We are so often quick to say, “the devil made me do it?” But did he really? Should we attribute our sin to his tempting and what about our afflictions or trials? Do those come from spiritual attacks?
[Note before proceeding: This article is not discussing afflictions from psychological/mental disorders or illnesses for which medical intervention is often warranted.]
Recently my husband was speaking to a Christian woman who was suffering from some severe back problems. He asked what she thought had caused the problem, and her quick response was, “it’s a spiritual attack.”
Hmmm…Satan, or his minions, caused her back problems? Perhaps…but perhaps not. It raises the question, does Satan really have that kind of power to inflict injury or pain? Can we really attribute such things to him? And should we so quickly do so? Is Satan the one behind a car accident? A fall that results in a broken bone? And in the case of sin, while we know that he can tempt us, is it right to say, “the devil made me do it?” Yes, there may be times when it’s true, but we must be cautious in attributing responsibility for sin or afflictions to Satan as it can diminish our ultimate responsibility and response.
We should also consider that when we give Satan the credit, he probably smiles. He’s likely happy when he gets the credit for our pain, suffering, or especially our sins. It could give him the opportunity to think, “See, I’m in control, not God or the Holy Spirit who God gave them.” Or he might even say to God, “they don’t really love You enough to live according to Your will.” Is it a stretch to think he might say something like that? Not really, because that’s exactly what he did in his accusations of Job, when he said to God:
Job 1:9-11 “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
Satan’s accusation was that Job only loved God because God was good to him.
Most of us know the rest of the story. Satan was given permission to afflict Job. We can therefore understand from the account of Job that there are cases in which God allows Satan to afflict us. But we should remember not all affliction is from the hand of Satan. Job is a wonderful book that teaches patience and faithfulness in suffering. The book is also a clear reminder that God is Sovereign over all things, including the power of Satan.
When considering the cause of sin and affliction, also remember that Satan is not omnipresent (in all places at all times) as God is. Yes, there are demons who do his work, but before quickly attributing sin or affliction to a spiritual attack, remember we fight against three things: 1) Satan 2) the world and 3) our very own flesh (our sinful desires). [Our Got Questions this week focused on the three categories of sins from 1John. If you have not read that, you can do so here]
We can spend a lot of time trying to figure out if Satan, the world or the flesh is the cause for a particular affliction or sin, but we must remember that many of our afflictions are a result of living in a fallen world, in bodies that are dying; and in regards to ours sins, whether or not Satan tempted us, or the world lured us, or our flesh overcame us, sin is ultimately because of our wandering heart and our not trusting God, resulting in our failure to do His will.
Turn to the Lord
Going back to the example of Job, we know that he was afflicted by Satan and we know that Job never knew the cause of his pain and suffering. Job’s response was a lament, a cry-out to God, and in the end God revealed Himself in a mighty way and restored Job.
That’s what God wants from us. When we’re suffering from afflictions or the consequences of sin, the cause is not as important as the response. We can certainly try to discern the cause of our afflictions—Satan, the world or the flesh— and we can know that the cause of all sin is ultimately our unbelief, but knowing the cause will never bring us rest in affliction or repentance from sin.
Again, remember Job. After what is thought by most to have been a year of affliction, during which Job feared God had left him, the Lord came to him and revealed Himself with 70 questions (or more, depending on who’s counting). Job remembered who his God is—the awesome works of His Creator, the sovereign power of His Lord and the amazing grace of his God. Following the “lesson” found in Job chapters 38-41, Job was completely undone and humbled before God. Just like Isaiah, who in the presence of God declared “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), Job declared “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)
When we are small, God is big. When we are weak, He is strong for us. Remember these two simple lessons:
Deliverance is always preceded by dependance. When we are afflicted, we must turn quickly to the Lord and ask for the comfort that only He can give. Then we will find rest.
Restoration is always preceded by repentance. When we have sinned, we must turn quickly to the Lord and ask for the forgiveness that is found only in what Christ has done for us. Then we will be clean.
The next time any of us are despairing in affliction or saddened by sin, let us be quick to turn to the Lord and find rest in His grace and mercy
Bow down Your ear, O LORD, hear me; For I am poor and needy….Rejoice the soul of Your servant, For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You….For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore. (Psalm 86:1,4,10-12, NKJV)
If you did not read this week’s Got Questions, it cover the three categories of sin. Being quick to recognize our sin will help us in turning to the Lord.
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Read our Got Questions column here.