The Devil's Cooperation With God - Why The Enemy Is Doomed To Do God's Will

The Devil's Cooperation With God - Why The Enemy Is Doomed To Do God's Will
I recently read a book in which the author briefly made the case that God and the devil never cooperate. Admittedly, that’s how we typically depict and understand the age old battle between good and evil. They have to be utterly opposing forces, right?

Surprisingly, right off the bat I could think of a few biblical examples that indicate otherwise and so I decided to dig into them more, unearthing a strong biblical case that God and evil forces do work together. And how and why.

Biblical Examples of Cooperation Between God and Devil

Without further ado let’s get right into a some biblical accounts to see what they reveal about the Lord’s role in the activity of evil. What we will find is instances where God and the devil want the same to happen, although they intend opposite outcomes. Some may be clearer than others. Surprising is however how consistent the dynamics are that those instances outline.

Job's Suffering

One of the most popular, if not the most popular, example is Job. Sadly many of the details outlined in the book’s first two chapters are often ignored by much of the Church today. So let’s take a closer look.

In the first two chapters of Job we read of two angelic counsels in which Satan and other angelic beings appear before the Lord. In both instances, God mentions and praises Job in a conversation with the devil. Satan then makes the case that Job only fears the Lord because he enjoys a blessed life, stating that Job would surely abandon the Lord should evil befall him.

Let’s take a closer look however at the exact wording used by God and Satan in both exchanges:
9 Then Satan answered the Lord, … 11 But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” 12 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.”
Job 1:9,11-12
4 Satan answered the Lord and said … 5 However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” 6 So the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.”
Job 2:4-6
Apart from the fact that God Himself brought Job into the conversation twice (knowing in His omniscience where this would lead and thereby choosing the following suffering to happen out of His own free will), the devil’s request in both instances is for God to stretch out His hand against Job. Contrary to popular belief, the devil doesn’t ask for permission to do it himself.

In response, God gives Job over into Satan’s hands. If we truly want to honor the biblical account with accuracy, it follows that God stretches out His hand against Job by giving him over to Satan. Contrary to popular depictions where God appears as a mere bystander of the devil’s torture of Job, chapters 1-2 reveal God as the actively involved, ultimate cause of Job’s suffering. It’s more than mere allowing of suffering. Of course, that’s a disconcerting observation and therefore barely anyone talks about it.

Little footnote to the book of Job:

When many people think of Job’s suffering, their initial relieving conclusion is, “it wasn’t God, it was the devil.” However, the book itself indicates the opposite. The popular question of whether or not suffering comes from God is absent from the book of Job. A yes is assumed throughout the 42 chapters. Job continually affirms God to be the cause for his misery (e.g. Job 2:10; 6:4; 9:17-18; 10:2-3,7-10,17,20; 11:4; 13:24-27), so does his servant (Job 1:16), the narrator at the end of the story in one of the last verses of the book (Job 42:11) and most importantly, God Himself (Job 2:3). Out of the 1,064 verses of Job, not a single one is dedicated to God proving Job wrong.

On the contrary, God’s 4-chapter rebuttal of Job’s laments (chapters 38-41) underlines His complete control, authority and infinite wisdom in governing the universe (including Job’s life). The case that God Himself builds isn’t at all tailored to persuading Job that it wasn’t Him, it’s that His wisdom, power and careful thoughtfulness spans all of creation, encouraging Job to view his own life and suffering as part of God’s wise and glorious counsel. Moreover, Job’s ultimate realization wasn’t, “it was the devil and not God”; it was that God is fully sovereign in everything (Job 42:2). It wasn’t that in his misery he encountered the hand of Satan, but that within his suffering He saw the face of God (Job 42:5).

In the testing of Job, God and the devil cooperate. But it’s not the Lord that does Satan’s bidding. The devil firmly depended on the parameters and permissions set by God, and merely responded to the Lord’s invitation (God’s initiation of Job’s testing by pointing him out to Satan on its own is already enough reason to see God’s will in it). Without Him, Satan couldn’t have harmed Job, nor could he have harmed Job more than God Himself allowed (which further illustrates the “obedience” of the devil). Although the devil appears as the acting agent (Job 1:12; 2:6), the wording of the Bible demands the reader to believe that God is just as active and involved in the suffering of Job (Job 1:11; 2:5). The devil only reacts to the invitation of God, thereby becoming a mere puppet in the story God is writing.

What comfort there is in knowing that in my pain, suffering, and misery I’m not helplessly exposed to the wrath of Satan. Above all, I’m in the hands of God, whose plans are to build up (Jer 29:11), causing all things to work together for my good (Rom 8:28). The book of Job shows that, although sometimes suffering happens for no reason (meaning, it’s not merited punishment or natural consequence for sinful behavior), it doesn’t happen without the good purpose of God. And this purpose of His wasn’t Job’s destruction or punishment but the revelation of Himself unto unprecedented knowledge of God (Job 42:5) and a life in greater blessing than ever before (Job 42:12).

Peter's Sifting

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Lk 22:31-32
These two verses pose a few important questions: Who did Satan ask? Why did he need permission? Who could give it to him? Why was it granted?

The Greek word that the NASB translates with “demanded permission” can mean “demand”, “ask for”, “request” and generally connotes an appeal to a higher authority for or against a third party.

The most plausible answer to an overarching authority that Satan depends upon and is accountable to is God Himself, for nowhere in the Bible are we offered any other alternative.

But this then means that God granted the devil permission to sift the disciples (the “you” in verse 31 is plural in Greek). Arguably, the dynamics depicted in these verses sound a lot like the ones we discovered in Job 1-2. So they lack theological novelty and therefore shouldn’t surprise or derail us. Once again, God and the devil want the same thing, the sifting, to happen but God’s purposes with it are utterly different from the enemy’s.

The fascinating aspect of this account, however, is that there isn’t only a chance that Satan’s sifting might have a happy ending, like if responded to rightly or if some conditions are met. On the contrary, Peter’s victory, turning and strengthening of his brothers are promised and decreed. (The word “when” used here means “once” and does not carry the meaning of “if” at all. Therefore that sentence doesn’t depict a conditional future, but a definite one.) The devil will fail.

What this adds to our understanding so far is that when Satan and God cooperate, God only does so because He knows that His purposes will succeed and Satan will have to deal with his own failure.

Whenever God works together with Satan, He doesn’t do so to enlarge the enemy’s domain, it only serves to crush and ridicule the enemy more. The sifting of Peter through the devil ultimately makes Peter’s light shine brighter and strengthens not only him but also his friends and the budding Church at large. When God and devil cooperate, temporary suffering is followed by lasting greatness and enjoyed blessing.

Jesus' Temptation

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Mt 4:1
It could hardly be said any clearer than this. In Greek the verb “to be tempted” appears in infinitive form creating a final clause that depicts the purpose of the action described in the main clause (“to be led by the Spirit”) along the lines of “in order to.” So as if it’s not yet clear enough, the Greek grammar also confirms that the purpose of the Spirit’s leading is for Jesus to be tempted by the devil. Another instance where God and the devil want the same thing to happen.

A while ago there was this big debate about the pope wanting to change the Lord’s prayer because he found the theology of the line “and do not lead us into temptation” (Mt 6:13) faulty, stating that God wouldn’t do such a thing and that it’s mistranslated in the first place. Many Christians agreed, having picked up somewhere through some source that the Greek allows for a different reading of this phrase in the Lord’s prayer.

I never understood the issues people had with it. Even a brief word analysis of Mt 6:13 will show that the Greek word for “lead” here literally means “to lead into” and that “temptation” really means “temptation”. What’s more is that “temptation” in Mt 6:13 and “to tempt” in Mt 4:1 are in the original text, just like in our English translations, verb and noun of the same word stem. And they appear only 2 chapters apart. The prayer of Mt 6:13 has in mind the leading into temptation of Jesus in Mt 4:1, petitioning from the Lord not to lead us into something that He led Jesus into in Mt 4:1.

How to theologically unite these two verses? There are instances where God leads us into situations where the devil can tempt us, and even with that tempting in mind (cooperation with the devil). And then there are instances where God uses our prayers to keep us from those moments (cooperation with our prayers). There’s no one-fits-all answer.

The comforting fact is that even if He leads us into temptation, the Lord is in full control of our lives and future, and of the measure with which the devil can tempt us (1 Cor 10:13). We shouldn’t forget the fact that the Spirit sent Jesus into temptation not so He would fail but to humiliate the devil by coming out victorious. Just like in the other instances we looked at, God’s ultimate purpose for us in those instances is our good, not our demise. It seems like God gets the enemy on board exclusively so that he would be close when the Lord openly mocks him.

David's Census

Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
2 Sam 24:1
1 Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.”
1 Chr 21:1-2
These two passages have puzzled many scholars because they describe the same event but ascribe the cause of sin to two different persons. Was it God or was it the devil that incited David to count Israel?

Some commentators note that an alternative reading of the Hebrew word for devil (“opposer”) in 1 Chr 21:1 allows for having it refer to an angel of God rather than the devil himself.

This however poses even more questions than before as it doesn’t eliminate God’s role in the tempting, but the devil’s, thereby placing all the blame on God while saying that the enemy had no play in it. This totally goes against our natural instinct of trying to take God out of the equation to put all the blame on the devil alone.

We know from Mt 4:1 and Mt 6:13 that God does lead people into temptation. But we also know from James 1:13 that God does not tempt anyone Himself (same word used for “tempting” here in the Greek), so the tempting would have to be done by a third party.

In alignment with that, the Hebrew word for “incite” in 2 Sam 24:1 could also be translated as “allure”. It also appears in Job 36:16 in the phrase typically translated with “He led you away from / allured you out of the jaws of distress” and therefore clearly carries the meaning of leadership. We appear to have a situation similar to that of Jesus in the desert. God leads into temptation but someone else tempts. In that sense God would still be the ultimate cause of the tempting but not the tempting agent, leaving both 2 Sam 24:1 and James 1:13 factually correct and without contradiction.

Now, if God vicariously tempted David through a third party, why is it so hard to assume that this third party He used was the devil?

Wouldn’t it be harder to explain that God uses one of His holy angels to perform a task that is against His own nature, thereby defiling one of His own? Is it not more plausible that God utilizes the devil as the most immediate reading of 1 Chr 21:1 would make us assume?

Again, with instances like the one described in Job 1-2 we already have a framework for this. Just as God stretched forth His hand against Job by letting the devil stretch forth his, here God led David into temptation utilizing the devil who caused David to stumble. Another instance where God and devil cooperate. So was it God or was it the devil? The correct answer is “yes”.

David’s census differs in so far that God’s purpose was to judge Israel through the sin of their king (2 Sam 24:1). Although this time, the outcome doesn’t seem to be tailored to someone’s immediate good, we still have to realize that God’s purposes for Israel got realized through this instance. Again we see that if God and devil cooperate, then not for the devil to have his way, but for God to have His.

Paul's Thorn

7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” …
2 Cor 12:7-9
There’s a lot of debate on this passage, specifically about what the thorn really was. But regardless of what we think the thorn was - whether sickness, persecution, a physical impediment, emotional ailment, or something else - it is clearly depicted as coming from Satan (“a messenger of Satan”).

What we also know is that God, however, does not alleviate Paul of this particular affliction, despite Paul’s prayers. So although the devil is clearly at work in Paul’s life, God actually wants it to happen. What else can we deduct from this than the fact that God and the devil are to some degree cooperating in Paul’s life? At the very least, God knowingly and purposely allows the devil access to Paul’s life, and therefore He gives His yes to his hardships.

The text itself, however, gives hints of dynamics that perfectly intersect with those we have discovered so far in the other passages we looked at.

Paul states that the thorn “was given to me” in passive form, thereby grammatically avoiding the need to state who it was given by. Paul sometimes uses this method to avoid hard-to-swallow statements about God that would only distract the listeners from his current discourse on a different topic. Just like in Rom 11:7 he writes that Israel “was hardened” in passive mode without mentioning by who, although Paul noted earlier that it was God (Rom 9:18).

The passive mode used in 2 Cor 12:7 therefore gives room for the thorn to originate from God, or the devil, or another force. But could it be that we actually have a similar thing happen here as we saw in previous passages? Could it be that the thorn was given by the devil in alignment with God’s will?

Verse 7 lays out a two-fold purpose for the giving of the thorn, where the English accurately translates with a double “in order to” that sounds just as awkward in the Greek. The first “to torment me” - an immediate purpose of doing violence to Paul - is followed by a second and bigger purpose: “to keep me from exalting myself”. Two opposing purposes where the first seeks Paul’s demise, yet the second is aimed at his ultimate good.

It would be difficult to ascribe the tormenting of Paul to the Lord (first purpose). And it would be just as hard to depict Paul’s holiness as being in the interest of the devil (second purpose). The easiest explanation is that we see both God and devil at work in cooperation in the giving of the thorn, yet having diametrically opposed intentions in mind. It’s one instance where God doesn’t destroy the work of the devil but uses it for the greater good, ultimately causing Paul’s love to stay strong and to bring all the more glory to Himself.

Stephen's Martyrdom

That the martyrdom of Stephen but also the martyrdom of the saints at large are an act in which God and opposing forces cooperate might not be the most obvious observation or the most readily received assertion to make. Yet when taking a closer look at a few passages, we shall find dynamics not unlike those we have already observed before.

But let’s start with Stephen. After a long speech against Gospel-opposing Jewish leaders, an angry mob arose and stoned Stephen to death, who in that moment saw the Lord and forgave his persecutors with his last breath. Great evil was committed that day in that the first of the Lord’s beloveds had to lay down his life, exclaiming the ultimate worthiness of the Son of God. What is interesting is what happened next:
1 And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. ... 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. 4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
Acts 8:1,3-4
Stephen’s speech resulted in a massive persecution of the saints. His death was the first of many. But persecution wasn’t the only result. Two more things happened:

First, instead of shrinking back in fear, the Church actually ended up being emboldened by the sacrifice of Stephen to preach the Gospel without fear. When the Church is reminded that Jesus is worth dying for, a fresh desire to be wholly given to Him arises within her. And so, many took up where Stephen had left off. Thus his ministry of the proclamation of the Gospel was taken over by multitudes. Stephen’s martyrdom released a witness in the early Church like never before.

The second result was that for the first time the Gospel now went beyond the borders of Judea. Prior to this instance, witnessing activity was more or less concentrated on Jerusalem and surrounding towns (Acts 5:28; 6:7). But now that the Church began to be scattered everywhere, the Gospel would spread beyond these borders.

The beauty of this lies in the fact that the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all the nations” in Mt 28:19-20 was beautifully transformed from commandment into promise in Acts 1:8, “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

The starting point for the expansion beyond Judea was the martyrdom of Stephen and the arising persecution of the saints that scattered witnesses across the nations. I believe it’s not a coincidence that in the very next verse Philip is venturing into Samaria (Acts 8:5), the next stage mentioned after Judea in the progression of Acts 1:8. Through the martyrdom of Stephen, God’s divine promises got realized: The Church was launched into a greater fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Is it too daring to assume that the Lord’s hand was in all of this? Although a yes could be logically expected at that point, Acts 7-8 alone may not give us a clear enough answer to this. The picture becomes clearer when we take other passages about martyrdom into account. A very interesting one is found in Revelation 6:
9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
Rev 6:9-11
This passage is certainly not one of the easiest to swallow. That’s why it’s often overlooked or not really pondered upon. But let’s look at a few interesting pieces of information we are given here.

God refrains from judging those who kill His bondservants. Though we know that He will eventually avenge the blood of His loved ones by judging their murderers (Rev 19:2), He here purposefully delays His punishment. This passage shows that God has the power to abolish martyrdom, and the ultimate will to do so, but wilfully refrains from doing so. Although He could intervene, He doesn’t.

At the very least we would have to note that God allows it. But mere allowing alone doesn’t seem to fully honor the way the Bible phrases it.

God being all-powerful means that He is at all times fully capable of preventing the death of His loved ones. We also know that He could end martyrdom now, because He will end it eventually (Rev 19:2), so the reason for His lack of redemptive intervention can’t be found in His inability. But if He can prevent martyrdom, then why doesn’t He do so?

If He can intervene but doesn’t do so, it’s because He chooses not to, making His will a fundamental part of the equation of why it happens. This is further emphasized by the fact that the goal of the not-judging is that all those “who were to be killed” (Rev 19:11) would be slain also. This raises similar questions we asked about Peter’s sifting: Who decided who was to be killed, and even if it wasn’t the Lord, then why does He still abide by it?

The Bible demands us to believe that God is sovereign and fully in control in the death of His loved ones because He knows the number of our days as He “ordained” them, not leaving them up to chance or to the hands of an adversary (Ps 139:16; Ecc 8:15; 5:18). Therefore no martyrdom ever takes place without God’s involvement because it requires His agreement.

What’s a more comforting thought? That Stephen was killed against God’s will due to the overpowering rage of Satan and evil men, or that Stephen’s martyrdom was God’s divine strategy to bring about His glorious purposes of proclaiming His victory over sin and evil to all men, and that Stephen (his name meaning “crown”) was from birth adorned with the beauty of the task to show His Bride the worth of her Bridegroom by laying down his crown before Him in light of His worthiness (just like the 24 elders in Rev 4:11), thereby inviting the Bride into the same level of givenness to Him?

We shouldn’t forget that in the disagreement between Jesus and Peter in Mt 16:21-23, it was the devil’s voice that tried to deny God’s hand and purposes in the martyrdom of Jesus. We should be careful not to do the same, lest we too get rebuked by the Lord for being a mouthpiece of the devil.

And hasn’t Jesus already put forth the dynamic of fruit-bearing through death as God’s strategy in John 12:24 - that only if a seed dies it will bear much fruit - and extended its applications from His own death on the Cross to the lives of His followers (the very next verse; John 12:25)? Jesus’ death and Stephen’s martyrdom, then, only serve as primer examples for all martyrdom at large.

Is evil at work in martyrdom? Of course it is, and the Lord will judge those who spilled the blood of His bondservants (Rev 19:2). But God is involved also. Yet God’s involvement doesn’t excuse evil (just like God raising up Babylon to judge Israel (Hab 1:6,12; Jer 5:15; 25:8-9) doesn’t protect them from God then judging Babylon for attacking His people [Jer 25:12; Hab 2:15-17]), nor does it make the act committed any less horrible. But it adds purpose to the otherwise meaningless suffering.

It could be argued concerning the title of this article - the cooperation between God and the devil - that none of these passages on martyrdom actively show the devil at work, although we do know that it is the devil who comes to “kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10) and that this specifically refers to the killing of Christians (Rev 2:10). But regardless of whether or not we accredit the killing of His bondservants to human enmity, the flesh, demonic forces, or the devil himself - the ultimate reality, that God does cooperate with forces that oppose Him, still stands. But when He does, His end goal is the realization of His good promises.

The Antichrist's End-Time Conquest

There probably is no clearer passage in Scripture about the cooperation of evil with God’s purposes than Revelation 17:16-17.
16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.
Rev 17:16-17
This scene from the book of Revelation depicts a fight between anti-Godly forces in alignment with God’s own purposes. It’s easy to overlook the severe implications of this passage when one is unfamiliar with the events and participants mentioned in it.

The beast is described as a Satan-worshiping, God-blaspheming, devil-endorsed being (Rev 13:1.4.6). The harlot likewise is described as an abominable, immoral socio-political system drunk with the blood of the saints it persecutes (Rev 17:3.5-6; 18:3). Lastly, the 10 horns represent 10 kings that wage war against Jesus (Rev 17:14). Regardless of how one chooses to interpret eschatological entities in the book of Revelation, it’s clear that all three entities in this passage are strongly opposing the Lord.

And yet the Bible states that they “execute His purposes” (Rev 17:17) and thereby fulfill His will. The wicked schemes in the enemy camp and the cooperation between enemy forces is in alignment with God’s purposes and so they ultimately carry out His decreed will by judging the harlot Babylon.

In the four-fold hallelujah in Rev 19:1-2, the saints attribute the judging of the great harlot to the Lord in worship, and yet the instruments the Lord used to carry out this judgment was the devil and his human counterparts. Again we see God working together with the enemy with the result of God’s “true and righteous” (Rev 19:2) plans to be realized.

This passage shows how helplessly the enemy is “condemned” to carrying out God’s will and to working towards His greater purposes, perhaps even without noticing. The great truth and comfort is not that God, in His cooperation, partly hands over His authority to the devil. The comforting reality is that the devil cannot escape serving the Lord and working towards the fulfillment of God’s gracious plans for humanity.

The Cross

The principles laid out in this article find their primer expression in the Cross.

A stunning characteristic about God’s final act of reconciliation of humanity to Himself is that the Bible doesn’t ascribe its cause to a single entity. Rather, it’s a beautiful synergy between multiple participants.

There is the human side of things: Clearly, the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ days played a significant role in getting Him killed (Mt 27:20-23,25; Lk 23:21-24), so much so that Peter later accused them of being the ones who crucified Him (Acts 4:5,6,10). Just as much, we could hold Judas Iscariot responsible for his betrayal by handing over Jesus to those Jewish leaders (Mt 26:24,50; 27:3-4). Then there’s Pilate who could have set Jesus free (John 19:10) but instead chose to kill Him (John 19:15-16). Lastly on the human side there are the soldiers who conducted the execution (John 19:23.34).

Then there is the devil. Already in Gen 3:15 it is prophesied that the serpent would hurt the coming Seed while being crushed by His feet. Thus the devil played a role in the Cross just as much.

Lastly and most significantly, the Lord Himself was involved in the killing of His Son. Isaiah 53, the famous Servant Song about the suffering of the Messiah, states that “the Lord was pleased to crush Him” (Isa 53:10). Also the very famous verse John 3:16 says that God gave His only Son; He wasn’t taken. It was an act of free benevolence from the Father. Jesus later adds, “No one has taken [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Therefore Jesus was in full agreement with the Father, and the Cross wasn’t something done to Jesus, but something He took the initiative to make happen - it was an idea that originated in Him - the devil just followed His will and carried out His purpose, similar to what we observed in Rev 17:16-17.

It’s interesting that Jesus clarified that no one can take His life from Him only a few verses after He said that “the thief [devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10), therefore ruling out that the devil could take His life or ultimately be held responsible for the Cross (similar to what we also found in our section on martyrdom). This is just as true for Pilate. As Pilate brags with his power to crucify Jesus, He immediately puts the governor back in his place by responding, “you would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). Neither the devil nor Pilate (nor anyone else for that matter) could kill Jesus without Him laying down His life first and thereby giving them permission to do so.

If we attempt to stitch all of these together we have to say that Jesus laid down His life on His own initiative by letting the Father give authority to God-opposing antagonists to kill Him - again a very clear instance of God partnering with evil beings (both human and spiritual) to bring about His glorious purposes.

More Examples

Plenty of other biblical examples could be added to the already long list.

There is Saul’s “evil spirit from the Lord” (1 Sam 16:14-23), for instance. Although it proves more difficult to make a case that the evil spirit was sent by the devil as the Bible clearly accredits it to God four times (1 Sam 16:14-16,23), what we have to acknowledge here at the very least is that God cooperates with evil forces in His sending of it and retains the power of quieting it through David’s playing (1 Sam 16:18,23). Something similar could be said about the lying spirits that God gives to Israel’s prophets on multiple occasions (1 Ki 22:22; 2 Chr 18:21).

The veiling of the people of Israel under the new covenant (Rom 9-11) is another example. I already mentioned in passing that Paul attributes the hardening of hearts to God in Rom 9:18, yet in 2 Cor 4:3-4 he also sees the devil at work in it. If we then add Rom 1:21-26 to the equation, we further see God “giving them over” (Rom 1:24.26). It might not be too far out there to conclude that God hardens their hearts by giving them over, very similar to what we have seen in the story of Job.

Then there is the account where Joseph is being sold into slavery and thereby brought to Egypt. Although we know that it was a malicious act of his brothers (Gen 37:27-28; 45:4), Joseph later excuses their sin by acknowledging the Lord’s hand in it when he says, “it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:8). God was working through the wicked deeds of Joseph’s brothers. He partnered with the schemes of evil men by letting them have their way to accomplish His ultimate purposes (Gen 50:20).

The list of instances we could cite doesn’t stop here. But the case is clear enough and appears surprisingly consistent throughout the Scriptures.

The Comforting Implications

To sum up all of our previous observations we can say that God and evil sometimes want the same things to happen, yet for different outcomes. While the enemy seeks to kill, steal and destroy, the Lord wants to bring forth life (John 10:10). So the weakness induced through Paul’s thorn eventually guaranteed his humility. The sifting of Peter resulted in him becoming stronger. So the death of Stephen resulted in the salvation of many. And the Cross became the most glorious moment in history.

God works through God-opposing forces by letting them have their way. As He is far above them in His sovereignty, they require His permission to do so. Yet He Himself is not the executive agent. While He may lead into temptation, He is not the tempter. In all that the Lord remains morally pure, and a refuge for those who run into Him.

God will still judge evil for the part it played. God letting evil have its way doesn’t make evil excusable. Those who pierced Him will still mourn (Rev 1:7). The devil and the antichrist will still go to hell (Rev 19:20; 20:10). It will still be better for Judas to never have been born (Mt 26:24).

Whenever God and devil cooperate, God will surely have His way. Otherwise He wouldn’t cooperate, because He is omniscient which makes Him very very smart. This means that whenever God and evil cooperate, evil will never win. It may look like it may have its way for a moment, but in the long run, God’s glorious purposes will be accomplished. Rom 8:28 - that all things will work together for our good - cannot be changed by the devil. No one and nothing can keep us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:38-39) and none of His purposes can be thwarted (Job 42:2). This means that the devil and evil men are absolutely powerless over our lives unless the Lord specifically gives them permission. And we know that when He does, good things are in store for us.

Therefore the enemy is doomed to do God’s will. Cooperation seems like an unfortunate word because it’s easy to misinterpret it as God and the devil being on the same side. The cooperation, however, is purely one-sided. Although God is the one handing out the cards the devil can play with - and for a moment these cards may seem favorable to his schemes - ultimately these very cards mean the devil’s demise and the victory of God. For a moment it may seem like the devil has the upper hand, all the while he is really just playing into the Lord’s hand, fulfilling God’s very purposes while celebrating his seeming little victories (Rev 17:17). What looks like a temporary victory of the dark side at first ultimately turns out to be his biggest mistake.

There is only one Sovereign. There’s only one who holds the pen to the storyline of the universe and our every step. He is good, and He will win. There is only one Author, everyone else just plays a role in His story.



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