The internet is filled with memes. Some funny, others distasteful. Then there are theological memes. Many are quite accurate; others, however, are downright horrible. You may have seen one notable, cringeworthy meme. Jesus and Satan are having an arm wrestling match—we’re just not sure who has the upper hand! Eternity hangs in the balance; it’s a jump ball.
I’ve seen many awful theological memes in my life but nothing stands above that one, among others similar to it. It reeks of this false notion that, somehow, God is battling Satan; that, somehow, Satan is as powerful as God and they are in a long tug-of-war match and neither seems to have the upper hand.
Not only are these memes wrong, but blasphemous (though unintentionally so) in two ways. One, it assumes that Satan is as powerful as God. Second, it ignores what the Bible plainly teaches about God’s relationship with Satan.
Though the Bible speaks of Satan as the “ruler of the world” (Jn. 12:31) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), he is not on equal level with God. Satan is certainly not omnipotent—nor is he omniscient or omnipresent. He is not like God.
Read these words from John MacArthur:
He’s [Satan] nothing to joke about. He’s no impersonal influence. He’s no mask. He is a living, active, violent, anti-God personal being. And he’s running this world, in case you didn’t know it. He is the prince of this world, he is the god of this world, he is the ruler of this present world. The whole world lies in the hands of the evil one, like a sleeping baby. And just as God is a personal God and Jesus Christ is a personal Christ and the Holy Spirit is a personal Spirit, so Satan is a personal reality. And as God is for you, Satan is against you. That’s his job.
For sure, he is powerful, but not all-powerful. Satan is intelligent, but doesn’t know everything. He is crafty, but he is not good. There is no divine arm wrestling match; Jesus defeated Satan when he resurrected! At the most fundamental level, there is not a grudge match over who is sovereign. God is sovereign over Satan—end of story.
Practically speaking, however, we must understand one vital piece of information: God has Satan on a leash. In other words, Satan can only do what God permits him to do. He is restricted to God’s sovereign rule and reign.
Think of Job. God allowed Satan to essentially destroy Job’s entire life but made sure his life was spared. Satan took Job’s property, children, and health (Job 1:13-21; 3). This passage doesn’t say Satan was winning the battle against God that week. It’s not as if Satan had the upper hand on God. God allowed Satan to torture Job—but he could only go so far. Satan was limited by what God permitted.
When bad things happen to us, we must remember that it doesn’t mean Satan is running rampant and God has lost control; or that Satan has overcome God and is now in charge. That will never happen.
We need to have a balanced view of Satan and, in turn, a more robust view of the omnipotence of God. We should not underestimate Satan so much that we think he doesn’t have influence. At the same time, we should not overestimate Satan to think he’s just as powerful as the all-powerful One. Satan has power, but only as much as God gives him. He has influence, but it only goes so far.
We must remember that, even though God permitted Satan to crumble Job’s entire life, it is essential that we look to Job’s response. It is one of faith, of hope, of confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God.