reject him as their all-satisfying King, and set out on a course of self-exaltation and presumed self-determination. They do not want to be subordinate. They do not want to be sent by God to serve others (Hebrews 1:14). They want to have final authority over themselves. And they want to exalt themselves above God.
Most Popular Answer
But these thoughts about the origin of Satan do not answer the question we began with: Why is there a Satan? They simply push the question back to the very beginning. Why did any holy angel sin? Here is the most popular answer of our modern era:
All of God’s creatures were created “free moral agents.” If God had made them otherwise they would have been mere machines with no will of their own. . . . To be a “free moral agent” implies that one has the power of “choice.” . . . As long as Satan chose the “Will of God” there was no “Evil” in the Universe, but the moment he chose to follow his own Will, then he fell, and by persuading others to follow him he introduced “Evil” into the Universe. (Clarence Larkin, The Spirit World, 12–14)
There are at least two problems with this presumed answer: (1) it does not answer the question and (2) it assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God — to keep him from sinning.
‘Free Will’ Philosophy
First, it does not answer the question, Why did any holy angel sin? To say that a perfect angel sinned because he had the power to do so is no answer. Why would a perfectly holy angel in God’s infinitely beautiful presence suddenly be inclined to hate God? “Free will” — that is, ultimate self-determination — is not an answer. It explains nothing.
“Free will” is a name put on a mystery. But it is not the biblical name. Because the Bible never teaches that there is such a thing as ultimate human, or ultimate demonic, self-determination. That is a philosophical notion forced onto the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, that philosophical notion was one of Satan’s first designs for humanity — to persuade Adam and Eve that they could be ultimately self-determining, and that this would be good for them (Genesis 3:4–5). Both of those ideas were false. They could not become ultimately self-determining, and it was deadly for them to try. The human race has been ruined by these notions ever since.
Slandering God’s Saving Power
Second, Larkin’s appeal to angelic self-determination assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God forever. Larkin’s deadly mistake is to assume that if God exerted such influence, the angels “would have been mere machines with no will of their own.”
This too is a philosophical assumption forced on the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, the Bible pervasively teaches the opposite — that God can and does exert sufficient influence on morally responsible beings (his children!) to keep them safe in the worship of God forever.
When the Bible says, for example, that God will “cause [us] to walk in [his] statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27), and that he is “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21), and that he “works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), and that the work he began in us he “will bring . . . to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), and that he “will sustain [us] to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8), and that “those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30) — when God says all this, he means for us to stop talking nonsense about such glorious influence turning us into machines. It doesn’t. It is life-giving grace. It is effective. It keeps us safe forever. And to call it machine-making is slanderous.
If God did not exert sovereign influence over our wayward hearts, we would all fall away.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
God’s “sealing” (Ephesians 1:13) — his decisive, keeping influence — does not turn us into machines. It keeps us safe in the worship of God forever. No one who is justified will fail to be glorified (Romans 8:30). Heaven will never see an insurrection among the saints. Not because we are better than the angels, but because the blood of Jesus secured the new covenant for God’s elect, where God says, “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). He bought this pledge for his children by his blood. They will not commit treason. Let us praise such sovereign, merciful, keeping influence. God save us from slandering his saving power.
It is false when Larkin assumes that God could not have kept his holy angels from sinning — safe in the worship of God. It is false to assume that such sovereign influence would make angels, or humans, into robots. It doesn’t.
What then is the answer to the question, Why did any holy angel sin?
The answer is that God had a wise and gracious purpose. That is why it happened. Some of God’s holy angels sinned because their fall would set in motion a history of redemption that would fulfill the infinitely wise purposes of God in creation. All the “unsearchable . . . judgments” and all the “inscrutable . . . ways” of God flow from the depths of his wisdom (Romans 11:33). “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24). He is “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27). All that happens from eternity to eternity happens according to the wisdom of the one “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
And we know it was a gracious purpose because God’s plan before the creation of the world was to show grace to unworthy sinners. Sin came into being as part of a plan to show grace to sinners. “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). The plan before creation was that Christ would be the Lamb slain for sinners — sinners whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). Christ slain for sinners was the plan before any human sinned. (Part 2 tomorrow)