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Why and How Does Satan Roam the Earth?

August 16, 2017 14 Comments

One of the more puzzling aspects of demonology is the freedom that Satan and demons appear to have in roaming the earth, causing trouble. If the condemned are consigned to Hell for all eternity, why is Satan allowed to wander about outside of Hell? Isn’t he supposed to be suffering in Hell along with his minions and the other condemned? Further, it doesn’t seem that he is suffering one bit, but rather having a grand time wreaking havoc on the earth. How do we answer such questions?

Some texts in Scripture do speak of Satan and the fallen angels as being cast into Hell:

  • God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).
  • And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 1:6).
  • Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [likely a reference to the age of the Church and the going forth of the Gospel to all the nations] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. (Rev 20:1-3).

Yet other texts speak of the fallen angels (demons) as being cast down to the earth:

  • But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. And the great dragon was hurled down—the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:8-9).
  • The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it” (Job 1:7).

Thus, though consigned to Hell, it would seem that some or all of the demons have the ability to roam the earth as well. Demons, however, do not have bodies and thus do not “roam the earth” the way we do. Their “roaming” is more an indication of their capacity to influence than their ability to move from one place to another. Further, Satan and demons are described as being “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness.” This is likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or “roam” is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, just that it is not unbounded. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!

Near the end of the world, Scripture says that Satan will be wholly loosed and will come forth to deceive the nations for a while; after this brief period, he and the other fallen angels will be definitively cast into the lake of fire and their influence forever ended.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, … their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:7-10).

So for now, demons do have influence, but it is limited. At the end, their full fury will be unleashed, but this is only to bring about their final, complete defeat, after which they will be forever sequestered in the lake of fire.

Why God permits some demons the freedom to wander about the earth is mysterious. We know that God permits evil as a “necessary” condition of freedom for the rational creatures He has created. Angels and humans have free, rational souls; if our freedom is to mean anything, God must allow that some abuse it, even becoming sources of evil and temptation to others.

For us, this life amounts to a kind of test: God permits some degree of evil to flourish yet at the same time offers us the grace to overcome it. Further, there is the tradition implied in Scripture that for every angel that fell there were two who did not (Rev 12:4). Thus, we live not merely under the influence of demons, but also under the influence and care of angels.

On account of temptations and trials, our “yes” to God has greater dignity and merit than it would if we lived in a sin-free paradise.

As to Satan having “a good time” wreaking havoc, it would be too strong say that demons and Satan do not suffer at all. Demons, like human beings, suffer both victories and defeats; there are outcomes that delight them and those that disappoint and anger them.

Anyone who has ever attended an exorcism can attest that demons do suffer great deal, especially when the faithful pray and make pious use of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., holy water, relics, blessed medals, rosaries). Faith and love are deeply disturbing to demons.

We all do well in the current dispensation to remember St. John Vianney’s teaching that Satan is like a chained dog: He may bark loudly and froth menacingly, but he can only bite us if we get too close. Keep your distance!

While these videos are light-hearted, their message is serious:

Comments (14)

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  1. Edward Hara says:

    QUOTE: “Why God permits some demons the freedom to wander about the earth is mysterious. We know that God permits evil as a “necessary” condition of freedom for the rational creatures He has created. Angels and humans have free, rational souls; if our freedom is to mean anything, God must allow that some abuse it, even becoming sources of evil and temptation to others.”

    If evil is a necessary condition for freedom of rational souls to choose, then there must be some sort of reward for the good use of freedom and some sort of consequence for the bad use of freedom. Which necessarily leads to the next quote:

    QUOTE: “For us, this life amounts to a kind of test: God permits some degree of evil to flourish yet at the same time offers us the grace to overcome it. Further, there is the tradition implied in Scripture that for every angel that fell there were two who did not (Rev 12:4). Thus, we live not merely under the influence of demons, but also under the influence and care of angels.”

    Here’s the problem – if failing this “test” involves losing one’s soul forever, and forever being in a state of eternal misery and torment (as so many Fundamentalists of all stripes are wont to preach) then it is to me absurd that we would be allowed to be deceived. If God is love (which Scripture states that He is) then it is not an act of love to allow people to be deceived if it means they will fall into a state of torment without end. Love does not have that character.

    But………

    if failing the test means that in the next life you will have less glory than, say, one of the saints who allowed himself to be martyred for love of God, or one of the saints who spent his live in prayer, then that is a fair test. Scripture speaks of the souls in the next life having varying degrees of glory. I have a feeling that someone like St. Athanasius or Polycarp will shine like the sun, while someone who has done evil in his life will be like a flashlight bulb with a weak battery.

    This would seem to be a reasonable use of temptation of our souls. Unfortunately, many Fundamentalists simply seem to smugly think that since they are “in with God” and have their eternal destiny settled, it is perfectly alright for God to allow temptation which damns men forever. And Roman Catholic “visionaries” with their lurid visions of the great majority of people who ever lived going to hell and being burned forever in fire, are about the worst of the bunch.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I wonder if your question is not rooted in an incomplete notion of love? We tend today to equate love with kindness, comfort, protection etc. But when you think about it, good parents who love their children subject them to tests and allow them to be exposed to the big bad world to some degree. IOW perhaps you overthink the “Since God is love” angle.” It is not inconsistent with God’s love that he would allow us to encounter evil, or be open to deception. for the reasons stated in the article. Surely he provides the graces needed to overcome and “pass” life’s tests. But as our parents allowed us to fall off our bikes so we can learn to master and riding a bike, perhaps too God permits some limited exposure, along with the outstretched hand of his grace. anyway just a thought.

      Regarding the “fundamentalists” I wonder if you mean evangelicals. I don’t know anyone who self-identifies by that term any longer. But whatever term they go by, there are 30,000 flavors, and it is hard to say what they say or why. But generally I would agree the “once-saved-always saved” flavor among them would likely use the logic you indicate

    • Christopher Milton says:

      Ed,

      You ideas are tempting, but not inline with Scripture or Tradition. In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus was pretty clear that the goats will not be welcome in Heaven.

      “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

      And that’s the punishment for sin of failing to do good, let alone intentionally doing evil.

    • Doug says:

      Edward, please remember that the earth was created as man’s home; it was “very good”. Gen 1:31, NJB.
      In fact, the first command from God was, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth”. No sin, no sickness, no death. The only test came with the second command, ‘Don’t eat from that one tree!’ That test is the one Adam failed, and put the resulting misery on us.
      What do you think? Is there a way back to Paradise for us? If so, that would indeed be “good news”.

  2. Nick says:

    Demons are intrinsically untrustworthy, so no one can take Satan’s words in Job or what demons say during exorcism seriously. Exorcists are forbidden from publishing exorcisms without the permission of the Church and the possessed, anyways.

    Revelation is symbolic, so Satan didn’t literally fall to Earth. Indeed, Jesus says He saw Satan fall like lightning – a Jewish way of describing a loss of power or office.

    So I would say demons don’t roam Earth, but are in Hell since their fall from Heaven, in light of Jesus’ definitive victory over Satan on the Cross.

    In light of the Cross, too, Satan’s power is definitively over. We only let him influence us insofar as we listen to the Tempter by giving into temptation, whereby we become accomplices with the Instigator of evil by doing evil (sin).

    Demonic possession, like other sufferings, isn’t due to sin but is a part of Creation’s beauty (different creatures), journey to perfection (exercise makes our joints hurt), and is ordered to theosis: God Himself shows us this by suffering on the Cross unto rising from the dead again.

    We now await the full manifestation of the fruits of Jesus’ Victory over Satan, on Judgment Day, yet which fruits are already manifested in many ways:
    – the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary, God’s masterpiece, since the Mother of God is the first fruit of the Redeemer
    – the Church is the eternal matrimony between God and Creation in Jesus
    – Baptism frees us from sin and Satan, Confession free us from sin, Eucharist strengthens our love, Confirmation perfects our baptismal grace, Anointing of the Sick prepares us for the final fight against Satan, Holy Orders is for the sake of the other Sacraments and the whole Church, Matrimony signifies Christus Totus
    – Blessings aid us in knowing, serving and loving God, while exorcisms free us from Satan
    – Popular piety aids us in knowing, serving and loving God and in preparing for the Sacraments and sacramentals

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I’m not sure I understand the purpose of your lecture here. I think I generally agree with the points you have made and discuss them in the article, though from a different perspective. it is not clear to me if you are trying to school me, or my readers or both, but let me assure you I know that satan doesn’t “literally” fall to the earth, or roam the earth, etc. I am aware that he does not have a body and that Scripture speaks often allegorically, and metaphorically etc. And most of my readers do not lack the sophistication your schooling of us implies. But thank you for your correction in case we do lack your understanding. Something tells me you need to get your own blog and then you can publish articles that seek to teach and edify.

      The one disagreement I have with your list is that Satan’s power is “definitively over” Note sure what you mean by “definitively.” You do qualify it (which is a strange thing to do with the word definitively). In terms of soteriology, the war is won, and sufficient grace is available for us to withstand. But Satan still exerts considerable (though limited) influence and at the end will be loosed for a while. That does not say his power is definitively over, which is why we still need graces. Surely Satan’s back is broken (I know… not literally), but from a pastoral point of view I think you make too light of his role when you use the word “only” your disclaimer. In my pastoral experience, people’s struggle with sin is more than them “only” not listening or giving way. Grace is still the answer, but laying hold of that gift is a bit more complex than your notion of “only” not listening and giving in suggests.

      I don’t know your age, but something tells me you are a younger man, or at least you write like one. Maybe after a bit more bumps and bruises of your own, or walking more with those caught up in the mystery of iniquity you’ll see that things are more complex than your “definitives” and “onlys” suggest you currently see things.

      • Nick says:

        Satan is indeed definitively defeated and his power definitively over:

        Catechism 550 The coming of God’s kingdom means the defeat of Satan’s: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus’ exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus’ great victory over “the ruler of this world”. The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ’s cross: “God reigned from the wood.”

        Catechism 539 The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror: he “binds the strong man” to take back his plunder. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father.

        Catechism 2853 Victory over the “prince of this world” was won once for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave himself up to death to give us his life. This is the judgment of this world, and the prince of this world is “cast out.” “He pursued the woman” but had no hold on her: the new Eve, “full of grace” of the Holy Spirit, is preserved from sin and the corruption of death (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, ever virgin). “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring.” Therefore the Spirit and the Church pray: “Come, Lord Jesus,” since his coming will deliver us from the Evil One.

        The Lord Who cannot be tempted (James 1:13) was tempted as Man (Hebrews 4:15). So there is no contradiction between Satan’s defeat and Satan working against us; the so-called “contradiction” is our misunderstanding.

        Let us proffer our struggles with evil – sin, mental illness, pain, Satan, etc. – to Jesus. I am young, and hope to grow in wisdom and grace like, with, through, and in Christ.

        • Anneliese says:

          Nick, I would disagree with you re possession. Possession can occur when a person opens their soul to Satan via occult practices, i.e. tarot card reading, visiting psychics, etc. Engaging in the occult is a sin because it is a sacrilege and it violates the 1st Commandment. See CCC 2115-2117 and 2118. And yes, a soul being liberated is beautiful, however, it would it would be better not to have to go through a possession or exorcism.

  3. Todd says:

    In essence I told one of my sons who was interested in the Military that should he go in – he should consider entering into one of the special forces groups. Why? To pass selection he will have to “put out,” and “endure much” suffering. He will find himself cold, wet, hungry, tired, and physically – laid waste. His will to continue on will be tested! If he should make it through all those cold, dark, and lonely days and nights, wounded in many and various ways yet never quitting – he will find himself in an elite group of soldiers. He will have no doubts that the man standing to his left or to his right – those men would rather die right here, right now than to let their brothers-in-arms down. Basic training and selection will have worn down the “individual,” and formed strong bonds of teamwork. My son would know that he will fight with some of the most self-sacrificing, quiet professionals, this home-of-the-brave has ever produced.

    That my brothers is but a dim intimation of the greatest Warrior to ever walk the face of the earth. Jesus – the Christ endured more in His life passion, and death (Resurrection) than any American Special Forces soldier could ever imagine – that you and I ‘might,’ have – Life.

    What kind of proving grounds would it be if this life were a utopia? Those fallen angels are messengers and I would submit that right here, right now we are up against it my brothers! We are facing the most dangerous proving grounds perhaps in the history of the world right now! Pick up that sword – pick up that Rosary and engage the enemies, engage in this battle against principalities and powers! When you are wounded – let it bleed! Focus on your front sight, trigger control, grip, stance – as it were and press on! Fight until time gives way to eternity and you and I breath our last.

    After 26 years as a Police Officer, supervisor, and administrator – I now work at Caterpillar. Perhaps I should go see this “proving grounds,” I hear coworkers talking about at CAT.

    • Doug says:

      A stirring comment, Todd. And if it hurts, rub dirt on it? 🙂
      May I offer some other information?
      The Bible also has a pep talk, from one who “fought the good fight to the end”. 2Tim 4:7, NJB. At Ephesians 6 Paul lists six pieces of equipment carried by Roman soldiers. Of the six, all but one are defensive. The exception is the one he calls “the sword of the spirit, that is, the word of God.”
      Isn’t it humbling to consider the defensive aspect? It means that, as always, “Yahweh is lord of the battle”, so the victory will be his, not ours. 1Sam 17:47, ibid. In fact, on two occasions the Israelites were told, ‘You will not need to fight; stand firm and see Yahweh’s salvation.’ Ex 14 and 1Chr 20.

    • jbg says:

      Amen Todd. Jesus went into the desert looking for a fight! Liberals don’t like that kind of talk and are expunging the image of Jesus as Warrior King.

  4. Dave says:

    “Near the end of the world, Scripture says that Satan will be wholly loosed and will come forth to deceive the nations for a while.”

    Are we sure that this time is not now? I can’t imagine a world much worse than this where error of every kind is dominant and the truth is universally scorned.

  5. Doug says:

    Dave, there is another event just after the one mentioned at Rev 12:8,9. If Satan was thrown out of heaven, he must have been living there. This is confirmed by Job 1:6 and 2:1, NJB. [“One day when the sons of God (fn., angels) came to attend on Yahweh, among them came Satan.”] This is why there is such gladness in heaven [Rev 12:12] AND such woe for the earth [Rev 12:12].
    When did/does this eviction take place?
    Prophecy confirms your suspicions. If Satan is “in a rage”, knowing he “has little time left” [Rev 12:12], then our condition is very bad … which is what the daily news tells us daily!
    Compare that with prophecies about the ‘last days’ or ‘end times’ at Mt 24 & 25, Luke 21, Mark 13 and 2Tim 3:1-5. So you’re definitely on track, if the Bible means anything. 🙂
    I hope this is of help.

  6. Gary says:

    The spiritual law of cause and effect were created precisely to ensure the consequence of God’s gift of free will. Eve made a choice when presented by the serpent(Satan)to do as God commanded or listen to Satan. We know well the results. Satan roams the earth, not in the physical dimension, but through thought, ideas, philosophy which sound appealing to the human mind but have no divinity in their essence. Just as God effects out thoughts, ideas and philosophy through scripture, oral tradition and through the many writers over the millennia, which is divine in essence. Satan appears in the subtly of the mind, as used on Eve. He used the sense of sight, “the fruit was appealing to the eye”, he used the sense of reason, “surely you will not die”, and of course he appealed to the ego, “man is above God”. Studying the result of Eve’s and Adam’s decision makes clear the consequence of our disobedience towards God’s commandments. We are cut off from Him in varying degrees depending on our persistence of disobedience and the degree of each transgression. In 2017 we are seeing the cumulative effect of the persistence towards mankind’s disobedience and the transgressions come in more vivid effect. My life has played out in the same manner. Persistent disobedience and more vivid effects until I was left in the same condition as was the Prodigal Son, living in swine. I finally surrendered and today I strive to conform my will to what God will have me perform and life today, although not heavenly, it certainly is not the hell it once was.

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