Question: Does Satan have to ask permission from God before he can afflict a person?
Response: It seems clear from Scripture that Satan has access to humanity to tempt us through various means. Peter warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pt 5:8). This directly implies that the adversary has liberty to take advantage of mankind’s weaknesses in order that he may “devour them”; thus the admonition to “be vigilant,” especially regarding those weaknesses.
But we also have the example of Job, where we find that on occasion, in order to “prove” them, God may grant Satan special access to afflict individuals. In Job:1:10, Satan says to God, “Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and...his house, and...all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased....” The protection given to Job and his family was lifted at the request of Satan so that he might torment him. Job ultimately responded faithfully to the Lord through the trial and was greatly blessed in the end.
First Kings 22:20-21 gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of God giving specific permission to a demonic being: “The Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?...And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him.”
To Peter, “ [Jesus] said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not...” (Lk 22:31-32). The Lord Jesus, very aware that Satan especially wanted to tempt Peter, had already been praying for him, with the intent that Peter’s faith would not fail.
Thus we see that although Satan is the enemy of mankind, his “freedom” to exercise his wrath on humanity is limited to what God allows him to do. We read in Scripture that there is coming a time when the Lord warns, “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Rv 12:12).
In all of this, remember that the Lord doesn’t leave us defenseless. He gives us weapons with which we can counter the enemy’s attacks: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7). And also: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities…powers…rulers of the darkness of this world…spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints...” (Eph:6:11-18).