Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. … “To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see Who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:21-22…25-26)
God makes clear that there is no power or person in the universe who is God’s equal. God is the creator of all things. Satan is not an eternal being but a created being. Satan rebels against God, but Satan can never be anything more than a rebel who opposes God, but the devil has no omniscience or omnipotence. Satan is a creature like us, and we are like Satan in that we too can choose to oppose God. Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras states emphatically:
There is no second uncaused causal principle, parallel to God, no principle of the existential fact that is evil by nature, nor a second pole of evil antagonistic to the goodness of God. (THE ENIGMA OF EVIL, p 72)
In other words, Satan is highly overrated. Orthodox hymns celebrate Satan’s defeat and powerlessness in the face of Christ, the incarnate God. Christ defeats Satan by becoming part of creation – entering creation through the incarnation. It is in Christ’s self-emptying of His divinity and uniting Himself to humanity that Satan is defeated. In other words, God uses the created order to defeat Satan. God humbles Himself and becomes human to triumph over Satan. Mary, the Virgin Theotokos, helps make this, our salvation, possible. Satan, a creature, is defeated when God and the rest of creation cooperate (synergy). Humans, with God’s help, are able to defeat Satan because Satan is just not that powerful. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). St John Chrysostom says:
For when the devil sees the law of God written in the soul, and the heart become tablets to write it on, he will not approach anymore. (THE WAY OF CHRIST, p 26)
One of the great difficulties any monotheist faces is to give an account for why not only is there evil in the world, but why does evil often seem to succeed? If God is all-powerful and all-wise, why do God’s enemies seem to thrive at times? The conclusion to which some are drawn is that those opposed to God must be empowered by Satan, must be empowered by some great evil force (in this thinking, Satan is conceived of as God’s equal and opposite). This thinking is quite dualistic as it poses two equal and opposite forces God (good) and Satan (evil). The Bible, however, is clear that God has no equal and opposite (as we see God claiming in the above verse from Isaiah). Even Satan turns out to be just another creature, a bodiless one, God called into existence. [Since Satan is a bodiless power, he cannot be defeated by any army or with weapons of mass destruction as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill seems to think.] Satan is not eternal, not all powerful (in the baptism exorcism, we taunt Satan reminding him he doesn’t even have power over swine). Evil exists and succeeds because people embrace it and perpetuate it. They don’t need empowerment form Satan because they have free wills and can choose to reject God and follow their own path or any other path. God shows us, however, that Satan is defeated. Salvation and victory ultimately belong to God, whom we are able to work with.