Dust & Glory Home

Granting the Devil More than His Due:
Dualism, the Devil, and the Problem of Evil

    by Jules Grisham [1]

As we set out to examine some of the tensions inhering in the problem of evil, we Christians do so as with one great advantage – our faith. We believe that God really is as he reveals himself in Scripture to be, such that, when we approach the problem of evil, we do so not to have God prove himself to us, but rather to learn more about the God in whom we already believe, in order in turn that we might more conform our lives to his will.

But those who approach the problem of evil from a stance of faithlessness, or from one of skepticism with regard to the veracity of God’s word, are liable to fall into the path of error. This is so because, unless we be anchored by prior faith in the God who reveals himself in Scripture, then all we find as we approach the problem of evil is a set of seemingly contradictory data. And in the absence of the assurance of faith, the temptation becomes overwhelming to set about “fixing” this data, to make it fit into a pattern which we find acceptable. In short, we find ourselves in the business of re-imaging God, concocting an idea of God in the hope that we might then be so convinced of it as to place our faith in it. But this of course is idolatry; it’s the difference between believing in the living God and believing in some idea of God which is merely the fruit of our imaginings.

Dualism arises, as I hope we will see, in similar circumstances as this. It comes to expression and formulation when people approach the problem of evil without being anchored to God in faith, or with some measure of skepticism that God is or could be as he reveals himself in Scripture to be.

    [2] Slide One: Evil Defined, and the Basic Question

In this paper, we’ll be turning our attention to one of the most persistently recurring, but fundamentally wrong solutions to the problem – which is, the wrong path of dualism. And as we examine this, we will in turn be considering the Devil, as to his nature and his character and his work.

But first, it’s probably a good idea that we state the fundamental issue here. The problem of evil arises when we come to perceive the inhering tensions between, on the one hand, our belief in God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence, and, on the other hand, our acknowledgment of the reality of evil. Here’s the most concise way I can put the problem, which we can phrase in the form of a question: Given that we have defined evil as “that of which God disapproves,” yet we’re left with a really hard question: “How can it be that the God who has ordained all that comes to pass yet disapproves of much of what actually transpires?” Or again, “How can God disapprove of that which he ordained?” That, as we’ll see, is the theological heart of the issue, and the dynamics of that tension are will underlie everything we’ll be discussing through the course of this paper.

    [3] Slide Two: Dualism Defined

Here’s a sort of fun definition of dualism: As simply as we can put it, dualism is “giving the Devil more than his due.” Or in more detail perhaps, we might say that dualism consists in “granting a power and a permanence to the principle of evil which Scripture doesn’t warrant.” Dualism is one of the possible “forced” resolutions to the problem of evil, by which the data of Scripture is jammed into the box of our own re-imaging, as we endeavor to rationalize, to harmonize, and to domesticate the God who reveals himself in Scripture into better accord with our own projected imaginings and compulsions. Dr. Robert Norris has said that “Bad theology leads to bad practice.” Well, as we’ll see, diabology – and there’s a new word I picked up from these studies, diabology, the study of the Devil – diabology in the hands of bad theologians leads to really bad theology, and from there onto really bad practice.

    [4] Slide Three: Two Types of Dualism

Now, as we begin to analyze the nature of dualism, and the factors which give rise to its expression, we come to see that it can appear in two distinct forms. On the one hand – and by the way, these terms are not systematic theological terms, but terms of my own coining, to help us think through some of these things – on the one hand, there is what might be called systematic, or philosophical, dualism, which proceeds from a sort of systematic thinking-through of the philosophical issues inhering in the problem of evil and the subsequent formulation of formal systems of thought on that basis. And then, on the other hand, there is what might be called accidental, or happenstance, dualism, which arises in a less philosophically-driven, less formal manner, but consists rather in the de facto views of individuals as they’ve been shaped by personal experiences. In short, systematic dualism can be thought of as “dualism-from-above,” dualism consciously elaborated; intentional dualism; while accidental dualism, “dualism-from-below,” the dualism of everyday conceptions of things, arises, as its name indicates, quite unintentionally. But the key thing is that both are ultimately characterized by the same thing: which is that both are all about giving the Devil more than his due, and granting more power and more permanence to the principle of evil than is warranted by Scripture.

Now… we’ll turn to a discussion of the theological aspects of dualism in a few minutes, but I wanted first to walk very briefly through some of the historical manifestations of dualism as they have come to formulation throughout the history of the church.

    [5] Slide Four: Historical Manifestations of Dualism

Systematic, intentional, dualism, has appeared over and over again, either outside the bounds of the church – for example as we’ll see, in the Persian dualist religion of Zoroastrianism – or as heresies arising at the margins of the Christian community, influenced by Christian thought but so re-worked as to bear little resemblance to those initial Christian influences – for example here, we’d note the strange doctrines of the second century heretic, Marcion; or the fully-blown religio-dualist systems of Gnosticism and Manichaeism, from the second century forward; or again, the various revivals of this dualist religion through the course of the Middle Ages, most notably by the Cathars of southern France during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The point is, that systematic, intentional, dualism is the stuff of heresies, or of wholly non-Christian religious formulations.

I’d like to just take a few moments now to show you what I mean when I said that diabology in the hands of bad theologians leads to really bad theology. We’re going to do a ninety-second history of dualism here, so get ready! Briefly, we’d note that the Persians were the first to formulate a fully-blown religion based around the dualist principle. It’s not, of course, that they were the first to devise or to think in dualist terms, but their religion, Zoroastrianism, is the first and most systematically dualistic religion we encounter. The Zoroastrians see – note “see” not “saw”; there are still actual Zoroastrians running around out there! – the Zoroastrians see ultimate reality as consisting of two eternal and mutually irreducible principles – light and darkness, corresponding to good and evil, respectively. And, in this view, the entirety of cosmic history can be understood as the outworking of the ceaseless struggle between these principles. And the battleground, the epicenter, of this conflict is the human soul itself, torn as it is between these two cosmic imperatives.

Now, as this Persian dualistic thinking made its way into the Hellenistic, Greek-speaking world, it fused there with the dualistic concepts of the Greeks – and specifically of the Platonists – who had come to posit a radical dualism as between the realm of eternal ideas, or the Forms, on the one hand, and the dark, dense, transitory, and ultimately illusory and bad realm of matter. So the effect was that the Greeks added a new layer of complexity to the dualist brew, so as now to posit two eternally opposed alignments, consisting of, on the one hand, the eternally stable realm of light, goodness, Idea, spirit, vs., on the other hand, the eternally transitory realm of darkness, evil, and matter, and flesh. And the human soul, the old Persian battleground, came increasingly to be seen as a fragment of that good realm which had been ensnared and imprisoned in the realm of density and darkness and flesh. Thus, the goal of life in this view becomes figuring out how we might escape from this dark realm, so as to rejoin the realm of light, which is our true, our spiritual, home.

Next, as this battery of thought worked its way in varying degrees into the thinking of Christians, a number of heresies arose – and these heresies were characterized most significantly perhaps by their willing to break the unity of Scripture, so as to posit a radical difference in kind as between the Creator God of the Old Testament and the Redeemer God of the New Testament. Since, as we’ve seen, matter had come to be regarded as evil, well, then the Creator God – the guy who actually takes credit for this act which is seen to have imprisoned our eternal souls in the darkness of flesh and the bounding of matter – must necessarily be evil. The Creator God in this view comes to be identified with Plato’s notion of the Master Craftsman – not the Creator of all things, ex nihilo, by the power of his word, and all very good; not the God of Scripture in other words – but merely the shaper of pre-existent, unformed, chaotic, dark matter. He bound up eternal forms in the prison of matter, subjecting them to all the horrors of transience. With such a depressing view of matter, the Creator God could only be seen as evil. And it was to undo the damage of this evil God, this Master Craftsman, that the redeemer God of the New Testament sends Jesus out of the fullness of the realm of light to restore us to our proper freedom, freeing us from the bondage of our fleshly containment. Now we’re thinking in the mindset of fully-blown Gnosticism, and we can see just how far this thought has strayed from the doctrine of Scripture.

But it gets even worse! This God, this Craftsman, who imprisoned us comes to be identified as the Devil, as it is he by whose will we are being kept in bondage! And more, since our natural, created condition was evil, then therefore that to which the Christians refer as the Fall was in fact the beginning of their liberation! When the Serpent incited Man to rebel against his confined and ignorant condition, well, surely he did us a great favor, right? So, indeed, the Serpent comes to be revered, as the very precursor of Christ.

Now, this is really, really bad theology! Having set out to resolve the problem of evil – and we’ll get into the theological dynamics of this process in a few moments – but having set out thus, but without being anchored by faith to the God who reveals himself in Scripture, dualist thinking had actually managed wholly to invert the central doctrines of Scripture. They end up identifying God with the Devil, and the Devil with Christ! What can we say, but that you basically can’t get much more wrong than that.

Well, that was a way-too-brief tour through some of the historical manifestations of systematic, intentional dualism. But we also mentioned accidental, or unintentional, dualism. Dualism of this type often exists silently, within the structures of the orthodox community, in the form of various unspoken and (certainly) unofficial assumptions about the nature of evil or about the nature and character of the Devil. As we’ve said, this sort of dualism doesn’t arise so much from philosophical speculation on the problem of evil, as from the experiences and perceptions of individuals. Here, in other words, we enter the domain of popular misconceptions. And what’s interesting, from a cultural point of view – though perhaps alarming, from a theological point of view – is that the aggregate of these popular misconceptions tends to find its expression in the larger popular culture, which in its turn takes these misconceptions and sort of “iconizes” them. Think, for example, of the popular perception of the Devil’s appearance and demeanor – I mean, every six year-old seems to know exactly what the Devil looks like; they may even dress up like him on Halloween, right? – but then consider that almost none of it is biblically-grounded. So the popular culture has this way of taking this aggregate of misconceptions and, sort of, institutionalizing them as icons, or motifs, or assumptions, which are then passed on to and powerfully shape the perceptions of other people within the orbit of that culture.

For a more important example, then, than the Devil’s appearance, consider the popular understanding of his role in the scheme of things. I think you’d probably agree that it’s something an undeniable fact that, at least a very large number of people who profess to believe in the Devil, don’t see him – as the Bible presents him – as a creature, a sinner, and as a rebel against God, who like all unredeemed sinners will suffer God’s wrath in the Lake of Fire. That’s not the image of the Devil which we see reflected in the popular culture, is it? Rather, he is seen as a sort of King of Hell, a sort of Lord of Evil; the thought being that, when you die, if you’ve been bad, you’ll be sent to Hell, which is seen as a sort of eternal fiery realm over which the Devil reigns forever with gleeful malice… But this view is really just an expression of unintentional dualism. It gives the Devil more than his due. And the problem for our society is that, however unintentional this dualism may be, yet the aggregate of these misconceptions ends up having very large-scale effects – because, as we’ve seen, the engine of popular culture is like a screen that reflects and powerfully magnifies the popular imagination, with all its errors, and then passes all of this along to others. And we can see that it’s in this way that the unintentional dualism which abides in our ranks has been feeding the dualism of the culture at large, through the reflecting and magnifying lens of popular culture.

And in this regard, do you remember when Rob pointed out that much of what we think we know about the Devil is actually mediated through Milton, not the Bible? Well, that’s a good point, but I dare say that in modern America, unfortunately, much of what we think we know about the Devil is no longer mediated through anything so lofty as the literature of Milton – let alone God’s Word in Scripture! – but through Hollywood – and here, think, The Exorcist, Damien Omen II, or any number of movies in which the Devil is the star attraction. And what becomes distressingly apparent is that there is a pattern in all of these movies, according to which the Devil’s power is close at hand, and tangible and terrifying, while God’s power, though perhaps benign, is distant and rarified and weak, and the recurring principle seems to be goodness only triumphs when good people save themselves. This is really bad theology, by the way! But for the purposes of our discussion, I’d like us to see that these movies fuel the popular and prevailing dualism, in which evil is seen as an inherent and irreducible aspect of ultimate reality. Evil is seen as at least the equal of goodness, sharing a sort of co-sovereignty in the scheme of things, such that good and evil are set against one another in an eternal conflict, in a war without resolution whose battleground is our soul… But none of this conforms to what Scripture tells us about these issues, and it’s our responsibility as Christians to know what the doctrine of Scripture is and then share it with others, hopefully with such impact as to bring popular culture, that reflecting screen of the popular imagination, back away from its heavily dualist emphasis.

Harold Bloom is a professor up at Yale who wrote a fascinating book titled The American Religion. If anyone has a chance, and if you haven’t read it yet, I’d suggest you go out and read it sometime. Warning: Bloom is a self-declared Gnostic, and his ideas can be quite vexing. He comes as close as I’ve ever seen a non-Christian writer come to an acknowledgment of the beauty and power of the gospel – and for that, you’ll have to see his section on the Southern Baptists – and yet in the end – it’s so sad – he misses the mark, and misses thereby what he’d come to close to acknowledging, which is his own, as our own, need of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Even so, in spite of these weaknesses, the book is superbly insightful about the state of our culture as it expresses itself in the religious sphere. And his central argument is that the de facto American religion, right now… is Gnosticism. Now, he bases this claim on many things, but for the purposes of our discussion, one of the most important of these Gnostic tendencies which he discerns is the pervasive dualism which exists in the popular imagination, which sees good and evil, either as two principles, separate and co-eternal, and existing as it were in their own respective spheres of sovereignty; or as two aspects of the same ultimate reality, set in opposition to one another in an eternal struggle, and whose only goal in the end is achieving some sort of balance.

And for a popular manifestation of this outlook, think of Star Wars. I know that it may seem strange to consider Star Wars in the context of a presumably serious discussion of religion – I mean, after all, it’s just a dumb movie series, right? But I would argue that, no, in fact, as we enter the sloppy landscape of modern American spirituality, we come to appreciate that the underlying religious message of Star Wars is actually reflective of a much wider – and significantly, a much widening – phenomenon of an emergent systematic dualism in our culture. And note, I’m not here to trash Star Wars; I’ve enjoyed the series. But even so, I think we really need to be aware that the philosophical worldview which gives Star Wars its dramatic tension is really no more than reformulated Persian dualism. I mean, Star Wars is Zoroastrianism in space, with a little bit of the Yin-Yang balance thing, and some really silly science thrown in to boot! (And, by the way, it’s very interesting in this regard to note that, insofar as Star Wars can be said to reflect an emergent dualism in our national psychology, it shows that this expression of dualism has shed a great deal of the philosophical complexity of the Greeks, with their antithesis of form and matter, and actually brings us back to the much simpler formulations of Persian-style dualism, with its simpler opposition of light and darkness, good and evil.) Anyway! We come to see that Star Wars’ underlying religious dynamic is that ultimate reality consists of “the Force,” which in turn works itself out as two eternally opposed principles – the light side (good) and the dark side (evil) – ever struggling against the other, yet resolving ultimately into the goal of balance. And, just as we saw with the Zoroastrians, here too we see that the battleground and epicenter of this struggle is in the human soul – “Luke, beware of the dark side!” Well, this view of the nature of ultimate reality ain’t Scriptural; it’s not even close. It’s dualism. And it’s dualism, in the sense that it grants to evil a power and a permanence, and a necessity in the scheme of things, which is all out of proportion to that which Scripture would warrant.

So in summary, then: when we hear people speaking about the eternality of evil, or of the ultimate necessity of evil, or in such manner as to concede to evil a sort of co-sovereignty in the scheme of things, then we’re running into evidence of dualism. We’re encountering that worldview which gives the Devil more than his due.

    [6] Slide Five: The Basic Syllogism

All right, so, with all this in mind, let’s go a little deeper, and let’s analyze the nature of Dualism as from a systematic perspective. To do this, let’s recall how we framed the question of the problem of evil up front in our discussion. We’ve defined evil as “that of which God disapproves.” And, given this definition, we asked, “How can it be that the God who has ordained all that comes to pass yet disapproves of much of what actually transpires? How can he disapprove of what he himself ordained?” And we can put this in a still clearer form by presenting it in its classic, syllogism form, as follows:

1. God is all-powerful (he is omnipotent, he is the sovereign Lord, controlling all); 2. God is all-good (he is omnibenevolent; he is the authoritative Judge, evaluating all); but 3. Evil exists – and it does so persistently and pervasively.

The problem here, of course, is that the third statement doesn’t seem to follow from the previous two. Indeed, it’s a situation that seems logically impossible. I mean, it seems that, either God has the power to be rid of evil, but chooses not to be rid of it, with the seeming implication that he can’t then be all-good; or that God has the will to be rid of evil, but cannot be rid of it, with the seeming implication that he can’t then be all-powerful. Simply put, an all-good, all-powerful God seems wholly incompatible with the presence and persistence of evil. It seems that, if we attempt to hold to both principles, both to God’s all-power and to his all-goodness, we end up with the seeming inconsistency of asserting that God disapproves of some of what he himself ordained.

    [7] Slide Six: What Happens When We Force the Data of Scripture to “Fit”?

Now, note that all of this would be fine – logically, if not theologically-speaking – if we decided that God were merely omnipotent, and not worry about emphasizing his omnibenevolence as such. Then it would be easy enough to explain away the presence of evil by redefining evil as being merely an instrumentality of his omnipotence as it works itself out in the scheme of things. And in fact we could find a battery of verses and Scriptural motifs in support of this. For example, see Genesis 50:20, where Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended evil against me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done – the saving of many lives.” And what a remarkable foreshadowing that is of the authorities in Jerusalem who sought and secured the execution of our Lord; surely they intended evil against him, but God intended it for good – indeed, to accomplish what is now being done – the saving of many lives. And when we combine these ideas with any number of other passages which emphasize God’s sovereignty, his total control and foreordination of whatsoever comes to pass (and for this, we might look to Jeremiah 18; Romans 9-11; Ephesians 1; and so on), then the evidence seems clear: God is the sovereign Lord; and in the outworking of his omnipotence toward the end which he has decreed from before the beginning, evil serves – quite despite itself, even despite its rebellious and malicious intent – to advance his very ends. In short, were we to consider evil only from the perspective of God’s omnipotence, we might conclude that evil is but an instrumental thing – a necessary evil, as it were – in the outworking of God’s sovereignty.

But the problem here of course is that God is not merely omnipotent, but is omnibenevolent as well. When we go too far in the direction of re-defining evil as the instrumentality of God’s sovereign will, we end up losing our basic mooring in the pervasive Scriptural emphasis that evil is fundamentally that of which God disapproves. The Bible attests, over and over again, that God is not the author of evil; that in fact, he loathes, he detests it, as wickedness and rebellion. Moreover, Scripture gives clear, abundant, and unambiguous testimony as to the fact and reality and intensity of the struggle against evil, which extends even to the heavenly places. So we read in 1 John 3:8, that Jesus “appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the Devil.” And likewise the Devil, and the Devil’s own – the seed of the Serpent – have throughout the course of human history been endeavoring to destroy the works and plans of God and God’s people. There is a very real struggle here whose implications we cannot deny, lest in the process we deny the very work of Christ himself at the Cross. Clearly, evil is not merely the instrumentality of God in his role of sovereign King, but is also that against which he struggles in his role of righteous Judge. So we find ourselves back in the heart of the tension engendered by consideration of the problem of evil…

Or again, we could try to get around the problem the other way. It would be fine – logically, if not theologically-speaking – if we decided that God were merely omnibenevolent, and not worry about emphasizing his omnipotence as such. Then we could explain away evil as being that of which God disapproves, and against which he struggles, but over which he hasn’t been able to overcome. In short, this view proceeds from the conviction that, had God the power to rid the world of evil he would certainly have done so, precisely because he should have done so. So therefore, the fact that he hasn’t done so means that he’s unable to do so. And so we’ve voided of all significance all the biblical testimony as to God’s sovereignty, and have granted to the principle of evil a power and permanence and necessity which Scripture in no way warrants.

Well, what then are we to do with these inhering tensions? I’ve suggested that when we set out to grapple with the problem of evil not from the vantage of faith, the temptation to re-image God in accord with our own imaginings becomes overwhelming. And yet when we do this, we inevitably end up in one of two shipwrecked estates: we end up either in the estate of Denial, or in that of Surrender.

So, with regard to Denial: as we’ve seen, we can uphold the omnipotence of God, and simply deny that there’s a problem of evil at all. What appears as evil is no more than God’s mysterious will, the outworking of his omnipotence. This is the Muslim solution, as we’ll see in an upcoming lecture. But for now, we would note simply that the problem with this is that the reality of evil and its consequences tends inexorably to put such pressure on this stance of denial that there is in fact any problem of evil, that it must in the end recoil backwards, as it were, so as to undermine any effective belief in God’s all-goodness. When, in short, we deny the reality and extent of the problem of evil, our belief in God’s goodness is the chief casualty. To deny the problem of evil is to deny Christ and the work of the Cross – which of course is exactly what the logic of Islam leads Muslims to do. Denial of the problem of evil is thus not only false, but undermines belief in God’s goodness. Denial’s not the way to go.

On the other hand, we can become so subsumed in the problem of evil, so appalled at the pervasiveness of its effects, as effectively to Surrender to it. In this false solution, we uphold the all-goodness of God, but do so at the expense of his power. We say, God would help us if he could; and he does, the best that he can. So in this, evil comes to be perceived as an irreducible principle, set against and in permanent opposition to God, who is on our side, but not finally, not really, in control. The key dynamic here is struggle – permanent, perpetual, spiritual warfare between good and evil, light and darkness. And this is Dualism – once again, the view which grants the Devil more than his due, which cedes more power and more permanence to the principle of evil than is warranted by Scripture.

So we see that when we attempt to force matters to conform to our own will, and to fit the fullness of God into the absurd package of our own finitude, we end up shipwrecked, either in Denial or Surrender. And we see that, between them, these so-called solutions have the effect of undermining the central affirmations of the entirety of Scripture. We see that the one – Surrender, dualism – ends up denying the Lordship of God, while the other – denial, Islam – ends up denying the Lordship and work of Christ. The lesson for us: when we approach the real tensions which inhere in the problem of evil, we’d better do so as being anchored by faith to the reality of our great and gracious God. When we attempt to force the data, and to re-image God into the shape of an idea upon which we then hope to place our trust and faith, this is the path of idolatry, and it is a sure way to theological shipwreck. As we saw with the Gnostic dualists, they ended up identifying God with the Devil, and the Devil with Christ. Diabology in the hands of bad theologians leads to really, really bad theology, and from thence onto bad practice.

    [8] Slide Seven: On Moral vs. Natural Evil

All right, but now let’s shift gears a bit. We’ve discussed some of the philosophical weaknesses of Dualism. We’ve seen that it really represents surrender to the problem of evil, such that the affirmation of God’s sovereignty is undermined, even as the Devil is granted a sovereignty that he does not in fact have. But now, let’s go deeper still into these issues. I think it’s fair to say that, if the tendency of most Christians is to err on the side of overemphasizing the extent of the struggle against evil, the tendency among many of us Reformed-types can lean toward the opposite direction, toward underemphasizing the extent of that struggle. It’s not, as per the usual accusation, that we overemphasize the extent of God’s sovereignty – we can’t do that; but rather, that we tend at times to ignore the extent of the real tension which exists between God’s sovereignty and the real struggle against evil. Yes, contra dualist tendencies, it is crucial that we remember that Satan is a created being, that his range of activity is decisively limited by God’s decree, and that he will, as a reprobate creature who rebelled against his Creator, suffer the same fate, Hell, as all reprobate sinners. But it is just as crucial that we remember the very context of our salvation, by which Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil. The struggle with evil is real, and it reaches even to the heavenlies. God is sovereign, yes; but Christ also came to do real battle, and so must we be prepared for this battle.

Now, one point, briefly, before turning to the biblical testimony pertaining to the Devil: recall that we were left after the first week with something of a perplexing tension between moral evil (i.e., the fact and consequences of sin, of creaturely rebellion against the Creator) and natural evil (i.e., sort of a catchall for everything which we couldn’t really attribute in any obvious or proximate way to sin – for example, natural disasters or diseases). We realized that there was a problem, in that these are really two distinct concepts linked by a common term – “evil” – but wholly different in foundation – such that, while moral evil is seen to be grounded in rebellion, and can be seen ultimately to be man’s fault; natural evil, so perceived, seems to be no more than a mechanistic outworking of the design of things, and well… dare we say it? God’s fault. We even have a legal term for it, right?… “Act of God.” So, when we proceed from a human rather than a Scriptural perspective on the matter of evil, we end up on a blasphemous note, and in the grip of a perplexing tension.

    [9] Slide Eight: The Problem

So we turned to Scripture for help. And here’s what we found. (1) We found that Scripture’s focus was not upon natural evil, but continually upon moral evil, upon the fact of creaturely sin against the Creator; (2) we concurred with C.S. Lewis that the overwhelming preponderance of all human suffering does seem to be the result and consequence of humans sinning against one another; (3) we saw that Scripture shows us that much of what might have seemed without the light of revelation to be natural evil is in fact the outworking of God’s righteous wrath for sin, and is therefore in no way evil (see, for example, the plagues in Egypt); and finally (4) we affirmed that Scripture shows God as wholly sovereign, as having ordained all that comes to pass… Yet, even given all this insight as to the nature and character of evil, such that we can in fact, in light of these factors, account for much of the evil which besets us, yet even so we’re left still with a serious problem. And that is, that human sin, taken by itself, barely seems adequate in itself to bear the entire weight of sin in the cosmos. There remains the problem of what philosophers refer to as gratuitous evil – that is, pain and suffering and misery which neither arises from human sin in any proximate manner, nor can it be justly imputed to God’s righteous wrath – for example, in situations in which the innocent suffer.

    [10] Slide Nine: The Solution

And this is where Satan comes in! When we consider Satan as he really is – that is, as a created moral agent, a sinner, and a rebel against God – we see that humans are not the only agents of evil operating in God’s creation. And in light of this, we can affirm the following: (1) not all human suffering can rightly be described as evil (as Scripture defines it, as that of which God disapproves, for, as we’ve seen, sometimes God is punishing us for our sins, and this punishment is not evil, but profoundly just); but (2) all evil, so defined, is ultimately moral in nature, consisting in creaturely rebellion against the Creator; yet (3) not all evil originates in human rebellion and sin only. In summary, though all evil may be seen as from the Scriptural perspective as sin, yet not all sin is perpetrated by humans. And in light of this, our consideration of moral evil is expanded to a much greater scale and scope than we might have imagined as by reference to human sin alone. The scale of sin in the cosmos is terrifying as we come to apprehend it, and yet our comfort in this is the knowledge that Christ, our Victor, has already won the battle for us. As in all of this, God is ever both profoundly great and profoundly good.

    [11] Slide Ten: What the Scripture Has to Say About Satan

We come then to Satan, as he is portrayed in Scripture, and to the scope and reality of the struggle against evil. I won’t get to spend as much time on this as I would have liked. But for the purposes of our topic, I’d only point out a few significant details which have special bearing on our discussion of dualism, and on the tensions inhering in our considerations of the problem of evil. Satan’s name in Hebrew, satan, means “the Adversary.” He is also called the Devil, diabolos, in Greek, meaning “the Accuser.” And together, these titles are an appropriate reflection of his character, aren’t they? He is our adversary, inciting us, deceiving us, ensnaring us, and then accusing us. He is, further, identified with the Serpent, the ancient Dragon, who seduced man into his rebellion and ruin. He is thus the tempter of men, inciting us to sin. He is the great deceiver, a sort of Anti-Logos, a corrupter of words and a twister of meanings, and posing as an angel of light. Moreover, he is identified with Apollyon, “the Destroyer,” the ruler of the Abyss; and with Beelzebub, prince of the demons. He is likened to a roaring lion, roaming the earth so as to devour his prey. Jesus declares him to be the “father” of sinful rebellion and a liar from the beginning, and can be seen in this sense as the father of the sons of Belial, or Destruction. As such, he is the spiritual progenitor of the serpent seed, the reprobate haters of God’s elect, who work to corrupt and destroy God’s people. The Devil, finally, is “the evil one”; the “prince” or “god” of this world-in-its-rebellion, a murderer and the father of lies. In all, writes J.I. Packer, “the picture of one of unimaginable meanness, malice, fury, and cruelty directed against God, against God’s truth, and against those whom God has extended his saving love.”

But the crucial motif to recognize as we think about the nature and character of Satan is that the reality of the struggle against evil is the background against which Christ’s triumph, his victory, over Satan, is made abundantly clear. Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil. On this, John Murray writes: “It is most significant that the work of Christ, which is so central in our Christian faith, is essentially a work of destruction that terminates upon the power and work of Satan. This is not a peripheral or incidental feature of redemption. It is an integral aspect of its accomplishment.” And how was this accomplished? See Colossians 2:15, where we read that our Lord exposed the powers and the authorities openly, triumphing over them by the cross. And Hebrews 2:14-15, where we read that Christ shared in our humanity “in order that through his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is the Devil, and deliver those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Thus can we affirm with John Owen the death of Death in the death of Christ! And as for now, as for this present reign until the consummation? 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, where Paul writes: “Christ will hand over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Thus we see that Christ has already bound the strong man, and that now, in light of this, the final victory is assured. And in that final, consummate victory which will accompany our Lord’s return, and for which we long, the Devil will be cast into the Lake of Fire, there to suffer along with Death itself the everlasting torments of God’s presence in wrath…

Now, we must note the unavoidable fact that there is something of a drastic change in emphasis as we move from the context of the Old Testament to that of the New. Whereas in the Old Testament, Satan appears only infrequently, and even then it is God who is consistently affirmed as sovereign (I mean, that is the overarching theme of Job, isn’t it?); yet as enter the pages of the New Testament, the reality of the struggle has obviously and decisively escalated, has become much more intense. What accounts for this?

Well, let me suggest that what accounts for this drastic change in tone between the Testaments is nothing less than the Incarnation itself. The New Testament is written in the context of the absolutely astonishing mystery and yet tangible reality of God’s having come to dwell among us – and that in a state of almost astounding weakness – what the Westminster Confession refers to as our Lord’s estate of humiliation. Here came the rightful king to his usurped dominion, full of evil, plotting, violent men, and he, in the form of a babe in a manger. He came proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom in his person, full of grace and truth and compassion, but in seeming weakness, as it were, without a bodyguard of legions – just one man and a small band of followers, telling the truth of God’s kingdom. But, and here is the superb, the supreme irony of the whole thing – it was precisely in and through our Lord’s seeming weakness that the Devil was defeated. That very weakness served almost as a sort of magnet, drawing out the forces and principles of evil, lured as they were by the opportunity to destroy him in this time of vulnerability, emerging from the shadows and being exposed in their true orientation and allegiance. This is God’s incarnational method, by which he has elected to triumph over evil through apparent weakness – the weakness which draws evil out of the shadows, exposing evil as it emerges from its shadows to destroy the Lord and the Lord’s work, yet only to be destroyed itself.

And so, too, with the church which our Lord founded and continues to build. The church, too, partakes in this incarnational reality, in this incarnational method. Jesus has left us, seemingly defenseless, a Temple composed of living stones, a mere building, a fellowship, here in the hostile heart of the world-in-rebellion, where Death and Hades still sally forth from their fortress, leaving destruction and misery in their wake. Yet… it is precisely through the apparent weakness of the church, that its final victory is assured. For as our Lord declared to Peter: the gates of Hades will not overcome it, so this has been borne out in history as the church has inexorable its advance, powered by the divine engine of the gospel, to the very ends of the earth. Here is a fantastic testimony of that incarnational stamp which the church bears, in a quote from a Medieval French counselor to his king who was contemplating persecuting the church in order to raise revenues. “Be careful, my king,” he said. “The church is an anvil which has worn down many hammers.” Amen! And may it ever be so, as it continues on in faithful testimony to the true Lord, and the true King, until he shall come again in the consummation of history.

In conclusion, let us affirm what we must: that the Devil is real, and evil is a pressing reality, distressingly persistent and pervasive. We cannot deny that. But nor can we surrender to it and lapse thereby into the dualism of granting the Devil more than his due. On that note, let me end with these familiar lines of Martin Luther:

And though the world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure; One little word shall fell him.



1   This paper was originally delivered as a Fourth Academy lecture by Jules Grisham, at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, 2002.



Evil is that of which God disapproves


  • How can it be that the God who has ordained all that comes to pass yet disapproves of much of what actually transpires?
  • How can God disapprove of that which he ordained?



  • Dualism is “giving the Devil more than his due”
  • Dualism consists in “granting a power and a permanence to the principle of evil which Scripture doesn’t warrant



Systematic, philosophical, or intentional dualism:

  • Arising from a systematic analysis of the problem of evil;
  • Dualism-from-above;
  • The stuff of Christian heresies and non-Christian religious formulations

Accidental, happenstance, or unintentional dualism:

  • Arising from the experiences and perceptions of individuals;
  • Dualism-from-below;
  • Arising even from within the orthodox ranks of the Church in the form of popular misconceptions


Historical Manifestations of Dualism:

  • Persian Zoroastrianism (fifth century BC forward)
  • Platonic dualism and its Neoplatonic refinements (fifth century BC and forward)
  • The heresy of Marcion (mid-second century);
  • Gnosticism (second century forward);
  • Manichaeism (second century forward);
  • Various Medieval Revivals of Dualist Religion (especially the Cathars of southern France, 12th-13th centuries)
  • The de facto Gnostic religious orientation of modern America ?? (this per Harold Bloom, in The American Religion)



1.   God is all-powerful (he is omnipotent, he is the sovereign King, controlling all);
2.   God is all-good (he is omnibenevolent; he is the authoritative Judge, evaluating all); but
3.   Evil exists – and it does so persistently and pervasively.



The central confessional affirmations of Scripture are

1.   That the Lord is God; and
2.   That Jesus is Lord

Note then that:

If we emphasize only God’s omnipotence,
and ignore the implications of his omnibenevolence,
we end up in a condition of DENIAL (this is the path of Islam)
    Ultimately, this view denies the Lordship of Christ

If we emphasize only God’s omnibenevolence,
and ignore the implications of his omnipotence,
we end up in a condition of SURRENDER (this is the path of Dualism)
    Ultimately, this view denies the Lordship of God



  • Moral Evil = the fact and consequences of sin, of creaturely rebellion against the Creator
  • Natural Evil = everything which we couldn’t really attribute in any obvious or proximate way to sin – for example, natural disasters or diseases



Scripture presents evil as sin, rebellion, as being that of which God disapproves; and shows further that not all human suffering is the result of sin.


Human sinfulness is not sufficient in itself as to bear the totality of evil in creation. There remains a large category of sin which we can explain neither by reference to human sin nor to the outworking of God’s righteous wrath; there remains the problem of gratuitous sin.



The Devil, too, is a created moral agent, as are his agents. He too is a sinner and a rebel against the Creator. Thus

1.   All evil, as defined by the Scriptural emphasis (i.e., that of which God disapproves) is moral evil;
2.   But not all moral evil is the result of human sin

The fact that the Devil and his agents are sinners vastly expands the scope and scale of our analysis of moral sin



  • His name means “the Adversary,” the opponent of God and his people; the leader of the fallen angels; introduced in the Old Testament (see 1 Chron. 21:1; Job 1-2; Zech. 3:1-2);
  • He is identified with the Devil, whose name means “the Accuser” (i.e., of God’s people – Rev. 12:9-10);
  • He is identified with Apollyon, whose name means “the Destroyer” (see Rev. 9:11), and he is a destroyer, being compared to a roaring lion out prowling for its prey (1 Pet. 5:8);
  • He is the tempter (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5);
  • He is the deceiver, posing as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)
  • He is the “evil one” (1 John 5:18-19);
  • He is the “prince” or “god” of the world-in-rebellion (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; 1 John 5:19; Rev. 12:9);
  • He is a murderer and the father of lies; the original liar and the sponsor of all subsequent falsehood and deceits (John 8:44);
  • He is identified with the Serpent who deceived Eve (Rev. 12:9; 20:2), the ancient Dragon;
  • He is Christ’s sworn foe (Matt. 4:1-11; 16:23; Luke 4), against whose works Jesus came to destroy (1 John 3:8), by the work of the Cross (Col. 2:15), in order that “through his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is the Devil (Heb. 2:14-15);
  • He yet prowls about, though now his defeat is assured, for Christ shall reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:24-26);
  • His doom is assured, and when Christ shall come again, he will be cast into the Lake of Fire, there to suffer the presence of God in his righteous wrath forever (Rev. 20:10)

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© Faith Presbyterian Church 2009 • Jules Grisham, Pastor
Church Phone: (267) 392-5282 • E-mail: Jgrisham@faithprez.org