Atheists and the media have always had a lot of fun with the religious concept of Satan. We are all familiar with comic strips showing people in hell with demons wearing red suits, horns, and pitch forks running around persecuting them and the “big boss,” Satan, watching all of the torment with glee. There are countless jokes like the story about the man and woman who had been together on earth and never got married. They both died, went to heaven and decided to get married. Their problem was they could not find any preachers in heaven to marry them. Similar jokes abound concerning lawyers who also cannot be found in heaven. When I was a youngster there was a comedian named Flip Wilson whose favorite line for any wrong-doing he did was, “The Devil made me do it.”

Is Satan a myth? What does the Bible tell us about Satan and what is tradition? Part of the issue in this discussion is evil itself. Atheists like Richard Dawkins claim that evil does not exist. In River Out of Eden Dawkins wrote, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good … .”

The fact is that evil is real. Evil is not an object like a rock or a planet. Evil is a choice made by beings capable of making choices. Unless a person believes there is nothing that is ever wrong (which even an atheist is not usually willing to do), then evil does exist. Evil is not a creation of God. It exists because God exists, and if God is good and love, then the absence of good and love must exist. Good and love are manifested in God and have their capacity to act because of God. In the beginning, evil had no vehicle through which it could act. Before man came on the scene there was no evil because there was no living being able to make a choice. In the natural world evil does not exist. When a spider catches a fly and eats it, there is no moral issue. Birth and death are natural processes in the animal world. Animals have no self-concept, self-worth, politics, religion, or causes. The natural world runs on instinct, not politics.

The question then becomes whether we believe human beings are the only sentient beings through which evil can operate. This is where the issue of Satan’s existence becomes relevant. In the Old Testament there is very little reference to Satan. The name “Satan” literally means “adversary,” and in all five cases in the Old Testament Satan is shown as opposing the best interests of men. In Job 1 and 2 Satan is shown as the prince of opposition to God and this reference is repeated in the New Testament (see John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2). In the New Testament there are repeated references to spiritual beings, or angels. Many of these references are not in apocalyptic books like Revelation, but are seen in the letters. (See Ephesians 6:12; 3:9 –10; and Jude 6.) In Matthew 4, Luke 4, and Mark 1 we are told that Jesus was tempted by Satan, and Hebrews 4:15 tells us that He “was in all points tempted like as we are.” In 1 John 3:8 and Hebrews 2:14 we are told that the purpose of Jesus coming into to the world was to “destroy the works of the devil.” We are further told that when we die we become “as the angels of God in heaven” in at least some respects (see Matthew 22:23 – 30). To reject the existence of beings that are not human is to deny virtually the entire Bible.

If we agree that evil does exist and that there is such a thing as right and wrong, then the only remaining question is how this wrong functions. Do people just accidentally do it, or stumble into it, or is there an intelligence that propels evil towards us selectively? One of the interesting things about Satan and his communication techniques is that the only direct communication between Satan and other beings after man sinned are when those beings are not humans. Satan spoke directly to God in Job and directly to Jesus in the temptation of Christ. He contended with the angel Michael in Jude 9. The role of Satan and humans seems to be much more indirect. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:27 not to give place to the devil. In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul writes, “we are not ignorant of his [Satan’s] devices.” In the case of Judas, Satan entered into him (Luke 22:3; John 13:27) and put things into his heart (John 13:2). In Acts 5:3 Satan is said to have filled Ananias’ heart. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that Satan hinders those who are doing God’s will, and in Luke 13:16 Jesus indicates that Satan had bound or controlled a woman. All of these verses and situations indicate that there is a personal force that does evil to people individually and purposefully.

The conclusion then boils down to deciding whether we believe there are sentient beings other than humans, who like us have the ability to know the difference between good and evil and make active choices along that line. If we do not believe these beings exist, then we either deny the existence of evil or attribute it to man’s brain in some physical way. If there is a God, and if man is spiritually created in God’s image, then it would seem reasonable that there are other beings with whom we share a relationship with God. We know humans exist who reject God, so it is reasonable to believe that these beings may have rejected God. Science fiction writers have always focused on conflict between spiritual forces. The existence of an intelligent evil force is reasonable.

Satan is a malignant reality always hostile to God and God’s people. He is not a physical being and he has been restricted in his access to humanity. He cannot overpower us, and in fact, if we resist him he will flee from us (see James 4:7). God has further promised us that He will protect us, but not in a way that removes our capacity to choose whether we will give in to Satan’s influence. This promise and our willingness to use it is perhaps one of the great challenges to all of us as Christians:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).
Peter tells us what we must do to overcome temptations:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:6 – 9, NIV).
--John N. Clayton

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