18 July 2007

Do I Believe in Satan?

I was listening to Andy Gullahorn, one of my favorite prog-Christian-folk singers the other day, and this lyric came on:
If I were the devil, I wouldn't wear red
I wouldn't breath fire cause it might give me away.
I started thinking about the Devil, and I was surprised by what came to mind.

I realized that I don't believe in Satan, and I don't think I have for some time. Is this wrong? Do you have to believe in the Devil to get into heaven--or hell?

Let me explain.

A few years ago I read a book review about the History of Satan. It talked about how different cultures had tried to personify Evil, and it mentioned that Satan hadn't even been introduced into the Bible until people like the Second Isaiah came back from exile in Persia. The more I thought about it, the more I figured the Embodiment of Evil must be some kind of a cop-out--you know, an intellectually lazy way to identify evil and run with it.

As I was listening to the song, I thought about the whole "war in heaven," scenario where Lucifer was cast down, but instead of being killed--"the wages of sin is death"--he was allowed to live indefinitely. Human beings were created, then, to pay the wages of the sins of Lucifer and his angels. And when they messed up, they really got it, even though Adam was a "son of God" and both he and Eve had eaten of the Tree of Life. Jesus, the Son of God, came to save humanity, but will not save Satan, whom he will destroy in the Judgment Day.

Am I missing something here?

This is a story within a story. The story of humanity's creation and redemption happens within the meta-story of Lucifer's Fall and his FALL/destruction. I understand my part--and God's--in the middle layer. Does the meta layer really concern me? I can't imagine any way to actually prove either that this took place or that my understanding of it can in any way affect the very real battle I wage with Evil every day.

At best, it is a simplistic way to explain where evil came from and where it's going to end up. At worst, it is a trick, a diversion to take my focus off the real battle. "Watch out for the guy with the pitchfork. Evil comes from the outside, not from within."

So if there is no Embodiment of Evil, what do I believe in, then? I think I'm more pre-Exile in my approach to Evil. The world is full of false gods and overwhelming temptations. I serve the only God who can deliver me from that. I'm not sure that temptation comes from an outside source as much as it originates within my own corrupt character--my insatiable appetite, how easily I am distracted from pursuing Good. God's Blood and Body within me extinguish this corruption, and bring the evil of my own heart to light. I don't know that they have any affect on Satan.

Does this make sense? This is the first time I've really written about this or expressed these thoughts, although I've had them for quite some time. Some people can grapple with Evil better when it is personified. I don't have a problem with that. I do wish to call evil by its right name. I have seen what it can do, and I look forward to its ultimate destruction.


Gavin Anthony said...

Hi JD!

My initial response is this:

I think you are raising issues much larger than whether Satan exists. I would want to ask what you base any of your beliefs on. Do you believe XX based on your personal thoughts/experience, or on divine revelation -- on sola scriptura?

If we would debate this based on your experience, then we could swap all sorts of anecdotes. The only other real choice I have is to accept scripture as God's authoritative revelation of reality.

If we then want to debate whether the Bible is accurate, then we have some critical issues to resolve:

1. Was Jesus tempted in the desert by himself?

2. You would have to remove all the passages in the Bible about Satan in Revelation, Ephesians etc etc.

3. Job's problems would have had to have been with himself...

4. You have to find an alternative origin for sin -- which is from where?

5. Jesus' exorcisms would have been a silly story. And we would have to throw out his own direct teaching about Satan.

6. We could go on...!

But I think you raise a really important issue which has been much abused by Christians--the "devil made me do it" issue, where people blame someone else for their problems, when they should be looking at the dreadful corruption inside their own hearts.

So if we are to ready to accept the authority of scripture (without going back down into the dark ages of the historical-critical (pot-luck) method which almost killed off the living faith of the Church) then I think we are compelled to also accept from scripture the reality of both a real Satan, without lessening our own responsibility for what goes on inside us.

Best wishes!

Brian A. said...

Clearly some people find comfort in the simplicity of a Devil figure. I'm struck by how they tend to attribute not only evil, but also inconvenience to Satan. For instance, if there's an untimely storm or a car that doesn't start, it must be the Devil trying to stop X event.

That's a slippery slop to try to navigate.

Jenny said...

This week, after the Wednesday night service, I was called in to a side room of the church to speak with a lady who was distraught and crying. After awhile, it became evident that she was involved in a spiritual struggle in which, it seemed to me, she was trying to fight the Devil by herself without asking for help from God.

She cited many tragic experiences of loss in her life and asked me where God had been during those times. She told me that the Devil had always done whatever he wanted in her life and God had never helped her out. She was angry with God for allowing the Devil to have such power over her.

I listened to her - I had been counseling with her on and off for awhile so I was familiar with the struggles in her life - and I told her that this life is like a battleground and that in a battle, people get hurt and beaten up. Sometimes the commander can't prevent his soldiers from getting hurt or even killed. But he still leads them and fights alongside them, and weeps when they are hurt. I told her that the Devil rules this world right now and the only way to get out from his rule is to give ourselves to God and accept the blood of Jesus to save and protect us.

Then, the thought came to me that perhaps this lady never had really done that. Maybe she was not on God's side at all, just standing in the middle and getting trampled in the midst of the fight. The Holy Spirit nudged me and I asked her if she had ever given her heart to God.

She said no, she didn't think she had. We talked a little more and the Holy Spirit nudged me again. I asked her if she wanted to give her life to God. She nodded and said yes. With my arm around her, I prayed for her, and then she prayed. We were both in tears by the end of this session and the Holy Spirit was strong in the room.

I called her yesterday to ask how she was doing. She told me that ever since Wednesday, she had a peace she had never had before. She told me that everything looked different. It was hard to explain, she said.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."
- Eph 6:12,13

The Devil is real. I see his work every day in the messed-up lives of my patients and the havoc and misery he creates everywhere he goes. How does he look? I don't know, but I see him in the face of a child who has been abused and left. In the haunted eyes of a Vietnam vet who has killed children used as human shields and doesn't think God could ever love him. And in my own heart, which, for all the trappings of righteousness, turns constantly away from God to selfish or sinful thoughts.

When I see these things, I hear the victory chant of the Devil. It reminds me that we are in a battle, a struggle to spread love, healing, and light. And that we will always lose if we have not put ourselves squarely on God's side.