My favorite flower is the marigold, a crop of which I plant every year. One season I had a particularly marvelous crop. As I looked at them, this thought occurred to me: why should I keep buying new seeds every year? I’ll just save my own seed. So in the autumn I picked the flowers off my marigolds, dried them, and tucked them into envelopes.
I thought the flowers the next year weren’t quite as nice looking, and by the third year, while they were still recognizable as marigolds, they weren’t very much like the originals I’d saved the seeds from. The plants were gangly; the blossoms, stunted; and they just didn’t look very pretty.
A nurseryman explained to me that the seed companies breed and hybridize for the best flowers, but when someone like me picks seeds at random and does it for a number of years, the strain deteriorates. The DNA for traits I didn’t value was taking over, and my beautiful marigolds were reverting to their original, not-all-that-pretty, form.
The connection between source and product is a principle that’s both scientific and spiritual. Jesus said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17). That’s a lesson in genetics and about human character. Paul wrote, “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7, NKJV).* No one plants a poor strain of wheat and harvests a good one. But more important, the results of one’s life depend on his or her decisions and actions. “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (James 3:11). Obviously not—and neither, says the apostle James, do good words and evil words come from the same mouth (see verse 10).
Yet in this human realm, nothing is quite free from the deteriorating effects of sin. We have to keep winnowing out the bad, or evil will take over.
Which makes the story of Lucifer one of the strangest ones in the Bible. How did someone who was perfect in every way—without even the slightest stain of sin—turn into the ultimate evil one?
Ezekiel 28 gives us a biography of the being that we today refer to as Satan, or the devil. There are three things that we learn about him.
First, he was created by God (verse 15).
This is a crucial fact. God is an essential Being—He was neither created nor made but existed “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2). There was never a time when God wasn’t, and there will never be a time when God won’t be. Furthermore, the Bible describes God as faultless in His goodness. “As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless” (Psalm 18:30). The Bible assures us that God does not sin, and even in His human incarnation as Jesus Christ, though He was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
But Lucifer was God’s creation. He existed before the Garden of Eden and the creation of human beings (Ezekiel 28:13). And he wasn’t just a denizen of heaven but a highly placed heavenly official “ordained” by God to the position of “guardian cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14).
Still, he was a created being, and that which God creates is, by definition, less than God, regardless of how perfect and beautiful that creation may be.
Which leads to the second thing we know about Lucifer: he was beautiful, perfect, without sin. Ezekiel said, “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty”; “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created” (verses 12, 15)—that is, until “wickedness was found in you” (verse 15). And here is the third thing we learn about Lucifer: this perfect being was the source of all the sin, death, and sadness that bedevil us today.
Where sin comes from
It was my friend’s first new car. It had been a big investment, and he wanted it to last. I’ve never seen anyone so attentive to a vehicle! He not only took care of it mechanically but also washed and polished it several times a week—even scrubbing the tires. For years I never saw his car when it wasn’t shiny and spotless.
Imagine his surprise, then, when one day he looked down at a lower panel and saw a dark stain of rust! As months passed, the rust grew until several of the panels nearest the road had been eaten through. He blamed the car manufacturer: how could his nice car rust so completely? The car dealer reminded him, quite logically, that his once new car wasn’t new anymore. New cars don’t stay new forever, especially when driven for 10 years on Ohio’s winter-salted roads.
There’s no rust in heaven (Matthew 6:19, NKJV), but crucially for this story, there’s no sin, either. So how could sin arise in a sinless being in a sinless realm? In our world, there’s enough bad—bad genetics, badly manufactured products, bad character traits—that we’re hardly surprised when good things go bad or when people do bad things. But how did a Lucifer become Satan?
It would be unfair to accuse God of creating the devil, but He did create the being who became the devil.
When God created Lucifer, He created him with an ability that you and I also have—the ability to make our own decisions. Think about it for a moment, and you’ll conclude, as I do, that if God didn’t give all of His created beings (not just angels, but regular folks like you and me) the freedom to choose whether or not to worship Him, we’d be nothing but a bunch of robots. We’d only be pretending to love God because He made us so that we had to. But manufactured love isn’t really love. That’s why, when God gives His created beings free choice, He gives them the ability to sin if that’s what they choose to do.
And Lucifer chose to love himself instead of God. Isaiah describes Lucifer saying, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God. . . . I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13, 14).
The source of my friend’s rusty car was road salt, and the source of Lucifer’s sin was pride. Still speaking of Lucifer, Ezekiel said, “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god’ ” (Ezekiel 28:2). But of course Lucifer wasn’t a god, just a created being, and although he was enormously powerful and beautiful—power and beauty that were given to him by God—he was not a god, much less the God of the universe.
Lucifer next appears just as the newly created human beings were setting up housekeeping on our planet. The serpent that appeared to Eve one day didn’t introduce himself as Satan, but his method identifies him as the same jealous usurper. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” the serpent asks innocently (Genesis 3:1).
No, Eve replied. God has been really very generous—with every tree but one. If we eat its fruit, we will die.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to her. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (verse 4).
Do you hear the echoes of Lucifer’s own ambition? He tells Eve that God is just a jealous tyrant, trying to keep you from being as great and powerful as He is! “I will be a god!” Lucifer had promised himself earlier. Now he makes the same promise to Eve and, by implication, to Adam.
“In Adam all die,” Paul explained. Sin and death are Satan’s fault, and when our first father and mother fell to Satan’s temptation, they brought sin and death down on all of us like a universal plague. But I’m delighted that Paul adds that “in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). While God didn’t create sin or Satan, through His Son Jesus Christ, He took responsibility for dealing with both. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He sacrificed His life so that we could have eternal life (John 3:16) and overcome temptation while we’re living here.
Satan brought sin into this world, and this world will end with his destruction. Following the day when the devil is “thrown into the lake of burning sulfur” (Revelation 20:10), God will create for us “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) to replace this corrupted one. “ ‘He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ” (verses 4, 5).
And one more thing: I’m quite sure that in God’s new world I’ll have the prettiest marigolds ever!
Loren Seibold is the pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist church in Ohio, USA. He is also a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times® magazine.
* Bible verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®.