Posted: 05 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
PAUL WRITES TO THE THESSALONIANS, "But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us" (1 Thess. 2:17–18, italics added). The hindering work of Satan and his minions is attested to elsewhere in Scripture. In Daniel 10:13, for instance, the "prince of the Persian kingdom" is almost certainly some malevolent angel who delays the response to Daniel's prayer by three weeks, and would have delayed it further but for the intervention of Michael.
Some have taken passages like this as evidence that God is finite, that the struggle between good and evil in the Bible is between a finite good God and a finite wicked Satan. When bad things happen to people, this is the work of Satan, and God has very little to do with it, except to oppose it—though not very satisfactorily in this instance.
Yet the God of the Bible is not finite and not so limited. If he were, the entire book of Job (as we have recently seen) would not make sense. The apostle Paul himself can describe his delays in categories other than "Satan stopped us." For example, he tells the Corinthians, "I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits" (1 Cor. 16:7, italics added; see meditation for March 1). Nor is this an isolated example. The Lord Jesus tells us of a time of such terrible destruction that, "If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive" (Matt. 24:22, italics added). That really cannot mean anything other than that God intervenes to cut short those days. That in turn means he has the power to do so. The question it raises is why he did not do so earlier. Strictly speaking, the answer is not disclosed. Doubtless it is intertwined with other biblical themes: God sometimes allows evil to run its course, or much of its course, to expose its degradation; he is forbearing, leaving much time for repentance; he may have his own reasons, largely hidden, as in the book of Job. But always he is God, and his sovereignty is never truncated.
Paul frankly admits that Satan stopped him; in another frame, he might speak of the same event in terms of the Lord's permission. He is not embarrassed by either description, and we must not be embarrassed either. Daniel can speak of a three-week delay; elsewhere he speaks of God's unbridled sovereignty (e.g., Dan. 4:34–35). For him, the two are compatible.
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