The figure Satan, (aka the Devil or Lucifer), has been a figure of fascination for centuries. Depending on who you ask and the culture you’re from, you will get a lot different answers of who Satan is. To most, Satan is a supernatural intelligence that is the embodiment of evil. Satan is thought to be directly responsible for all the problems of the world. He’s thought to be the king of hell where he torments people who are sent there and pokes them with hot sticks.
But who is Satan really? In Hebrew, the word Satan simply means “the accuser” or “prosecutor.” In Genesis 3 and the book of Revelation he’s called in the Hebrew Nachash which could be translated “The Serpent” and/or the “shining one” (Satan doesn’t look like a snake, but rather the word ha-nachash could mean a shining divine being that also had a serpentine appearance). Ha-nachash or Satan was a supernatural being created by God who freely chose to oppose God’s plan for humanity by prompting the humans to disobey God so they would either be killed or removed from God’s family. That’s why Jesus says he was a murderer from the beginning and his sole purpose to kill, steal, and destroy (John 8:44; John 10:10).
The primary way he tries to destroy human beings is by tempting them into believing this lie: if God lets you suffer, then he is really not a good God. We will see in scripture the root of this Satanic narrative and how Jesus exposed this narrative to be a demonstrable lie.
One of the objections you see to Christianity is something along the lines of “If God really loved me, he would not let bad things happen to me.” A lot of people have said “When I was a Christian, I tried really hard at being a Christian and God did not come through for me in my suffering.” People reject Jesus because if God really loved them, then he would never let them suffer. This view is prevalent because most people believe in moralism–if I live a good life, then the gods, or God, or the universe has to bless me. Likewise, most religions teach that if you obey God and have great enough faith, then God will not let anything bad happen to you. It’s easy to read that perspective into Bible and believe Christianity teaches such a notion. This is especially true in places like Psalm 91 where the psalmist says, “‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” When we read the Bible with a moralistic lens, we reflexively conclude that if we trust God, He won’t let anything bad happen to us.
And that is what Satan actually wants us to believe.
While in the desert fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus is being tempted by Satan. In Matthew’s account, Satan challenges Jesus by saying, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.”
Satan quotes Psalm 91 at Jesus.
What Satan is trying to do is to get Jesus to not walk the path of the cross which leads to suffering. He is essentially saying, “if God lets you suffer, then he is not a good God.” Satan is nothing but strategic. He wants us to believe this lie. If he is this desperate to make us believe it because it must be the most effective way of destroying people’s faith in God.
We shouldn’t believe Satan’s interpretation of scripture for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is simply because God says that is not true. In the book of Job, Job’s friends interpret the promise that way and apply it to Job. At the very end though, God shows up and looks at Job’s friends and said, “you have not spoken truth about me.” There is God saying to people who say “if you do not trust in God, then bad things are going to happen to you” are not telling the truth.
Even when you look at other places in the Bible we know we shouldn’t interpret Psalm 91 that way. For example, Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob and Joseph had dreams of grandeur that he’s better than everyone else. Joseph was on his way of becoming a terribly selfish and entitled person. As a result, his brothers were becoming murderously bitter. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and he then he sat in prison for years. During those years he must have cried out to God over and over again and God never answered him. Joseph suffered immensely and God was seemingly silent.
But if Joseph never went through suffering, he would have never been elevated to the position of prime minister of Egypt. From which, his policies led to a prevention of a major drought that would have killed thousands. Lastly, Joseph’s family would have never been reconciled or spiritually healed if Joseph did not go through suffering. This means if God did not allow that suffering, it would’ve been the worse thing for those people. Joseph summarizes this in Genesis 50 where he concludes, “you all intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.” What this verse tells us that not everything has a silver lining. There are things like rape and genocide for example that God did not create to be in this world; nevertheless, they are in this world. Yet God works all things together for good. In the perspective of eternity, God exercises his power in such a perfect way that all the evil in the end ultimately leads to greater glory for God and greater joy for us. All the evil deeds intended to destroy God’s creation actually do the reverse of what they were originally intended to do.
God will exercise his fatherly love in any circumstances– especially the worst ones. If you put Psalm 91 in context, later on God said “when you get in trouble, I will be with you!” It does not say “I will never let you go through trouble.” Jesus even teaches this in Luke 21. He said that even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. and everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish!
This is what Jesus is teaching: if you love anything more than me, it possesses you–including good things. If you are living for your children, you’re going to smother them and be too beholden to them. If you love money or job more than God, you will be enslaved by them. If you love your girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse more than God you will literally worship the ground they walk on. If you love anything more than God you will not possess your own soul and you will not be able to handle life. Because if you put your whole being and identity into anything other than God, it will crush you because it’s threaten or it fails to live up to expectations. The ironic thing is if God protect you from every circumstance you would become shallow, prideful, and fragile. You would be just like Joseph. Yet, when we trust Jesus, when we trust him through suffering and give him our life he not only gives us our life back, but he also makes it better than what it was before.
What Satan really does not want you to see is in Psalm 91, is the degree in which God would be with us in trouble. God saw the world he created and he see’s us harming each other, ruining each other, and he writes himself into our story. God left his heavenly throne and He became incarnate. He became weak. Nearly everyone he loved betrayed him, denied him, and abandoned him. Though he was perfect and innocent, he was wrongly found guilty and given the penalty meant for us. Jesus went into the presence of God as if he were the only sinner in the world, enduring the wrath of God. His body, mind, and spirit were utterly crushed at the cross. Jesus died the death you and I both should have died.
Jesus endured infinite suffering at infinite cost to himself. He did all of that so he could be with you in suffering. The only reason why that is, is because he loves you. We know we can trust Jesus through the small storms because he endured the ultimate storm. His main motivation was love for you. That is why we can sing:
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me
God doesn’t give us a watertight argument in explaining suffering. Rather, God gives us a watertight person who has been through suffering and therefore, we can trust him. That’s how we know God will be with us in suffering and we call the Satanic exposition of Psalm 91 for what it is; a baseless lie.