Who rules the world? God? Or Satan?
This question, if we’re honest, has a very high cringe factor these days. The first wince comes with the premise that the world is ruled by supernatural powers. Then to set it out as a binary opposition—that only God or Satan rule, with no other options—the question feels like some sort of trap.
So why raise it? And why raise it in this fashion?
Because the Bible raises it on a regular basis and in just this way. So much so that if we treat the Bible as God’s word we need to ask and answer this question in biblical terms. The Bible presents all human relationships as aligned either with God or with Satan. And the Bible regularly presents Satan as having more followers than God, many more.
In Genesis 1-3, for instance, God is in charge at the start but the narrative quickly turns to the serpent’s successful scheme to subvert Adam and Eve. Later in Genesis God is presented as virtually throwing in the towel on humanity after the serpent’s rebellion has captured all of humanity apart from Noah. Then in the New Testament the devil also offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” as if they were his to give, and Jesus doesn’t deny his premise (Matthew 4:9). In fact Jesus even spoke of the “narrow” gate and the few who find it, over against the “wide” and “easy” path to destruction that the majority follow (Matthew 7:13-14).
Paul also assumes Satan’s rule over the great majority of humanity when he spoke of all who are “following the prince of power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived . . . “ (Ephesians 2:2-3).
All of this leads to an obvious question: if God is greater than Satan, why does Satan win all the popularity contests in the Bible? Is Satan actually greater than God?
The serpent certainly wishes we all believed that. But it’s not what the Bible says. Instead we find that God is more concerned to draw out quality and not worry about quantity. And what is the basis for this quality? He wants those who find his Son attractive—those who are ready to “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2). That’s not to say that God doesn’t love the world. He does, as we’re told in John 3:16. But he draws out those in the world who respond to the Son’s words: “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you . . . (John 17:8). God then leaves those who disregard the Son and his words to their preferred enslavement in the serpent’s deceits.
So who ultimately rules the world? If we measure the question with a premise that the majority always wins, then God’s minority position is demeaning. But if God’s real question is, “How shall I find a holy and blameless bride, responsive to my Son’s wooing love?” then we find the minority position is hardly a problem. No proper wedding ever features a groom marrying a bride who despises him. Nor does the groom marry the entire city in which he lives.
What, then, is Satan’s power? In light of God’s refusal to force anyone to love the Son—since coercion is not the stuff of love—he gives the great Narcissist, Satan, the power to cull out those not suited to marry the Son because of their own self-love.
And what is God’s power? The power of love that calls out those who once lived under the serpent’s rule but are now captured by Christ: the Son who reveals his heart of love through his words.
So the ultimate question today and every day is this: who rules our hearts? Do we delight in the Son? I hope and pray so! But most don’t.