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Vol.VIII, February 2002

 

"All He Has Is in Your Power" (Job 1:12, I)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We considered the real situation of the fallen angels before God in His sovereignty. It will be interesting, therefore, to see what God allows Satan to do, that "murderer from the start ... and father of lies" (Jn 8:44). The response of God to the devil’s request was: "‘Very well, all he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person.’ So Satan left the presence of Yahweh" (Job 1:12).

1. Let us first see what happened. Sacred Scripture reports: "On the day when Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking in their oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job: ‘Your oxen’, he said, ‘were at the plough, with the donkeys grazing at their side, when the Sabeans swept down on them and carried them off, and put the servants to the sword: I alone have escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘The fire of God’, he said, ‘has fallen from heaven and burnt the sheep and shepherds to ashes: I alone have escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘The Chaldeans,’ he said, ‘three bands of them, have raided the camels and made off with them, and put the servants to the sword: I alone have escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘Your sons and daughters’, he said, ‘were eating and drinking at their eldest brother’s house, when suddenly from the desert a gale sprang up, and it battered all four corners of the house which fell in on the young people. They are dead: I alone have escaped to tell you.’

Then Job stood up, tore his robe and shaved his head. Then, falling to the ground, he prostrated himself and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return again.

Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh. ’

In all this misfortune Job committed no sin, and he did not reproach God" (Job 1:13-22).

2. The first verses of this book showed Satan’s powerlessness and almost "nothingness" before the omnipotent Lord and God. It is not necessary to underline this much. Yet, while with respect to the divine omnipotence, the powerlessness of the devil is evident, still in the life of individual souls, the devil flaunts his power. In pain and darkness, souls easily forget that the devil has no power to do anything without the divine permission, and that, when he is allowed to harm us, it is only for our own good. It cannot be otherwise: the devil needs to ask permission for even the slightest evil he plans, otherwise God would not be the Almighty, he would even cease to be God.

a) God’s sovereignty demands that we consider the devil to be no more than an obstinate servant of divine providence. In fact, the Church teaches in the Catechism: "Although Satan may act... and although his action may cause grave injuries, ...the action is permitted by divine providence" (CCC 395; cf. Rev 17:17). God makes use of the devils, just as He makes use of the good angels, to serve His plan. The prophet Jeremias wrote, "Yahweh Sabaoth declares, now I shall purge them and test them, no other way to treat the daughter of my people!" (Jer 9:7). And in order to test them, we learn in the book of Tobit that God sent St. Raphael: "I was sent to test your faith" (Tob 12:13). However, when the tests take on some cruel form, God may prefer to allow the devils, the fallen and rebellious angels, a certain freedom of action, thus serving as instruments against their will. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, "... in the power of our Lord Jesus, hand such a man over to Satan, to be destroyed as far as natural life is concerned (or: for the destruction of his flesh), so that on the Day of the Lord his spirit may be saved" (1 Cor 5:5). Therefore, we have here the devil as servant or instrument [cf. the open question, if "the Destroyer" in Egypt was a good or bad angel in the service of God (Ex 12:23 and Heb 11:28; Circular III,2)].

b) We have to observe also, that God did not give the devil precise instructions, but rather just a certain limit to his freedom. He must, for example, always respect man’s freedom. And in this case God said to Satan, "All he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person." To understand this freedom and the control by divine providence we need to make a distinction.

3. This clarification about the devils allows us to explain the four events of which Scripture speaks. The first and third disaster came through men, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, who made off with the animals, and put the servants to the sword. In the second disaster, "the sheep and shepherds [were burnt] to ashes" by "fire from heaven". The fourth came through a gale which battered all four corners of the house which fell in on the young people, so that they were all killed. With the permission of God to test Job, Satan is the principal instigator or cause behind all these events. Hence, we do not ask why those thieves plundered the possessions of Job, neither do we need to seek for an explanation for the fire or lightning and wind at just that time and upon precisely these places. The real question is rather, how far the devil can extend his influence over these creatures. First, let us note that the devil has great facility in exercising an influence over the material world. There are two reasons for this:

a) First, because God created the more perfect creatures with a natural power of influence or causality over the lower creatures. St. Thomas says, "It is commonly found in human affairs as well as in nature, that a particular power is controlled by a universal one... Now it is obvious that the power of a material thing is more particular in scope than the power of a non-material thing... Thus,...material things are controlled by angels. This is the position not only of the doctors of the Church, but also of all the philosophers" (S. Th. I,110,1). Thus St. Thomas affirms with St. Augustine, "All material things are governed by the reasoning spirit of life" (ibid.,s.c.). While it is true that the evil spirits lost their stewardship over creation from God when they fell away from Him, it remains that they retained their natural power over physical beings; as Damascene says, "The devil was one of those angelic powers over and above the terrestrial order" (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I,110,1 ad 3).

b) Secondly, because purely material creatures have no free will, they are, therefore, more disposed or "obedient" to those who exercise influence over them. We see the "wind", for example, at the disposition of God when He manifested the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:2 or 1 Kg 19:11). It is used here by the devil for destruction (cf. also Mt 7:25; 8:26; Acts 27:14 ff.). As a creature, of course, the wind always remains under the dominion of God. Jesus, for example, merely "rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm, so that the people wondered: 'What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?'" (Mt 8:26-27). Similarly with fire: God speaks out of the fire (cf. Ex 3:2; Lev 9:24; Dt 4:12,24; 1 Kg 18:24), and He used it to destroy Sodom (cf. Gn 19:24; Lk 9:54). Here, in the test of Job, it is used by the devil, but it remains obedient to its Lord and God (cf. 1 Kg 18:24).

With their mighty natural powers then, and without any resistance on the side of material creatures, the devils can easily use material creation for their destructive purposes.

b) However, a difficult "coworker" for the devil is man. Only with man’s consent can the devil direct his decisions and guide his actions. Even if Scripture does not refer expressly to the relation between Satan and "the Sabeans and the Chaldeans," here, the context implies that these people were instigated by Satan to act in such a destructive way. This confronts us with the problem: how can the devil exercise his influence over man with his free will? St. Thomas Aquinas dedicates two entire questions to the investigation of this matter in the Summa Theologiae (see I,111 and 114). We will reflect upon the problem in the next Circular Letter.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood!

The trial of Job should challenge our faith and invigorate it. Do we believe in such a vital relationship between the spiritual and material worlds? Do we recall the faith of our ancestors, who lived in much closer contact with and dependence upon nature, and therefore experienced the need and value of praying for good weather and for protection against lightning and other calamities? Should we not do so today as well in this time of so many great, natural catastrophes, in which all four elements rise up in rebellion against mankind: water, in large inundations; fire, in active volcanos and vast fires; air, through hurricanes and destructive storms of all kinds; and the earth itself, in destructive landslides and earthquakes?

This book of divine revelation should also strengthen our confidence in God. It seems natural to man to have a certain fear of the devil, just as he has before everything unknown, especially before that which is powerful. Therefore, the truth that the natural power of the devil is ultimately powerless before the omnipotence of God ought to inspire us with a necessary and justified confidence in our Lord and His loving providence.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC