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If God cannot tolerate sin, how could Satan stand before God, as he did in Job 1:6?

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If God cannot tolerate sin, how could Satan stand before God, as he did in Job 1:6?
Posted on June 11, 2019  - By Dr. Barry K. Creamer

If God cannot tolerate sin and heaven is the holiest of places, how could Satan — who is the literal embodiment of sin and evil — enter and stand before God, as he did in Job 1:6?

Your question is a good one for evaluating why we sometimes paint ourselves into a corner, and how to get out of those corners. For an explanation with some detail, please read this whole answer. If you don’t want all the details, but just a quick answer, skip everything else and go to the last paragraph.

What looks like a logical problem arises from a few submerged or hidden syllogisms (logical arguments), which each rely on using two different terms as if they are the same thing (equivocation). By clarifying one of the syllogisms as an example, and then separating the terms, we can resolve the problem.

First, we need to identify a syllogism, which is comprised of two premises in support of a conclusion.

Premise 1:  Sin is excluded from God’s presence.

Premise 2: Satan is sin.

Conclusion: Satan is excluded from God’s presence.

Now, that conclusion is obviously at odds with Job 1, where Satan appears in God’s presence — hence, the difficulty.

Making distinctions

In the argument above, premise 2 is suspect at best, and I contend is actually false. A false premise makes the syllogism unsound, and so the conclusion no longer holds and the problem is resolved. But why would I say premise 2 is false? It is true that Satan sins. But it is not true that Satan and sin are the same thing. For example, Satan is a person — a fallen angel, with a will, performing actions. Sin, on the other hand, is a concept — a name for the evil things people do. That distinction may seem trite, but it is actually important. It precludes the equivalence of Satan and sin; meaning, not only are they not the same thing, they are not even the same type of thing.

But it also invites a practical distinction which seems obvious in light of the very text that you have raised as problematic. Even if Satan is pervasively evil, with no good in him whatsoever, it would not be the case that every act he commits must be evil. So, for instance, Satan could be ill-motivated and untrustworthy at the same moment his actual behaviour is to speak honestly in the presence of God — which is, by the way, exactly what appears to be the case in Job 1 and 2.

Let’s talk omnipresence

There are other equivocations in the original question. For example, “God cannot tolerate sin” is not the same as “sin cannot be in the presence of God.” Common but biblically inaccurate expressions (“hell is the absence of God” or “Jesus cries ‘forsaken’ because He is separated from God”) have become exaggerated to the point that many people have forgotten God’s omnipresence. He is everywhere.

Common but biblically inaccurate expressions have become exaggerated to the point that many people have forgotten God’s omnipresence. He is everywhere

In the terms offered in the original question, “God cannot tolerate sin” should actually mean “God will judge sin” or “When sin comes to the front of God’s attention, He will ultimately judge it and purge the environment of its presence.” The idea that God is absent at times or in places refers to apparent absence, not real absence (just as metaphors about God sleeping do not actually describe God sleeping, but rather lament His delay in bringing about judgment).

In short, rewording the question makes the answer obvious. God hates sin and evil and will judge it. Sin and evil will not be able to remain anywhere forever, and will not remain long at all in the places where God’s presence is most obviously manifest. So, Satan’s appearance before God may be unusual, but is not at all precluded (that is to say, impossible). As a matter of fact — and a part of the point of Job as a book — it is evidence that Satan’s work will not continue forever, but God’s righteousness and judgment will.

Dr. Barry K. Creamer

About Dr. Barry K. Creamer

Barry Creamer serves as president of Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. A trained philosopher and historian, he holds an M.Div. from Criswell College, and a Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Arlington. His writing has been featured on numerous print and electronic platforms.



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