My wife, Shelley, loves jigsaw puzzles. One time she brought home a puzzle from a lending library at our church. Later that day, as I wandered by the puzzle on the card table, I saw that it was complete.
“But look at this,” she said, holding up a puzzle piece. “It’s an extra one—from another puzzle.” And we knew that someone else would borrow that second puzzle box from the library someday and utter a cry of agony when they discovered the gap.
Most Christians, if they’re honest, will admit that sometimes God Himself can be a puzzle. The Bible says He’s the Creator of breathtakingly complex life, yet every one of His creatures dies. Our minds can’t get accustomed to death, which indicates that we weren’t designed to die. Yet we do.
More puzzles: birds and animals and other creatures can show love and even humor toward each other, yet some can be mercilessly cruel. God gave humans intelligence, talents, and ideals, yet nations launch planes, missiles, and drones over other nations, bombing their power stations and their children. If God is love and God is powerful, and—as Jesus insisted nearly 200 times—if God is a “Father,” why doesn’t He make all the bad stuff go away? Good God, bad world. Why?
No wonder God’s reputation has suffered. Many people fear Him. Others hate Him or ignore Him. Still others make fun of Him. Ever seen a cartoon about God—the cranky old graybeard launching lightning bolts from a cloud?
How did the Author of life and love get such a bad reputation? There must be a missing puzzle piece.
The secret to the God puzzle is found in the first book of the Bible. The rest of Scripture gives more detail, but the basic story is in Genesis 3:1–5. Watch carefully because once you recognize this puzzle piece and click it into place, it will help you understand the whole story. Let’s get started:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made” (verse 1).
“Oh boy, here we go,” someone moans. “It’s the snake in the Garden!” Bear with me here. Stick with me through all five verses, and it will make sense.
First of all, exactly who is the serpent? Revelation 12 says: “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (verse 9).
So, the serpent is Satan—an evil angel using a real garden snake as a ventriloquist’s dummy. Also, Satan was “hurled” down from somewhere. From where? Verses 7 and 8 clarify this. “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.”
Now get ready for a shocker.
the missing piece
The missing piece of the God puzzle is the devil. Does this make sense? Jesus knew it made perfect sense. He once told a parable about a farmer who sowed top-quality seed in his field. But when the grain grew, it was tangled with weeds. The farmer’s workers were puzzled and asked their boss, “Didn’t you sow good seed?” It’s almost like they’re thinking, What kind of a boss do we work for, anyway? Is he so careless that he can’t tell the good seed from the bad?
The farmer simply replies, “An enemy did this.” If you read the whole parable in Matthew 13:24–30, you will see that during planting time, the farmer’s enemy entered the field at midnight and sowed weeds. The workers didn’t know this.
Later in the chapter, Jesus explains the parable to His disciples. He tells them that the enemy who sowed the weeds is the devil (verse 39). Without the devil—the missing piece—people get confused. If they ignore the devil or assume he’s a myth, that rolls the responsibility for evil back onto God’s shoulders. But like the sabotaged farmer, God doesn’t deserve that!
Now back to Genesis 3. Let’s review: The serpent—the dragon—was at war in heaven, but he lost and was exiled along with his evil angels. And then, at some point, he shows up in the Garden of Eden; this time he starts a propaganda war with Eve based on God’s warning to her that if she and Adam ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die that very day (Genesis 2:15–17).
Notice the mind battle that’s going on: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ ” (Genesis 3:1).
Did you catch the devil’s first dose of mind poison? Here it is—and it’s been damaging minds for thousands of years:
Mind-poison pill 1: God doesn’t make sense. “God said you’ll die the same day you eat the fruit?” Satan hisses in mock disbelief “You didn’t fall for that, did you?”
“Hold it,” someone might say, “Wasn’t the serpent correct? The couple didn’t die that day. Adam lived to be over nine hundred years old.”
Wrong. They did die that day! Later in Genesis 3, in the evening of that same day, God gives the bashfully naked couple animal skins to clothe them (verse 21). So Adam and Eve died that afternoon—through substitutes, through animal sacrifice. And finally, on the cross, Jesus, the Lamb of God, would become their final sacrifice for sin. So God was making sense.
Now for the devil’s second mind-poison pill. It happened after Eve confirmed that God indeed had told her about the danger of the tree (verses 2, 3) and how they would die if they ate it. Listen to Satan’s response: “ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman” (verse 4).
Mind-poison pill 2: God is a liar. The devil flatly claims that when God tells you something, you can’t believe it. Much later, Jesus would point the finger back at the devil himself, saying, “When he [the devil] lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Chillingly, most of us have believed the devil. Every one of God’s handwritten Ten Commandments has been disbelieved, disrespected, and disobeyed. Imagine what tomorrow’s breaking news would be if we all started keeping the Ten Commandments: “Don’t Miss the Dazzling Displays at the Flower Convention!”
Mind-poison pill 3: God is selfish. And now for the devil’s equally dreadful third bit of propaganda about God. “For God knows that when you eat from it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Satan says, in other words, “God knows that there are many things that would make you happier or more fulfilled. But He wants to keep these for Himself—especially the privilege of being God. He doesn’t want you to know that you have the right to become a god with the broadest possible knowledge.” A false but horribly seductive idea.
And there’s one more poison pill Satan dangles before us. He doesn’t say it out loud, but he senses that Eve is starting to believe it.
Mind-poison pill 4: Satan says, “I can give you everything God won’t.” And here we have the very center, the very heart, of the God puzzle. As I said earlier, the missing piece in the puzzle is Satan. He was originally created as the angel Lucifer in heaven. Had he never rebelled, the universe would have remained harmonious. Sin would never have existed.
“OK then, why did God create Satan?” someone asks.
God didn’t create an accuser or adversary (which is what Satan means in Hebrew). Isaiah 14:12–15 and Ezekiel 28:11–19 clearly show how God did create a handsome, powerful, talented angel named Lucifer who used his God-given free choice to let selfishness grow inside him like a cancer. And soon, he earned the name Satan. He accused God to Eve and later accused God of showing favoritism to Job (Job 1; 2). The devil is also an insurrectionist. At some point prior to Eden, he went to war in heaven. Jesus once commented, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
And chillingly, Satan tried to tempt Jesus Himself with mind-poison pill 4 during his desert temptations of Christ. The first 11 verses of Matthew 4 show the devil doing his best to get Jesus to prove He’s the Son of God by doing a miracle and then urging Him to test God’s protection by leaping from a temple tower.
And finally, Satan tears off his mask and demands from Jesus what he (Satan) has always wanted: worship. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me’ ” (Matthew 4:8, 9). In other words, “I can give You anything You want. In return, all I want is Your worship.”
Jesus, of course, flatly refused “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” ’ ” (verse 10).
The next obvious question is, Why doesn’t God destroy the devil and be done with it?
The devil's end
God will destroy the devil, but only when the time is right. God wants worship based not on fear but on how much we understand and love Him. And He wants everyone to understand the truth about the devil and his poisonous propaganda so that no one is fooled.
And then the devil’s end will come. Revelation 20 describes a “lake of fire” into which the devil and his angels will, at last, be thrown. And, finally free of His enemy and surrounded by those who follow Him not from fear but from love and gratitude, God will create “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
Maylan Schurch is a pastor in Washington State and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.