The Bible says in the book Revelation that God will imprison Satan for one thousand years and will then throw Satan into the Lake of Fire forever. Since God has the power to restrain Satan why didn’t He do so as soon as Satan rebelled? Why didn’t God keep Satan out of the Garden of Eden and away from Adam and Eve? Why did God allow Satan to tempt men to sin?
The Bible does not give a direct answer to this question. Despite that, what the Bible reveals about the character and purposes of God helps in the formulation of an answer. Romans 9:21-23 speaks of the Sovereignty of God in His dealings with men. God allowed some, like Pharaoh, to persist in sin to show all mankind His wrath, power, patience and glory. God in His grace and wisdom allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve so that through their sin His wrath, patience, mercy and glory would be known to all people. Because man sinned we learned first hand that God is Holy and always punishes sin. We also learned that God is an overwhelmingly gracious God who gave His Son to die for our sin. Through sin we learn about God what we could never have known any other way. The sin of Satan and the fall of man allowed God to show that His grace is far greater than our sin.
The righteous angels study the gospel looking from the outside into something mysterious to them. (1 Peter 1:12) The angels do not understand the mercy and grace of God in the same way men do because the angels are not recipients of His grace. In the end, the plan of God that allowed sin will result in incredible, eternal praise to Him. “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10) All the redeemed will praise God for His righteous judgment of the wicked. (Revelation 19:1-2) The plan of God which allowed sin also allows people the opportunity to truly and personally know “the grace of God that brings salvation.” (Titus 2:11)
The words at the end of Genesis apply to this question. “You thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.” (Genesis 50:20) Satan was bent on the destruction of man, and God allowed Satan to work great evil. All the evil Satan desired also accomplishes the eternal good that God ordained. God allowed Satan to tempt man for our eternal good and His eternal praise. Though a full answer cannot be given to this question we can rest in the character of God. God is perfect, wise and good. The Judge of the whole earth will do right. (Genesis 18:25) You can trust Him.
In Genesis 1 the Bible quotes God as saying, “Let us make man in our own image.” The next verse says, “So God created man in His own image.” Why does God speak of Himself in the plural but other places in the Bible refer to Him in the singular? This is seen in other places in Genesis. In Genesis 3 God said, “ Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” In Genesis 11 God says, “Let us go down, and there confound their language.” Why does God sometimes refer to Himself in the plural when the Bible says there is only one God?
Two answers can be suggested for this question. First, God is using the “royal we.” Kings and Queens sometimes referred to themselves in the plural. Wikipedia gives an example of this, “Now, we, Edward, by the grace of God, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. . .” Queen Elizabeth once proclaimed, “Know you that it is Our will and pleasure . . .” The royal we also shows up in literature. In the book Prince Caspian King Peter proclaims, “It is our pleasure to adventure our royal person. . .” This formal way of speaking could be the reason God is referred to in the plural, but it does not seem likely.
The Bible contains few plural references to God, though it contains many direct quotes from God in which He refers to Himself in the singular “I”. If God was using the royal we in Genesis, readers would expect to find it appear in later Scriptures and more frequently throughout the Bible. The small number of plural references to God suggests another reason for God saying “we” and “us” in Genesis.
The other suggested answer to this question is that God is both singular and plural. Which is what the Bible teaches. God is One God who is Three. He is One God in Three persons. This is known as the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible teaches that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are each fully God and each are three separate persons, distinct from one another in their being, work and intellect. The Bible does not teach that God is three Gods, or a three part God. The Bible teaches that God is One, who is made up of three persons. This is a incredibly difficult concept to understand, but the Bible’s teachings are clear. There is One God, who is Three.
The Bible teaches that God is One God. “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:34) “There is one God, and there is none other but He.” “I am God, and there is none else; I am God and there is none like me.” (Isaiah 46:9) “There is one God; and there is none other but He.” (Mark 12:32) “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
The Bible also clearly teaches that the Father is God. “There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things.” (1 Corinthians 8:6) The Bible teaches that Jesus is God. “I and My Father are one.” (John 10:30) “In the Beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Bible also declares the Holy Spirit is God. “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost . . . thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” (Acts 5:3-4) Scripture says there is One God and there are Three who are God. This is not a contradiction, but a declaration that God is a Trinity- One who is Three.
The God who created the universe is God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. Genesis records that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, creating the land and all that is on it. Colossians, John and Hebrews declare that Jesus, God the Son, created all things. Isaiah, Psalms and Jeremiah proclaim that the Father created all things. When God said, “Let us make man in our own image” He was speaking to Himself. These plural pronouns for God in Genesis are not proof of the Trinity, but when read in light of the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity it becomes apparent that God’s plurality and singularity is reflected in the pronouns in Genesis. God refers to Himself as “us” because He is One God in Three Persons.
Mark Silk authored a recent essay in which he declared that the terms for God are metaphorical and can be easily replaced. Mr. Silk suggested calling God “they” to avoid patriarchal language. “A phrase such as ‘God the Father’ should be treated as a metaphor- and for those concerned about the embedded misogyny of the tradition, to say nothing of post-binary folks– a deeply problematic one.”
This is not a new suggestion. For many years some preachers and teachers have been using feminine pronouns to speak of God. For example, some have rewritten the Lord’s prayer to begin, “Our Mother which art in Heaven.” Is this an acceptable change? Given the many abuses that have been perpetrated by male church leaders, should Christian’s avoid masculine and fatherly terminology to describe God?
Mark Silk is accurate when he says the references to God as Father are metaphorical. God is not male in any biological sense. God is not a Father in any reproductive sense. God did not sire any children. Jesus is God the Son but that title speaks only to how members of the Trinity relate to one another. The name God the Son does not indicate that the second person of the Trinity is somehow the offspring or product of God the Father. God the Father and God the Son are equally eternal. Neither owe their existence to the other. Likewise, the description of the Christian as the child of God is a reference to a relationship that exists by adoption, not to any physical procreation on God’s part.
Since much of the Biblical language used of God is metaphorical, can we therefore replace problematic terms with ones less troublesome? No, Christian’s cannot call God by any extra-Biblical title or description they find most Biblical. God has revealed Himself in certain terms. Man dare not devise new descriptions of God. Biblical terminology about God is not literal, but it’s non-literalness does not imply inaccuracy. Rather, the metaphorical nature of many descriptions of God suggests truths greater than any one can understand.
The Bible is not the product of the mind of deeply religious men. The Bible is the product of God. Scripture was given directly by God the Holy Spirit through holy men of God. The human authors of the Bible wrote exactly what God intended. Every Word of God is true and accurate. Because the Bible is the Word of God it is the Christian’s authority. Because every Word of God is pure the Biblical language used to describe God must be submitted to. While God is not male in the physical human sense, He is undoubtedly masculine with a masculinity that transcends biological maleness. God is the Father of all creation and the Father of all saints in a way that transcends siring children. These terms are descriptions of God that accommodate the limitations of the human mind and they are also the only authoritative guides to understanding God.
Consider, not one time in the thousands of references to God does the Bible speak of God as “she.” Even in situations where mothering analogies are used, like the image of a mother hen sheltering her young under her wings, the pronouns for God remain masculine. “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.” (Psalm 91:4) Past experiences may cause some to be uncomfortable with fatherly terminology, but the corrective is not a change of the way we describe God. The corrective is to develop a right understanding of God that we may think rightly about God our Father.
The character of God is declared in the Bible and is revealed in His actions to humanity. For example, Scripture says that God is both just and righteous. “The Lord our God is righteous in all His works.” (Daniel 9:14) “The just Lord is in the midst thereof: he will do no iniquity.” (Zephaniah 3:5) The Bible affirms repeatedly the justice and righteousness of God. What does this mean?
The Biblical words translated “just” and “righteous” do not mean precisely what is meant by those same words in modern English. In English the word “just” has a connotation of legal justice that does what is right in dispensing the law. A just judge passes judgment rightly, lawfully and without bias. A just rebuke is one that is rightly deserved. In English the word “righteous” has the connotation of moral behavior. The righteous man is honest, faithful and ethical. Just is often perceived as having a bent towards the judicial and legal. Righteous is seen as referring towards the personal and moral. This distinction did not exist in Hebrew or Greek. Instead, the Bible brings both concepts together into one package. One Hebrew word is translated as “just” in some places and as “righteous” in others. The same is true in Greek. In the original languages, the words translated just and righteous are identical. The Bible does not consider just and righteous to be two different ideas.
The Biblical words combine the legal and the moral aspects. To be righteous and just is to live in accord with the law of God. The just one keeps the moral and civil laws of God. The one who is just and righteous will respond fairly to all. The just business man will not cheat his customers. The righteous ruler will not bend the law to suit his own ends, or show favoritism in passing judgment. One who is just and righteous always acts in accord with the law of God.
To say that God is just and righteous is to say that God always acts in accord with His own law. His actions never violate His law and He always judges fairly. When Abraham pled with God for Lot he appealed to the justice of God. Because justice gives to all men what they deserve and does not punish the innocent Abraham pled accordingly. He knew the character of God. Because God is just He will not punish the righteous for the actions of the wicked. “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)
The justice of God is also a perfect justice which judges according to complete knowledge of the situation and the individual. (Psalm 7:9) When God condemns, His judgment is always accurate and right. (Revelation 16:7) He never condemns the innocent or acquits the guilty. Every decision and ruling is always the correct ruling and in perfect keeping with all His laws.
To say that God is just and righteous is also to say that He is always moral and upright in His deeds. God never acts immorally or unfaithfully. He always does what is proper and right. He does not sin. (Zephaniah 3:5) This means all can trust God to do what is right, to execute perfect judgment and to always act in accord with His perfect law.
In a recent conversation the assertion was made that if the Bible is true then Jesus should have already returned to put a stop to the evils that are happening in this world. Recent headlines include multiple mass shootings and the kidnaping of missionaries and their families in Haiti. If God is real and if Jesus is really God then why doesn’t He come back like He promised and put an end to all these terrible wrongs?
This question gets back to the old problem of evil, that never goes away. The Bible gives several clear answers to this question. The most important is that Jesus has not come yet so that others might be saved. (2 Peter 3:9) Because God does not delight in the death of the wicked, He waits. He gives the innocent opportunity to repent, lest they should be destroyed with the wicked. (Jonah 4:11) Because God desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) He gives them room to repent. (Revelation 2:21) When Jesus returns, the chance for salvation will be gone. The lost will be forever condemned. Jesus’ delay is salvation for those who will believe. (2 Peter 3:15)
Many skeptics who raise this question are not demanding a righting of wrongs, they are demanding Jesus prove Himself. Jesus has already given all the proof needed. When John the Baptist’s disciples brought a message to Jesus asking if He was really the Messiah, Jesus pointed them to the miracles He had done. They were proof enough that He is who claimed to be. (Matthew 11:2-6) God has given us even more proof that Jesus is God- the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Bible gives ample evidence that Jesus is who He claimed to be. He has no need to prove Himself further to those who reject the proof already given.
The original question also betrays an expectation that Jesus is like a super hero who swoops in to save the day from the worst of villains, but allows the rest of humanity to go on with their lives. This is a complete misunderstanding of Jesus, His judgment and His righteousness. When Jesus returns to judge wickedness, He will not just judge the worst of evils, He will judge all the wicked. (Matthew 25:31-33) Jesus will not judge according to man’s standards of who is a good person, He will judge according to His perfect standard. (Matthew 5:48) All those who have not received Him for salvation will be condemned (Revelation 20:15). When Jesus returns those who do not believe will lose their opportunity for salvation and will be cast into eternal judgment.
A better question to ask is why does Jesus continue to give good things to sinners? (Matthew 5:45) Psalm 36 describes the skeptic who doubts God’s goodness. Despite the abundance of wickedness in this world, the mercy and faithfulness of God abound. God’s compassion is seen in the sky, the mountains and the oceans. God’s goodness is seen in all of creation. Since humanity has rebelled against God, the question that should be asked is, why does God give good things to humanity? Why are we not all destroyed? “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3:22)
Jesus has not yet returned that you might be saved. Do not doubt His goodness, but trust Him.