To a great extent and for a limited time the evil one is permitted to rule in the hearts of those he has taken into captivity. He is allowed an allotted period in which to exercise his stratagems and manoeuvres against the Prince of Heaven, of whom he is seethingly envious, until the Lord chooses to manifest his power and his justice in Satan’s utter defeat and confinement to the pit. Until then Satan has restricted license to wreak his havoc and harm. From all this God will prove his supremacy by transforming evil into good. Satan’s efforts are entirely negative; God’s are successful and ingeniously creative. But in the interim the devil is busily at work corrupting the minds of men, withholding them from God, and sowing woes and misery among them. His hatred for God, his hostility towards the Lord Jesus, and his malice towards humanity, cause sin and suffering in each of us. His tyranny terrorizes us everywhere and in every department of human experience. His agenda is the exact opposite of God’s and he pursues it relentlessly, and, in view of his dominance of our race in its antipathy to God, Jesus describes the arch- foe of heaven as the prince of this world (John 12:31). Through the misuse of our freedom and in our weakness he has overcome us and the consequences are dire. We are born his children and heirs of wrath. We have inherited his lying and hate-filled nature, and his greed for power and pre-eminence drives our ambition. It is a plight we cannot admit until divine light begins to illuminate our souls, trouble our consciences, and form our perceptions of reality. It is then that we see that the whole world lies in wickedness and that we are oppressed by a cruel tormenter who uses compliant individuals and knavish institutions as his savage instruments. The devil personifies the darkness that contended with Jesus from the moment of his birth (John 1:5). The devil is the originator of the great lie that deceives men from their birth, and he is the inspirer of that ubiquitous hate that turns people against each other so readily, so viciously, and so often (Titus 3:3). Jesus called Satan the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). Even a cursory glance at history or current affairs is sufficient to see how easily men succumb to and perpetrate death-dealing lies through godless ideologies crafted to produce cruel despotisms that have commanded whole countries and cultures, decimating vast populations with unspeakable barbarism. Inhuman, or, sadly, all too human fallacies in politics and social organization have proved fatal in every generation, plunging innumerable souls into despair, destruction, and perhaps damnation. Human history is primarily a catalogue of wars, greed, exploitation, and oppression. These evils and injustices are the inventions of Satan and with them he has infected and infested the nature of man. Who can doubt the tragic fact of original sin? Who can subscribe to the fiction of the progress or perfectibility of man? Who can avoid the conclusion of the apostle John that, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
Do we acknowledge the hideous character and activity of the prince of this world and his dominion over the hearts and minds of men? Can we comprehend the volume of wickedness committed in this world even for one day? All the information available to us confirms the observation of Paul, and we know and feel it in ourselves: “The mind of sinful man is death . . . the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Romans 8: 6-8). Does the contemporary Christian mind really believe this? Do we have the slightest apprehension of the necessity of omnipotent grace to break this control, tame this hostility, and change our nature - which is what we are until our Creator – Redeemer reconstitutes and renovates us. Only God can change nature. Only God can snatch us from Satan. Only God can liberate us from our own sinful desires. Sin is serious. Wickedness abounds. Evil is all pervasive. For the moment the evil one is the ruler of a world at odds with God. There is no room for sentimentality. There is no excuse for turning our attention away from the horrors of the darkness that covers our world and all the evil that afflicts it so grievously from individual experience to national distress and international catastrophe. The media is witness to all this. History records our disastrous past. Man may progress intellectually, but not morally. We have little wisdom and our technological accomplishments are potentially the biggest threats to our happiness and wellbeing. We are perpetually beset by lies and violence to each other, sometimes on a horrendous scale. Look at the carnage of the 20th century alone. It hardly raises our hopes for human improvement and universal justice.
In the light of all this we witness in our time a burgeoning atheism and a dubiously hopeful humanism, ways of dealing with our existence and its problems without God. This is Satan’s most artful achievement in deceit. Karl Barth once wrote about the nightmare of atheism. The Puritan, Thomas Watson, identified atheism as our greatest enemy for it would deprive us of our God, whom we have found to be adorable and wholly good. How humanism can prevail after staring at the realities concerning human nature and behaviour is totally baffling. But it gratifies pride and suits our preferences. Many have had a flirtation with atheism and it is bleak territory. It does not wish to submit to God’s law. It is the most stubborn form of human rebellion. Atheists often do not analyse their atheism but it often emerges from some fundamentally bad experience or deprivation, or it conceals and excuses some form of moral waywardness that will not be surrendered. Russell and Byron were tortured by the memories of parental fear of hell. Sartre was pricked in conscience as a child stealing from his mother and from that point he resolved that God should not exist. The darkness envelopes us and the great lie seduces us with selfish reasons. Atheism is the cause of our contemporary nihilism. Humanistic literature, poetry and prose, is so doleful, and from many biographies of its best creative minds life without God is seen to be so desperate and destructive. Humanistic literature is often arrogant, irritable, angry, prurient, and void of hope. Christ conquers our atheism, real or desired. He corrects our forgetfulness of God. And thankfully Jesus has come to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Here is our ultimate and lasting joy.