Does God "allow" the devil to afflict His people to teach them spiritual lessons?
This thought raises a lot of questions. Does God's correction involve the spiritual mafia? Is the Holy Spirit somehow inadequate for the task of correction? Does everything I go through come from the hand of God ultimately? If I resist the affliction, am I resisting God?
Where do we find clear answers to these crucial questions? Let's go to the highest and best theologian and find out what Jesus had to say.
The following is an excerpt from my book, The Armor of Light, Chapter Eighteen, "Is It God or the Devil?"
Discerning God's Correction from the Hand of the devil
Jesus fought with more than the temptations of the flesh. He overcame demons, sickness, and forces of nature, as well as attitudes like pride, greed, and lust for power. We’re on solid ground whenever we resist what He opposed. He came against ignorance and spiritual darkness by His teaching and preaching. He came against disease, infirmity, and demons through His healing and deliverance ministry.
By observing what He fought against in the Gospels, we clearly see what is of God and what is of the devil. Jesus, our Master Teacher, taught a plain lesson on how to discern good from evil. He made it so simple all can understand it.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
—John 10:10–11 (italics added)
The “sheep” (people) belong to God. The thief (the devil) comes to steal, kill, and destroy them. Loss, sickness, death, accidents, and destruction are the work of the thief coming to steal our finances, rob our health, crush our spirits, kill our families, and destroy our lives.
But Jesus came that His sheep may have an abundant, overcoming, and blessed life. The Bible says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
The Dividing Line of Spiritual Discernment
John 10:10 is the dividing line of spiritual discernment. On one side is the life-giving hand of the Good Shepherd, and on the other, the death-dealing hand of the thief. If it’s good, it’s from God. (Matthew 19:17, James 1:17, Psalm 136:1) If it’s bad, it’s from the devil. This is not difficult, so we don’t have to be deceived. God is a good God, and the devil is a bad devil.
This sounds overly simple, but many sincere believers think God permits the devil to attack them in order to teach them spiritual lessons.* If that’s the case, I’m confused. How can I resist a stealing, killing, or destroying circumstance if it’s being allowed by God? Would I not be resisting God’s will? And who am I to fight against Him? In other words, if God put sickness on me to teach me something, going to the doctor would be resisting His will. How do we make sense of this?
Jesus is our chief theologian and final interpreter of Scripture. He knew God and His ways better than anyone, and we don’t see anywhere in the Gospels where Jesus gave demons permission to attack God’s children. Jesus never made deals with demons—He cast them out! He made war against them. He came to destroy them. He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) It was Adam and Eve who gave the devil permission to attack the human race, not the Father or Jesus.
To God, the End Never Justifies the Means!
Personally, I don’t believe God uses the devil to spank His kids any more than you would hire a gangster to teach your child a lesson. Our righteous Father loves righteousness and hates iniquity. (Psalm 11:7, 5:5, 45:7) He will not use the instigator of all that is evil to correct His children—even to achieve an alleged good. If a human made a deal with the devil to teach people a lesson, he would be guilty of witchcraft. God hates witchcraft, so why would He practice it himself?
To God, the end never justifies the means. A righteous God uses righteous means to accomplish righteous purposes. Otherwise, the unrighteous means contaminate the end result. According to the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7–8), what a person sows (the means) determines what he reaps (the end). If I sow corn, I reap corn. If I sow weeds, I reap more weeds, not wheat!
God would never use an unrighteous devil to achieve His righteous purposes. That would be like performing heart surgery with a rusty, unsterilized scalpel, and then expecting the patient not to get an infection. It would be like washing white clothes in muddy water or wiping your kitchen counter with the rag you just used to clean the toilet. Yuck!
Personally, I don’t believe God uses the devil to spank His kids any more than you would hire a gangster to teach your child a lesson.
The Armor of Light
Demons are called “unclean spirits” for a reason, and the devil is the dirtiest of them all, being the embodiment of all spiritual and moral filth. So why would God use the “great contaminator” to make His people clean?
But suppose, for the sake of argument, He “allowed” the devil to afflict a person to teach him patience. Suppose he learned a little patience but in the presence of uncleanness became addicted to pornography. (An unclean spirit transmits its uncleanness.) Was the individual helped? Not really. For this reason, God corrects His children with the righteous means of His Word and Holy Spirit.
The “chastening of the Lord” described in Scripture is not the circumstance of trouble, but the conviction the Word and Holy Spirit bring when we do not handle the circumstance in faith, patience, and love. We are not to despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when we are rebuked by Him. (Hebrews 12:5, John 16:7–8). God’s Word is His agent of correction, not circumstances (2 Timothy 3:16–17), and for this reason the Word is called the "rod" of God (Micah 6:9). Adam and Eve allowed enough evil into the world to teach every man and woman great patience and faith without God lifting a finger.
All Authority Belongs to Jesus
Jesus stated that all authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) If all authority belongs to Jesus, then the enemy is running around with no authority. Having no authority means that God has not authorized him to afflict anyone in order to teach them a lesson. The devil has no sanction or permission from God to do anything. He is in rebellion against the authority of God, refuses to submit to God’s righteous rule, and cannot be trusted with the least amount of authority.
The devil’s Favorite Trap
The devil delights in afflicting the people of God—not with God’s permission—and then telling them that God did it to them or “allowed” it. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming God for what the devil did! God is good, and the devil is bad. When bad things come, it’s from the devil, whom we are to resist until he flees from us.
What's Your Take?
Does this resonate with you? Have you thought God was afflicting you to correct you or teach you something? Sincere believing pastors and teachers have taught this to equally sincere believers. But sincerity and repetition do not make a thing true.
We must look to the life and teachings of Jesus for a clear answer. He came to destroy the works of the devil, not to issue permission slips for him to attack believers. God's Word and Holy Spirit are everything God needs to correct His people. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) So, when you are attacked, submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
A few years ago, I preached a message on the evil present in this world. I just created a new post that links to that video and includes the sermon notes I handed out. It is like a short course on the subject of God and evil. It's well worth your time. I hope you find this sometimes humorous message to be encouraging.
I welcome your comments and questions on this important subject. Please feel free to leave them below in the comments or reach out to me through email at [email protected]