Suffering for the Sake of the Body

Session 2

The Pursuit of People Through Pain

After the first session, we’re going to go for another hour, Lord willing. I could have a heart attack. You know, something comes to my mind. It might be useful, I don’t know.

When I had prostate cancer, it was one of those moments when you get serious. I thought, “Hm, let’s take a deep breath.” I had surgery. Now people ask me, following the surgery, “How are you doing? How are you?” Do you know what my default answer is? I say, “I don’t have a clue.” The day before the biopsy I thought I was healthy as could be, and I wasn’t. So, right now when someone asks, “How are you, John Piper?” I don’t know. I could be dying of horrible cancer. I don’t know.

But you don’t want to hear that when you ask me how you doing. What you want is what I’ll say. I’ll say, “I feel fine.” That hides a lot. It’s true to say, “I feel fine, and I think I’m healthy. My numbers are good.” But am I good? God knows. So, when I say we’re going 60 more minutes if the Lord wills, I really mean it. I could be in heaven 60 minutes from now, and so could you. Or you could be in hell. It’s good to think about that.

God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering

We’re talking about God’s sovereignty over Satan and all of the remarkable powers that God has given him in this age. I’m not going to read all of this in the book of Job. I’ll kind of retell the story of Job and read a few sentences. Job is one of the most important books on suffering, maybe the most important book on suffering in the Bible.

Satan comes to God and says, “The reason Job is a worshiper of you is because you treat him so well. He’s healthy, he’s got lots of camels, lots of donkeys, lots of sheep, and a big family. All is well, why wouldn’t he worship you? But if you take those things away he’ll curse you to your face.” That’s the gist of the issue. He says, “If you put forth your hand now and touch all that he has, he’ll surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). Then, the Lord says to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (Job 1:12).

Now, just think about that for a moment. God is saying, “You may hurt Job very badly. He’s going to lose his children — all 10 of them — and he’s going to lose his animals.” And then he says, “Don’t you dare touch his body.” And Satan can’t, which means God could have drawn the line earlier. He could have said, “Don’t take his children, but you can take his animals.” Or he could have said, “Take five of his children.” He could have drawn the line anywhere he wanted. Well, the animals were all killed, partly by manmade raids and partly by natural disasters.

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:18–22).

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord

Is that a true statement? Did the Lord take away, or did Satan take away? The Lord said, “Satan, you can have at him.” But Job says, “The Lord took my children.” And I think Job 1:22 is meant to keep us from concluding that Job was wrong. Through all this, Job didn’t sin. He didn’t sin when he said that. When he said God was behind it, he didn’t blame God. Blame connotes imputing sin to God. When you blame somebody you’re saying they’re guilty. Job said God did it but he’s not guilty. There’s no guilt in it. God has a right to do whatever he wants. The Lord takes and the Lord gives.

I didn’t put this in here but I wrote it in as a note to myself. Another evidence that Job is telling the truth there is that at the end of the book, when all is said and done, the author who is inspired says something. Job sometimes says false things. And Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sometimes say false things. This book is a collection of false and true statements. You have to sort your way through as to what’s good and bad. Well, Job 42 is a summary, and it’s written by the author of the book, not quoting anybody who might be saying something wrong. And this is what he says in Job 42:11:

Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.

That is crystal clear. So, whatever you make of the statement “The Lord took away,” the author of the book, who is inspired by God said, “all the evil the Lord brought upon him.”

5. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Hand in Natural Disasters

We’re not going to look at the whole story of Job yet. We’re talking about God’s sovereignty over Satan’s hand in natural disasters. Some of these details demonstrate this.

The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep (Job 1:16).

That’s lightning probably. There’s no reason to think it’s some weird supernatural glow from Mars or something. The fire of God burned up the sheep and the servants. There was some violent kind of storm that did that. And the children were killed by a what? Wind.

Psalm 135:5–7 says:

The Lord is great . . .
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
     in heaven and on earth . . .

     [He] makes lightnings for the rain
     and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

If there’s a wind, God is bringing it forth.

This one is very powerful because it’s the Lord Jesus:

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat . . . And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm . . . And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:37–41).

Enthroned Over the Flood

So, natural disasters, tsunamis, tornadoes, and Katrinas are ordained by God. After the tsunami, there was a man who wrote a book, which is a very, very bad book. And he said in the Wall Street Journal:

No Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God’s inscrutable councils, or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God’s good ends.

Now, if he were here I would say, “When Jesus says this, when the wind and a sea are addressed by the Lord and he says to them, ‘You hush, you be still,’ and they obey, could he have done that to this wave coming across the South Sea? Or was it too big to handle? Or has he changed in the last 2000 years?” I don’t know what he would answer. I just know what I would answer. He hasn’t! I’m not throwing the Bible out.

Jesus Christ, with one word, makes a wave go flat. He speaks one word and the wind stops. On 9/11 God was watching these jets. There were about 90 people on the jet and 2,500 people in the towers. And the jets were flying for the World Trade Center towers. What would it have taken to miss those towers? Just a gust of wind. That’s all. He could have blown them 60 feet off course. That’s a piece of cake if you can command the wind. There’s just no way to believe in God and not give him his rights.

We have to solve the problem of natural evil another way than by saying either that God couldn’t or that God is evil not to. That’s not the solution. We will move towards the solution.

There’s not a plant or flower below, But makes Thy glories known; And clouds arise, and tempests blow, By order from Thy throne.

I wonder how many people, when they sing that song, mean it?

6. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Sickness-causing Power

Are you sick? Did Satan do it? He might have. He might be doing it right now.

You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil . . . (Acts 10:38).

There’s a generic statement that lots of the sicknesses that Jesus healed were demonically caused. Do you remember the woman whose back was bent over? Luke 13:16 says:

Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?

Then, Jesus straightened her up and healed her. And he attributed the ailment to Satan. I don’t think you should jump to the conclusion all disease is Satanically caused, but lots of it is probably. You read other texts like this. Exodus 4:11 says:

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”

I’m so thankful that we have a disabilities ministry here at Bethlehem. Those are disabilities spoken of in that passage — mute, deaf, blind — and there are others. God is saying to Moses, “Would you stop arguing with me that your mouth isn’t good enough to go down there and represent me? I made your mouth. I made everybody’s mouth, and eyes, and legs, and arms, and back.” And it is a deep, deep, deep gratification to my soul that the minds and hearts of those in our disabilities ministry — of those with disabilities, of those who parent those with disabilities, and of those who lead in that ministry — are of one mind that we’re not going to get angry at God about this, at least not in our best moments. We’re going to submit and we’re going to say, “This boy, this girl, is here for a reason. It’s for the good of this church. As painful as it is in our family, we’re going to love at great cost.” That is one of the most beautiful things that is happening in this church. You just need to know about it.

That the Works of God Might Be Displayed

This is one of the texts that I have heard and seen in emails.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1–2).

How many parents of disabled kids might be asking that, right?

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents . . . (John 9:3).

Then, instead of looking for another cause he looks for a purpose:

. . . but that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3).

That’s methodologically helpful to see how he does that. What if they pushed on him here and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We didn’t ask that. We didn’t ask that. We didn’t ask about the purpose. We asked the cause.” And Jesus says, “You don’t need to know any more than you already know about the cause. What you need to know is that God’s in charge here, and he’s got a good purpose.”

And I suspect that’s the way we’ll have to live with a lot of things of which we don’t know the cause, whether it’s Satan or not.

Skin for Skin

Now we’re back to Job because Satan comes back to God and he says:

Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 2:4–5).

And the Lord says to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life” (Job 2:6). So God is saying, “You can touch his body now, but you can’t kill him.” Then it says, “Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job” (Job 2:7).

Now, that’s really clear. Satan is the subject of that verb. Those boils were caused by Satan, and they were horrible. In Job 7:5, it says worms got in them. He had to take pieces of broken pots and scrape them to get the juice out of them and try to get the worms out. It’s horrible. And they were from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Satan is really brutal. And his wife said, “You should curse God and die” (Job 2:9). And Job said, “You speak like one of the foolish women” (Job 2:10). I’m glad he said “as” because, in my poem about Job, I got her back. I don’t know if that’s true, I just think she had a bad moment. And who has not had a bad moment?

Discerning Words for the Wind

In fact, I was talking with a man who’s really wrestling in his marriage the other day. Horrible things have been said back and forth, and some things are said that are so hurtful that you wonder if you can ever recover. I took him to Job 6:26. I’ll read it to you. This is Job talking to his accusers:

Do you think that you can reprove words,
     when the speech of a despairing man is wind?

Do you hear what that’s saying? He’s saying, “You’re beating me up because I just said something. And probably, I’m going to wind up regretting that I said it. But you’re going to get in my face right now? At this moment with these boils all over me and my 10 dead kids?”

So, years ago, as a staff, we developed this simple phrase, “Discern the words for the wind.” In the hospital room, at the funeral, and on the street with a kid lying in the curb — like I stood beside a dad down on 11th Avenue with his dead girl who had a blue tarp over her — you don’t do theological analysis at that moment. You might later, maybe in a month or two, or a year. You cut people a lot of slack.

Job didn’t say to his wife, “You’re a foolish woman.” He said, “You’re talking like a foolish woman.” And he probably said it gently. He said:

Shall we indeed accept good at the hand of God, and shall we not accept adversity? (Job 2:10).

He chalked it up to God. “Satan did it,” it says right there. Satan smote Job and Job said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not accept adversity?” And with all this, he didn’t sin with his lips (Job 2:11). So, he knows that, though Satan is real, he’s not ultimate.

Satan Serves Our Sanctification

We’re talking about sovereignty over sickness. I think the thorn in the flesh that Paul has was a sickness. I can’t prove it. Some people have suggested it was a really painful relationship. Maybe. He says:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Who’s design is that? Is it Satan that doesn’t want him to exalt himself? I think he does. That’s how stupid Satan is. Satan is the one who has somehow made Paul miserable, and the effect is holiness. Satan serves sanctification here. This is how irrational Satan is and how sovereign God is. He continues:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me (2 Corinthians 12:8).

So, he knew good and well, that if the Lord would take it away he could contradict Satan’s message. And the Lord said:

[The Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses . . . (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Satan is involved in giving you thorns and Christ is totally able to take them away. But sometimes he doesn’t. If you have a thorn, I think you can broaden this out to any kind of pain in your life that you have deeply repented of — if there’s any of you involved in it — and you’ve cried out repeatedly to the Lord. If you asked me the question about how long you should pray for something, I don’t know the answer. I’m still praying about certain pains I’ve had in my life for decades — more than three times, that’s for sure. And I think it’s God’s will that I keep asking and keep knocking. Keep asking — that’s the point of the parables, right? Knock, knock, knock, knock until the Lord gets up and says, “I’m tired of this knocking. I’m opening the door and giving you some bread. Get out of my life.” That’s the parable, that’s not the application.

Isn’t it amazing that Jesus would tell a parable like that about God? I mean, that’s really amazing. He’s very risky. If you think Mark Driscoll’s risky, try Jesus. So, I don’t want to make light of this. When can you know that God has given you this and you’re just going to own it for the rest of your life? I think the answer that Paul would give would be, “He told me. He told me.” What would that be like? It would probably be some settled peace where the Lord says, “I love you very much. I’m not going to leave you. I’m going to be there, and I’m going to give you the strength you need, but don’t come to me with this anymore. This is your lot. I’m giving it to you.”

I think you need to know that pretty soundly in order to stop praying. So, I’m not going to criticize you if you’ve lived with an issue, a person, a pain, or a besetting sin for 30, 40, or 50 years and you’re still praying about it. I’m saying, “I’ll pray with you. Amen.” I have seen breakthroughs in people’s lives years and years later. And you wonder, “Why did God answer the thousandth prayer and not the 800th?” He has his purposes that we do not know.

7. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Use of Animals (and Plants)

Now, this is more relevant today than you think it is. The stories are going to look kind of twinky, but if I apply them a certain way it won’t seem that way. Revelation 12 talks about the old serpent, but that may be just symbolic so we’ll leave that one aside.

What about Jonah? The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish for three days. So, God appointed fish. He said, “You’re appointed.” Isn’t that remarkable? He said, “You’re appointed and you will swallow him. You won’t chew. You just swallow. I control your jaws. I will make a little bubble in your stomach, and we’ll make this work. But you’re appointed. I’m choosing you. You’re the elect whale for this purpose.” Then, the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited (Jonah 2:10). So, he can decide when fish vomit, and where they vomit.

Jonah 4:6 says:

Now the Lord God appointed a plant (so now he’s talking to plants) and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.

Then Jonah 4:7 says:

But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.

I just love this. This is God’s absolute sovereign control over the animal realm. God can do that to any lion that breaks out of a zoo, or any mosquito carrying Malaria.

Easing Suffering Under God’s Sovereign Hand

Here’s another application regarding Malaria. Ralph Winter is on a crusade, and has been for some time, arguing that spiritual warfare ought to include recruiting more Christians to be involved in science in order to stop helping us live with diseases and be about conquering diseases. Have you been reading that stuff over the years? Malaria kills millions of people. It’s the poor man’s disease around the world. Then, there are these blindnesses caused by a little fly that bites people and gives them River Blindness. And there are these diseases that we don’t know anything about here in the United States that just take out people by the millions around the world.

He blames Calvinism for this. I’ve written him over and over again and said, “Calvinism is not the problem.” Because he says people like me, who believe God is sovereign and therefore ordain these things things, take away all the motive to conquer them. To which I say, “Bologna! Look at the history of the world. The Christians who have been involved in science, and in creativity, and in making machines, and in alleviating pain — say, in pregnancy — have been people who totally believe God runs the world, and he runs it with his almighty power. The very fact that he runs it means the world is reliable. It’s got laws. You can figure them out and you can change the world. And we certainly should.”

So I’m saying amen to this design that we fight disease, and virtually all disease is caused by animals. Or, I suppose some are caused by plants. Bacteria is a plant, isn’t it? There are these little viruses, little plants, and these little animals that you can’t see, and they’re killing people by the millions all over the world. And Satan is behind it and God rules it, and there is no contradiction to say that loving your neighbor as you love yourself means that if you’ve got it within you to get rid of smallpox, get rid of it. Yellow fever? Get rid of it. Black plague? Get rid of it.

So, I’m summoning you. This is an alter-call moment for some of you who are totally incompetent relationally and love science: give your heart to it and save the world from some disease or become a Wycliffe Missionary. I can only say that because I love Wycliffe so much. Go off into the jungle and translate the Bible somewhere. What a wonderful use for some personalities. I say it with the greatest love in my heart. I know so many of them, and they’re the stars of the universe to me. They really don’t get along very well with people, but they’re saving souls by putting the Bible into other languages.

But back to the main point: scientists, rise up! Rise up! Discover those vaccines at the service of Jesus. You’re not fighting God because God ordains that as much as he ordains the mosquito. Don’t say, “Oh, God is sovereign. I’ll just lie in bed all day.” Get out of bed! Join him in his purposes to save, to heal, to love, and to relieve suffering, especially eternal suffering.

8. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Temptations to Sin

This gets a little more controversial. And maybe this will help to say, I don’t know if it would or not. Sometimes people ask me, “How do you take a church, or a Sunday School Class, or a friend, or a wife, or a group, from being very free-will oriented and rejecting the sovereignty of God, over to a robust, humble, submission to God’s sovereignty the way we’ve been looking at? How do you do that?”

One thing that I would suggest — and this is not subtle because I’m not into any kind of deceit — is talking about his sovereignty in the natural realm, which is pretty much what we’ve been doing up until now. That is more acceptable to a lot of people, though not everybody, than to say he’s sovereign over our wills. But he is sovereign over the wind. That’s problematic enough if you have hurricanes, right? But you start there, and if people can begin to delight in the greatness of God, the majesty of God, and the sovereign goodness of God in hard things naturally, it’s less of a step to take when you take up something like this — namely, God’s sovereignty over our wills.

Spectacular Sins

Luke 22:3–4 says:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them.

This is sin to the max. In my little book Spectacular Sins, this is the most spectacular in my judgment in the universe. The betrayal of the Son of God by a friend with a kiss is the most spectacular sin that’s ever been committed. I think it’s more spectacular than Lucifer rebelling at the beginning of sin, or any other you could come up with. So, this is mega sin here. Was God in charge?

Acts 2:23 says:

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

So, he was delivered over by Judas, which was inspired by Satan, by the predetermined plan of God. Or listen to Acts 4:27–28:

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod (with all of his wicked sins) and Pontius Pilate (with his sniveling expediency, washing his hands, trying to get out of his responsibility), along with the Gentiles (who put the crown of thorns on him, spit on him, hit him with rods, and said, “Prophesy!”) and the peoples of Israel (who cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”), to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

There isn’t any more important text in the Bible from my understanding of the compatibility between human willing as sin — blameworthy, punishable sin — and God’s sovereignty than that one right there. Do you know why it’s so central? It’s because it’s the cross we’re talking about. When people get in my face, either meekly or angrily, about the apparent problems of saying that God governs all things, including the sinful actions of free human beings, I say, “Now, please be careful. Because if you’re consistent, if you carry your view to the end, you destroy the atonement. Because the atonement happens when the Son of God is murdered by God’s design to cover your sin. And the murder of the Son of God is the greatest sin that’s ever been committed, and it is the key to your salvation.”

If you pull the plug on God’s right to rule the sinful acts of men, you cannot have God designing the death of his Son at their hands. You can’t have it both ways. The rubber meets the road at the cross, as it does in so many areas, right there. So, if you want to talk this through with anybody, you’re going to wind up here someday. You don’t have to explain this. You don’t have to have a final solution for it. You do need to believe it. It says, “They did whatever [God’s] hand and plan predestined to occur.” That’s what Herod did. That’s what Pontius Pilate did. That’s what the Gentiles did, and that’s what the people of Israel did. So, my answer is that God is sovereign over Satan’s temptations to sin. Satan was involved in this big time.

Sifted Like Wheat

Now, look at this. This, Luke 22:31. It’s the New Testament reenactment of Job. It’s the closest parallel to Job in all of the New Testament. Look what happens before Peter denies the Lord three times:

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat . . . (Luke 22:31).

Now, stop there. What’s going on? Satan demanded it from whom? Evidently, this is something like Job. Satan comes into the council of the Almighty — I don’t know why God would permit him there — but he does, and he demands, “You let me at him, and I’ll cause him to deny your Son in the very moment of your Son’s suffering.” What do you think the meaning of sift is here? When Jesus says that Satan wants to sift him like wheat.

I think it means, “I’m going to take Peter and I’m going to flop him on the grid, and I’m going to push him through. And you know what’s coming out and staying in the grid? Faith. And the Peter that comes through on the other side is de-faithed. He is a non-believer and a rejecter. And he’s out of here because he doesn’t want to get crucified too. That’s what’ll happen if you let me at him.” Something like that’s going on here. And then, look at what happens:

But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail (Luke 22:32).

Did that prayer get answered? I think it did, if fail here means fail utterly. I think that’s what it means. It’s a temporary short-circuiting of faith to say, “I don’t know him. I don’t know Jesus.” He’s lying through his teeth. It’s motivated by fear. This is not faith talking. So, he’s failing, but will he fail utterly?

The righteous falls seven times and rises again . . . (Proverbs 24:16).

Jesus says to him, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again . . . (Luke 22:32).

Isn’t that sovereignly beautiful? This is not if. He says, “When you have turned again . . .” And now you see one of the purposes in it: “Strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). That is an amazing passage of Scripture. Satan says, “You give me this rock, and I’ll crush him to sand.” And God says, “You can have him.” And Jesus says, “He’s mine, Father.” And the Father says, “I know he’s yours.” And the Father says, “So, what would you like me to do?” And at that moment, they can do anything they want. They’re God. And, Jesus says, “Let him fall three times, but then, bring him back with tears and bitter weeping. Break him. Make him useful later for weak people.” And the Father says, “All right, we’ll do it that way.”

The Intercession of Christ

That’s how limited Satan is in your life. He may be hammering you with temptation, and isn’t it glorious that Jesus is praying for you according to Romans 8:33–35?

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Jesus, at this very moment, is praying for you. And the Father always answers him. He could have prayed that it only happened once or twice with Peter. He could have prayed that he would conquer and Satan would be knocked back on his heels, and there would have been no denial. But, he has his purpose: “when you turn, strengthen your brothers.”

It could be like John Mark. Do you remember what John Mark did? He bailed in Lystra on one of Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul didn’t want quitters. He thought, “You’re out of here. You quit.” Later on, he wants to go with Paul and Paul says, “I don’t take people like that.” Barnabas, who was more gentle than Paul, said, “Well, I’ll take him them. Give him a chance, Paul.” Paul said, “I’ve got too much at stake. I go to jail almost everywhere I go. I can’t have people like that with me.” Now, Peter was very closely related to Mark because Papius, outside the Bible, said that Peter was Mark’s main source of information for the Gospel of Mark — if it was the same Mark.

9. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Mind-blinding Power

This is how you got saved. It’s because of this sovereignty. Second Corinthians 4:4 says:

In their case the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

People don’t believe because Satan, along with their own innate depravity, is causing darkness in their minds. Satan can do that. How does anybody get saved then? Second Corinthians 4:6 says:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Notice the parallels here. The phrase the light corresponds to the light. The phrase of the knowledge corresponds to of the gospel. The phrase of the glory of God corresponds to of the glory of Christ. The phrase in the face of Christ corresponds to who is the image of God. This is the same reality being talked about, only here the blindness is being overcome. God says, “Let there be light in this heart,” and there was light. That’s how you got saved. You may not even know that, but you were dark, you were blind, and Satan was keeping you indifferent to the gospel. The gospel was boring, scary, or whatever. And then, somehow, by some means, light broke in, knowledge happened, and the Glory of God was seen, and Christ became irresistibly attractive. And so, yes, Satan has mind-blinding power, but not ultimate power. God can overcome it.

Irresistible Grace

Let’s name that. That’s called irresistible grace. Irresistible grace does not mean grace can’t be resisted. It means you can only resist it as long as he lets you resist it. And when he wants to overcome your resistance, he does what 2 Corinthians 4:6 says. He changes your heart and your mind. He opens your eyes so that you see, and you are drawn to the Savior. Coming to Christ is the appearance of Christ as irresistibly beautiful, and it’s free because you’re being drawn to what you delight in.

It would be unfree if you looked at Christ and said, “I don’t want you. I don’t like you. I think you’re false and not beautiful, but I’m scared of hell like crazy, and I’m coming anyway.” That’s not free and it’s not valid. We are free when we come to Christ, meaning our eyes have been opened to see what’s real and we’re acting in accord with reality and we’re drawn to true beauty with a heart that’s truly attracted by beauty — the beauty of Christ.

Another illustration of God’s sovereignty over mind-blinding power is the Jews:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25).

Now, here’s the implication. Do you see that word until? A hardening has come upon Israel. That’s why it’s so difficult to win Jews to Christ today. A hardening has come upon Israel, but it has a limit. It has a timeframe. There’s going to come a day when, after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, that’s going to be overcome, which just shows you how sovereign God is over it. He’s got his timeframe where there will be a hardening and then it will stop, and then there will be a great movement to Christ.

10. God’s Sovereignty Over Satan’s Spiritual Captivity

This is maybe one of the most relevant ones for you when you think about whether there are spiritual and demonic bondages in your family.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance (it’s not automatic) leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Just think of it. Paul is describing for us how you can be the instrument of delivering people from the captivity of the supernatural power of the devil. I do not minimize or deny the relevance of extraordinary exorcisms. I’ve been involved in one. It was mega demonic possession. The person was out of control, horrible, and had another personality for two hours. And we watched the person be delivered and forever changed, at least for the years I knew her after that. So, I know that happens. It’s real. Demonic possession in the Bible and in the 21st Century is real.

Be ready. The best way to be ready is to know your Bible and to pray every day. Reading lots of books is not the key, but going deep with God and believing in the supernatural, studying what rights you have as a child of God, and knowing the power within you and being sold out to him. That’s the way to get ready. Just normal, radical, crazy Christianity is the way to get ready to meet the devil some dark night.

God May Grant Repentance

However, that’s not what’s going on here, is it? And yet, this is deliverance. This is deliverance ministry. It involves things like being kind, not being quarrelsome, being a good explainer of truth, and being patient. These are all powerful spiritual realities. It’s just as powerful as, “Be gone, Satan!” It may be more powerful and more necessary, and it may be harder for you. There are a lot of charismatic types who are really proud people, and they go around delivering people all the time with these loud statements. And then, they’re rats in private. They just treat people terribly and they love money.

Well, this is hard, right? Do you have victory over impatience in your life? This involves patience, gentleness, and correcting those who are in opposition. Now, all of that is stage setting with spiritual powers for deliverance. And how does it come? Well, God, in view of that teaching and that love, may grant them repentance to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24–26). Remember Jesus said, “You’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). They may come to their senses. They’ve been in a stupor. And they may escape then from the snare of the devil, who’s had them captive to do his will, not God’s.

So, Satan has people in captivity, maybe in your house, maybe you. I don’t think he possesses believers, but he does almost everything else to believers. He oppresses them, jerks them around, darkens them, and discourages them. There are unbelievable forces against us. And this is the way we are to conquer him ordinarily. The others, I think, are more extraordinary. This is ordinary.