30 Apr 2012

The Author

David Henson is a writer who lives in Georgia and blogs at Patheos. He received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalist. He is currently a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. His meditations and reflections on Scripture have appeared in Ready the Way: A Walk Through Advent, a 2009 publication of the Episcopal Church, Patheos.com, the Christian Century Web site and various blogs. A former journalist, his work has also appeared in publications across the country, including Oakland Tribune, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Coastal Living magazine. In real life, he is much less impressive than he tries to make his bio sound and really loves cooking, films and playing with his kids. Connect with him at http://facebook.com/unorthodoxology or at his blog http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson

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The Making of an Adversary: Satan and Christianity’s Unspoken Heresy
satan

I sat in the minister’s office on a Wednesday night, nervous with my parents seated on either side of me.

“Why now?” he asked.

“I’m not ready,” I replied.

Confusion spread across the minister’s face, and he glanced at my parents doubtfully.

My dad turned toward me and asked gently, “Then why are we here, David, if you aren’t ready?”

My heart pounded and I saw this moment — my most important moment — begin to slip away from me, and I knew I couldn’t let that happen. I might not get this chance again. If I didn’t seize this moment, I feared I might never get another one, and it would be too late.

“No, no, no,” I replied, voice shaky and quiet. “I’m not ready to die.”

“What do you mean?” asked my youth minister.

“If I died, I think I would go to Hell,” I replied.

The room grew quiet.

I was 10.

Just a decade old, I had become convinced that I needed to be saved from the specter hell and an eternity with Satan.

Despite the fact that I had attended church for my entire life, whenever the doors were open — Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday nights. Despite the fact that my family religiously read the Bible together. Despite the fact that I already had faith in Jesus, in God. Despite the fact that Jesus loved me, this I knew.

My youth minister talked briefly with me, before finally deciding that I was indeed of the age of accountability and could be baptized. He asked if I wanted to “come forward” on Sunday or just go ahead and be baptized that night.

The situation was much too urgent to wait four days. It was now or never.

Within a half hour, after he scrounged up some witnesses and I donned thin white clothes, I had been baptized. Until I felt the cool rush of the waters, I was terrified that something would happen and that I would perish unbaptized, unsaved, destined for Satan’s clutches.

But it took years, another decade almost, for the fear to stop.

Richard Nixon reportedly once said, “People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.”

But, in truth, that is the exact messages echoing throughout Sunday Schools and churches throughout Christianity, where sermons based on fear of Satan and eternal damnation move more people toward the altar than sermons inspired by God, justice, generosity and love.

In my own experience of salvation, Satan loomed much larger — and more powerful a motivator — than did God. I didn’t want to commit my life to God because of the divine love offered to me but because I was a terrified 10-year-old. I had the hell scared right out of me.

Now, this is the perfect place to criticize fear-based religion, to lampoon the notion of sinners dangling in the hands of an angry God. Instead of grasping at low-hanging fruit, however, I want to propose something else. In addition to being psychologically damaging and spiritually abusive, the figure of Satan is fundamentally unorthodox, at odds with Christianity’s claims of monotheism.

In other words, Satan, as much of Christianity has conceived of him and how the idea of him has functioned, is heresy of the highest degree.

And it is a heresy that Christians for millenia have embraced.

Suppose for a moment you were studying a new religion. In it, there was an eternal being, with supernatural powers to influence the world and humanity, who commanded a legion of angels to do his will, and who would stop at nothing to gain the allegiance of humans.

This paragraph describes a god. It certainly could be said to describe traditional Christianity’s God. But it could equally be said to describe its traditional understanding of Satan.

Christianity, in effect, through its discourse about Satan, has mutated from a monotheistic religion to a ditheistic one, with rival gods battling for the souls of humans. Christians will pay lip service to the notion that God is all-powerful and has or will defeat Satan, while at the same time, acknowledging that the temporal battle is all but lost to the forces of evil.

In any other religion, such a dualistic counterpart, locked in eternal warfare with God, would also be considered a god and monotheistic claims would be sneered at.

At some point, Christianity needs to face its own unspoken anathema — the theological Frankenstein it created — that Satan has become a god.

Now, to be clear, I don’t believe that a being called Satan exists. Neither do I think it is biblical or reasonable to do so. At most, I would say that Satan is the human personification of the evil that is present in the world, conceived as a theodicy of sorts to balance the sorry state of affairs on earth with the belief in a good God.

A clear example of this can be found in the Old Testament during a census ordered by King David. There are two accounts of this story in different books, and they are exactly the same, save for one significant detail. In the earlier one, it is the anger of the Lord which goads David to take the census. In the latter one, it is Satan.

An adversary has been made.

A scapegoat created. But it is not a scapegoat to carry away the sins of the people. Rather, it is a scapegoat created by the people for the misbehavior of their God.

Eventually, Satan comes to function as humanity’s scapegoat as well, the animal that carries off the sins so far away into the dark wilderness that we no longer can claim responsibility for our sins at all. Over the centuries, the figure of Satan has been used to justify all sorts of bad behavior in the world. Humanity’s moral failings are blamed on the influence of Satan, lifting responsibility for deplorable evil to a supernatural level outside the control of humankind. In other instances, our evil work — the Inquisition comes to mind — is justified as a righteous attempt to stamp out Satan’s work. Further, humanity’s infatuation with violence, racism and war are blamed on the work of the Evil One rather than our cravings for power and security.

Honestly, Satan can be an attractive alternative to the truth of our own culpability in injustice and evil. It is much easier to blame a metaphysical boogeyman with horns, a pitchfork and a fiery lair beneath the earth than it is to look at the blood on our own hands. While Jesus might offer forgiveness of our sins, Satan offers us the chance to disavow responsibility for them completely.

It’s no wonder so many Christians seem to focus more on Satan than on Jesus.

What seems more attractive, confessing our failings or blaming them on someone else?

36 Comments
36 Comments
  1. I agree with what you’re saying… Satan should not have as much prominence as God, that’s clear. The focus the conventional teaching has had essentially equates satan and God in the life of the believer. A challenge between the force of evil as represented by Satan, and the force of good as represented by the Holy Spirit.

    Clearly, too much credit is given to the tempter and not enough to the temptation. Satan only has power because we are tempted to sin. We only lose when we sin. Satan can’t make us lose and God doesn’t make us win. God empowers us with the Holy Spirit and Satan whispers temptations, but ultimately we are free moral agents. That is the beauty of practical Christianity. There is an all-powerful diety that allows us to act. There is a powerful, but less powerful tempter that is incapable of forcing us to act. The balance allows for us to freely act and freely love. Ultimately, our actions are our responsibility.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Not to argue, but to push the conversation. What category of being/entity would you place Satan? Human? Demigod? Spirit-being? God? I’m honestly curious, because it strikes me that most of those (Demigod, Spirit-being, god) argues against monotheism rather than buttressing the claim. The dualism created here is still God and Satan fighting over humans in a spiritual battle, and that doesn’t seem like a monotheism (if we pull back our theological qualifiers and justifications). We still have, in this configuration, two very powerful deities who for all of human history have yet to defeat the other completely.

    • Thanks to both of you for the provoking article as well as the insightful comment.

      I think Austin hints us in the right direction when he points to the role of the holy spirit as a counter-balance to Satan. God allows us to be free and burdens us with the gift of freedom. Satan doesn’t have power over us untill we allow it, while God is almighty but is certainly not the type of deity that intervenes when we make mistakes. Satan actually represents us humans if and when we try to be like God. Satan, the devil, and whatever name we have for the dark powers seems to me like a a real force, perhaps even a real spectre, but is certainly not a deity — even though it would seem to many Non-Christians due to the laissez-faire way some of us Christians use Satan as an excuse for their lack of self-discipline and insight into Jesus’ teachings.

      • Thanks Ulrich. I am bothered somewhat by your description of how Satan represents humans when we try to be like God as it seems to contradict the Orthodox notion of theosis. I thought the point of the Chistian life was to become more and more like God.

        If the Holy Spirit is a counterbalance to Satan, then we have implicitly equated Satan with the third person of the Trinity (ie God).

        I don’t see a way around the unhinging of Christian monotheism when it comes to its belief in Satan (even that phrase — belief in Satan belies language we usually reserve for God.

        Now, if Satan is the name we give to evil, then you and I agree as I mentioned in the post vis a vis the personification of evil.

        • I think the language of satan is that of a god-like status in the minds of Christians because that is the type of imagery used in the New Testament concerning the devil.

          This language is used in Paul’s writings, here:

          2 Corinthians 4:4
          “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

          Ephesians 2:1-2
          “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

          And also in John’s epistle:

          1 John 5:19
          “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

          Which is also affirmed by Jesus when he says:
          “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” in John 12:31

          Not only here, but as well in a more subtle way in the temptations of Jesus in the desert the devil is shown to have some kind of authority over the earth in a way akin to a “god”:

          Matt 4:8
          “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’”

          So, in conclusion, the belief in a personal entity of the devil has been very present from the beginnings of Christianity, and with the way the devil is described and spoken of in these verses, it’s no wonder that a deity-like impression has been given about satan.
          But, while I can see you point and I can see where this “double-deity” idea has probably come from, I think it’s largely down to a misunderstanding about the way God operates and that the angels (for the devil is usually thought of as a ‘fallen angel’) has some kind of power which we can see through the Bible – although not as powerful as God’s, but definitely moreso than us mere mortals have. So while satan may be called a “god” as he would probably appear to mortal men, his power is also limited and weak/smaller than God’s power, yet God has chosen a time to overpower and remove the devil’s ‘rule’ that he appears to have or be allowed to have on earth.
          Maybe the Gospel writers and early apostles chose a poor selection of words to describe the power the devil has over people/earth which has led to a ‘deification’ in the minds of believers, when it was never intended that way?

    • David, I agree with your criticism of the thinking and teachings of some Christian groups re. the devil, but wish you were more specific. It is certainly not true that “Christianity” indirectly belives in two deities; if you’re under this impression then you focus might be to much directed on current Evangelical churches in the USA, e.g. Pentacostals. BTW, most Christians in the Middle Ages where in many ways less fanatical then some Christian groups today, because they still lived in a daily basis in and with God’s creation, nature and that there are angels; Lucifer was just an angel gone bad. Nature involved our reason as a part of itself, but was not dependent on that reason for most of its operations. They were part of that ordered natural goodness before modernity set in. Before human hubris set in. In this sense Lucifer reminds me very much of the modern man.
      Perhaps it would be worth deliberating how an angel like Lucifer can become greedy and ready to push away the creator.

      • I don’t think this is an issue only for the U.S., particularly as the majority of Christians are no longer Americans or even Anglos. And Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing segment of Christianity worldwide and this belief in a dualistic Satan is quite popular.

        Further, I would say that *any* Christian would not admit they believe in two deities. What I am arguing is that Christianity, based on how it has theologically created the figure of Satan, implicitly does. Christianity does express Satan as a fallen angel, based on one enigmatic, if not problematic text, if I’m not mistaken. What I am saying that Christian belief in a literal Satan functions and imbues Satan with qualities that in any objective observer would say resembles a god and would argue against Christian claims to monotheism.

        Any Christian belief in a literal Satan in which Satan is an eternal, supernatural being who tries to woo humanity to its side, just as God does, is fundamentally at odds with claims to monotheism. Because a supernatural, eternal being seem to be qualities one would reserve for a god, particularly one that is evil and at odds with the good God.

        Further, the popularity and historic use of Satan reveals there is more to this figure than meets the eye. Elaine Pagels’ book Origins of Satan is particularly engaging on this subject.

        Now we can use Lucifer and the tale of Satan falling from heaven as a metaphorical myth for human hubris. I’m fine with that. The problem is when we transpose the meaning of that tale for a literal reality.

        • Your earlier reply got me thinking over night and talking this morning.
          You referred to the notion of theosis and wrote: “I thought the point of the Chistian life was to become more and more like God.” Well, which God? The father, the son, or the Holy Spirit, or all together? That’s the issue. The problem is that many Christians including me use God and the father in an inter-exchangeable fashion. So, my reference was to God the Father and Lucifer’s aka our attempt to replace him. When I referred to the Holy Spirit as a counter-power to Satan then out of an economical perspective on the Trinity where there is a hierarchy and the Father is at its top. I guess there are other interpretations of the Trinity especially for Evangelicals like the Pentecostals. These differences might be the reason for many of the misunderstandings among today’s Christians.
          Most importantly, however it should be emphasized that Christianity needs to understand that the victory of God over fear, sin and death, accomplished in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus is the significant development from Old to New Testament. The holy life of a Christian, given in Jesus Christ to the believer through the Holy Spirit, is expressed through the struggles of this life, increasing in the experience of knowledge of God, and consummated in the resurrection of the believer. Well, I might be preaching to the choir – like so often. I cannot wait for your deconstruction of Trinity.

          • I know this is going to be an ironic statement, but the hierarchal view of the Trinity has been rejected by Christianity since Augustine, I believe. Not to say you couldn’t support it from the Scriptures, which you probably could. Just not from the historic tradition. The question of “which God” in reference to the Trinity is equally confounding to claims to monotheism because it essentially makes the Trinity into three gods. When I say to be more like God, I am referring to God, which Christianity believes is Trinity. Maybe I’ve misunderstood you here. The Trinity is a profound metaphor for understanding God, not necessarily a literal reality (IMO). But more on that in a different post!

          • In the Western tradition Anglicans, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics follow the hierarchical concept of Trinity. Each person has different roles within the Godhead and each has different roles in relationship to the world, but it is obvious and I actually think the old traditional perception that it was not the Son who sent the Father and it is not said that the Son or the Holy Spirit chose us, predestined us, and gave us to the Father. I don’t mean to sound smart.
            Maybe your denominational tradition emphasizes the teaching concerning the Trinity that all three persons within the Godhead are equal in nature, essence, and attributes. It would be interesting how the economical and the ontological concept of Trinity result in different understanding of Christianity.

          • The flow of our conversation about hierarchy within the Trinity here seems to imply a certain subordinationism which was condemned in the 4th century (Arius) and is a primary reason the Nicene Creed was formed. Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans do not subscribe to a subordinated view of the Holy Spirit and Son. Now, if you want to say their are different functions, then sure. But when we pair the Holy Spirit as a counterbalance to Satan we are speaking of the Holy Spirit as “God from God, in essence a direct rival being to God.

            Of course now we’re back to the filioque controversy I suppose.

          • Also, wasn’t it Jesus who said we are to be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect and that he and the Father are one?

            I’m waiting for someone to point out the irony of us arguing the orthodox roles of the Trinity on a post which denies the existence of a literal Satan! :)

          • You will forgive me for commenting in the face of all those that are so learned.
            But I will Trust that God reveals Himself to all.
            It is the deception of Satan himself to attribute any power to him, he possess no power other than that which one surrenders to him!
            His power is in his lies and deception, temptation it’s self but no real power.
            And as far as all the discussion of the Trinity I believe it is missing the point
            It was God’s desire and the Prayer of Christ himself that we should all be One as God The Father and he were One.
            It is not a Trinity but an Infinity that we should be working towards
            The Oneness that we attribute to the Trinity is available to all through the Perfecting Love of Christ.
            This is the relationship that God seeks from us all and that He had created us for.
            God Bless
            Joseph

    • I am not one to engage in debates or arguments, people believe what they believe and I find little value in prying what they hold on so dearly to from there grasps. But you ask a question, so I will do my best to answear it in Faith and with Prayer. I have always been of the leaning that as Satan was numbered as part of the Sons of God in the book of Job, I have always thought just that of him, a Son of God like Christ. Now where they differ is that Christ accepted the call to be human and to sacrifice Himself for the Love of Gods creation. I would venture the thought that like many of the sibling relationships throughout the Bible,  it in many ways might reflect the dynamics of the relationship between Jesus and Satan. The child who is welling to do the Will and bidding of the Parent and the other who chooses to not!

      • That is certainly an interesting thought.

        • My thought Intresting?
          No!
          Rather I believe it to be a very Intresting God :-)

  3. Yeah, I’d like to know when Balaam’s “satan” (who happened to be the Angel of the Lord doing God’s bidding) turned against God? And I do remember a prominent NT epistle reminding us that we our tempted by what is inside us, not outside.

  4. I was always taught that Lucifer was just an archangel, albeit a fallen one. So it always puzzled me as to why people who claimed to have much greater religious and biblical knowledge than I did, gave Satan/Lucifer credit for so much power. I would say, “But he’s not God. He was created by God.” And I would just get the “tut-tuts” that I didn’t understand.

    But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in this post. WE are responsible for the troubles in the world. And that’s a hard thing for many to admit. So, they invent the “boogeyman” and imbue him with a great deal of power. Like witchcraft accusations on a much larger scale.

  5. What a truly insightful and thought-provoking post. I am not a Christian, but I was raised a Catholic and am very familiar with this mentality. I think that this portrayal of religion has been the source of many people withdrawing. Thank you for posting this and getting the message out there that religion does not need to be about fear, but about love. Well said.

  6. I also agree that some peoples god is TOO small and their devil TOO big. However I am curious about all of this “hell does not exist” discussion, and now neither does the devil?
    What about the times Jesus spoke of Satan? In speaking to Peter He said “get behind me satan”
    He was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil and actually spoke to him. And finally, what about the parable of the goats and the sheep? Jesus said the goats would go into the “lake of eternal fire reserved for the devil and all of his angels” , no?

    • I think that is a discussion for a different post, as this one does not argue that Satan does not exist (I confess my own leanings but do not argue the position thoroughly) nor do I challenge the existence of a literal hell.

      What I am arguing in this post is that the figure of Satan, as it functions and it has been thought of in traditional Christianity, confounds Christian claims to monotheism and is itself fundamentally heretical because of this.

      Let’s keep the conversation, as best we can, to this. I am not trying to dismiss your comments, but it’s difficult to spend an entire post arguing one way only to have it switched. If we were discussing your questions, I would have written a different post! :) We can exegete passages on “the satan” (literally “the adversary”) later and what Jesus meant by those passages. (Was he using the satan as a metaphor for Peter being an adversary — the literal definition of the Satan — in obstructing his decision to die on the cross? And questions of the like are enough for exploration on their own)

      I welcome your thoughts on whether the figure of Satan comports with monotheism and how to reconcile monotheism with the notion that two supernatural beings are locked in eternal battle — neither having definitively defeated the other as both, as traditional Christianity understands it, are still warring.

  7. Well, I see why you call your blog “provoketive”. :)

    David, you strike me as a smart guy. So I’m going to be blunt: Aren’t we the kettle calling the pot black when we admit, “Now, to be clear, I don’t believe that a being called Satan exists.”

    For starters, if the church has always believed that a being called the Satan existed – and it has! – than that is orthodoxy. To say that you don’t believe that a being called Satan exists is to admit that you have strayed from Church orthodoxy, not the other way around. Now if you wish to establish your own orthodoxy, well that’s all fine and dandy.

    Secondly, and this is where I appeal to your good sense and smarts, this blog article has fundamentally confused the Church orthodox belief in the Satan with a dualism of sorts. Sure the Church has run amuck at times with colourful depictions and fantastic images of the Satan, particularly in the Medieval period and in some branches of radical charismatic wings in our own day. And yes, at times the Church has fallen into a kind of dualism, but that is not the orthodox Christian understanding of the Satan.

    So, in conclusion, this post is not well reasoned. Sorry. Oh, and it seems to me that your views have been shaped, in large part, by bad teaching regarding atonement, Satan and God. Sorry for that too. :-(

    • The name of the magazine isn’t my creation. I’m just writing for it.

      I completely agree that the orthodox Christian belief is one of a literal Satan. This entire post is based on that premise. My argument is that this orthodox belief confounds the other central orthodox belief claim of monotheism. So arguing from your point is a nonstarter, because I concede that point. My point is that these orthodox beliefs are internally inconsistent. Perhaps you see the reasoning now?

      My point is that this Christian belief in Satan — which is rampant throughout Christianity — has created this exact dualism you rightly disagree with. To say that it has at times run amuck is a vast, vast understatement. American evangelicalism is a primary culprit as well as medieval Christianity. This is not some ancient problem to ignore or snicker about. This is a very modern, very real, very widespread force within Christianity and not just in Anglo worlds. Pentecostalism, in case you are unaware, is the fastest-growing segment of the faith and this belief is particularly widespread in that perspective.

      I’m still waiting for dissenters to engage the post on its own merits and argument — that the being called Satan functions as a god — an eternal supernatural being with powers to influence humanity for its own purposes. In any other religious scheme, we would as Christians rightly call this a dualism and condemn as heretical. We just have our own blinders on to our own inconsistencies.

      Given the general disrespectful tone of your comment, however, I seem to have off-put you. What we call admitting our own bias in the field of theology is called honesty, or locating oneself. (It gives people an opportunity to dismiss arguments that make them uncomfortable based on personal reasons rather than actual reason.)

      • If I remember my OT correctly, the real name of the being that is being called “Satan” is Lucifer and an angel of God, coming and going just like Michael, Gabriel and the other angels. The Christian Religion in the US has changed significantly since the youth of my generation (the 1950′s, 1960′s and 1970′s) and become somewhat more simplistic regarding good and evil.

        I was brought up in the Bible Belt Evangecal church to believe in God the OMNI – omnipotent (unlimited power), omnipresent (present in all places at all times) and omniscient (knowing all things). 19th and 20th Century Humanist theology really denies Omnipotency and brings forth the problem of Theodicy. I agree with Mr. Henson’s description of modern lay thinking of Satan. It is convenient to blame someone else. I think it was Red Foxx who said on his TV comedy “the devil make me do it!” ‘Nuff said.

  8. It might be telling that this article evoked (provoked?) the most comments I have seen in such a short time.
    I see a lot more damage coming from this belief of Satan as the tempter and deceiver than has been thus far mentioned. Putting the “real” problem outside of us, and also as a supernatural force of great influence, there is no descent into hell, the necessary suffering that comes with opening, truly opening, to sanctification: confronting our character defects, shortcomings, and harm done. I feel I must be convinced that anytime I am disturbed or tempted, it has to do with a sin-causing agent buried within. Most of these “agents” are unhealed wounds bandaged by blame; they instead need to be cleaned by spirit. Resisting the Evil One sets me up to ignore healing in exchange for heroic battle. As fear seems a greater inducement than love, we much prefer to fight fit than to submit. It is not in “the knowledge of good and evil” I find the freedom of truth but in the tree of life, surrendering to Christ. And that is not for the strength to resist but to persist in healing grace.
    Satan makes us, in a way, a perpetual victim. In spirit and truth, there are no victims.

    Thank you for this article, David, it is a blessing. It is curious that this has been on my mind lately. Paul writes that the angels of darkness must disguise themselves as the angels of light. Such an “angel of light” is my survival: of image, sanctity, righteousness, mortal being, financial security, reputation, control, certainty, and a host of other things. All this must be surrendered.

  9. David,

    My understanding of a dualistic view is two opposing forces(light and darkness, good and evil, etc., ala Zoarastrianism, Manicheism, et. al) in eternity going at it. I think it’s pretty clear that God is creator (transcendent and uncaused) and Satan is not (forced immanence after the rebellion and created) and Scripture says he will be defeated. Truly, though, even though Jesus’ victory over death on the cross still leaves us with pain and suffering in this present world, most Christ-followers I know attribute this pain and suffering to The World, our flesh, and Satan, with Satan being just one of the problems that lead us astray from following Christ to the fullest. So yes, “the blood is on our hands,” we long to please ourselves, gratify these things, and we want to get ahead and desire the temporal pleasures this world has to offer. And their are days when we’re leaving Church and snap back in anger at our children or flip of someone who cuts us off, just as we’re leaving the parking lot! (influence of the accuser)

  10. Woo hoo! Theological argument! I’ll throw my .02 in. And in this economy, two pennies aren’t worth much except to rub together, and I can’t promise my. Immense will be worth much more.

    David, I’m pretty sure I get what you’re trying to say. I also understand the reaction you have gotten from other posters. But I’ll just comment on your argument and my experiences as a Southern Baptist.

    I know a very influential Baptist seminary leader who said he got saved when he was very young. He said he heard a sermon on the lake of fire and went forward to get saved because he couldn’t swim. That always took me aback.

    I’m also very disturbed by dispensational theology which greatly promotes the idea you are talking about. The idea that Satan is bigger than life, ala Frank Peretti novels, and our only hope is a bloody battle one day at Armageddon.

    I always like to go back to the book of Job where we see Satan talking to God about Job. He claims that the only reason Job serves him is because he’s blessed him so greatly. Satan has to ask to do any harm to Job’s stuff. And he has to ask nicely.

    Either God is in sovereign control or he isn’t. There’s no reason to elevate a created being to scary Halloween status when God has him under his thumb. When Paul talked of the messenger sent by Satan, he didn’t show fear of Satan, he just prayed to God to remove it/him. Paul knew the score. He didn’t worry about Satan, he went straight to the one in control.

    So there it is. Two cents. Maybe four. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being open.

  11. The article, to my understanding, is not about whether Satan exists or not (despite the author’s suggestion of the non-existence) but the role Satan plays in faith. On this count, I feel what he says is spot on.
    Lucifer makes light out of what is dark and makes dark what is light. Love alone, not theology or Reason, distinguishes the differences, discerns soul from spirit. Listening to David unarmed, with nonjudgmental awareness, will help clear up the debate.

  12. Satan is a dandy metaphor, but I agree that the problem comes in when you try to make him a real being, and the polar opposite being to God at that.

    Light exists, but not darkness. Darkness is just the absence of light.
    Sound exists, but not silence. Silence is just the absence of sound.
    Heat exists, but not cold, and so forth.

    The fact that we can conceive of the utter absence of grace, forgiveness, and love does not mean that there is a real being characterized by those absences, any more than darkness, silence, or cold are real beings. Our conception of those absences does, though, explain our creation of a metaphor. And as is so often the case, we choose an anthropomorphic being as the image, the symbol, in the metaphor.

  13. Oh, poo. I forgot to click “notify me of follow-ups” on the previous comment. I’ll click it on this one so I can continue to follow the conversation. :)

  14. I appreciate this site and the conversations that come up here. However, as I read this article and the comments this is honestly what is going on in my head:

    They can theorize about this all day long, but what do I do with the fact that I have actually experienced Satan and demons firsthand, AND I’ve experienced the way they react to the Name of Jesus… ?

    You can’t tell me Satan isn’t real. I guess you can call me crazy, but I’ll err on the side of being called a lunatic (Jesus and John the B were) or perhaps a fool (I believes He’s called “fools” to confound the “wise” and really intelligent, critical human thinkers). I have to speak up here and say to those reading, believe me, Satan is real, and he is NOT God, he has NO POWER except the power we give him (that is where he and God are different), and one of his strategies is to get us to believe he does not exist.

    There is power in the Name of Jesus.

  15. And why do we have to classify everything and fit it into our boxes or else it’s invalid? Why do we have to classify Satan? He is a being, as we are, he is spirit, not bound by flesh although able to take on the form of flesh, he was created by God just as we and he has power (if we give it to him) just as we have power if people give it to us. God is STILL over him as we see in Job where Satan asks God permission for things. That one instance you refer to where one account says David’s account of the people was the Lord’s hand and one was the enemy shows this perfectly. Satan goes always before God’s throne after having roamed the earth looking for a “case” he can present before a God he knows is just. Satan rightly saw the pride in David’s heart and made a case to incite him to number the Israelites. (This is why Satan is called the accuser because he constantly is bringing accusations before the Lord against us — praise God for Jesus, as now we can satisfy God’s justice with the atonement and silence our accuser; sadly too many don’t understand this principle and so we see many Christians viewing Satan as one whom has more power than he does, and they live in defeat).

    So some may rightly say God in his authority and perfect sovereignty brought David to make the census (it wasn’t God who caused the sin in David’s heart, but rather God who saw the sin of pride in his heart and allowed the fruit of that sin to come forth to show David what was in his own heart) and some may rightly say that Satan was the one who brought it on (as it was he who tempted the pride in David to bring it to manifest fruit).

    Thanks for reading and for exchanging ideas with love and respect!

  16. Hasn’t pretty much the same argument been made against the understanding of God as an all powerful supernatural being and relegated to the realm of human projection – with the same moral argument that it only creates a moral scapegoat for all kind of inhumane actions throughout history? I sense that the New Atheism sees itself as a powerful moral force for good exactly on the basis of this kind of reasoning. If the human misuse of mythological concepts and language determines what can or cannot be objectively real apart from the inner world our brains create, then why stop at Satan as a mere human invention?

    If however the attempt to name a very powerful reality within the realm of our everyday experience at least served a legitimate purpose during the times of the New Testament church (for example in not seeing other human beings – “flesh and blood” – as the enemy) why can’t it still serve the same kind of purpose for people today who feel no real benefit from an attempt of demythologizing for moral reasons at all?

    It seems to me that a big part of the Christian assurance all the way from the gathering of believers in Ephesus and Colossae in the first century to plagued consciences during the Reformation had as its bedrock the belief that Christ had utterly defeated all powers of evil and with it their inner voices of condemnation.

  17. The puritan center of Christianity is covered in Egyptian symbolism. Now… why do you presume that is?

    • Randal, it’s because Joseph and Mary and Jesus had to hide out in Egypt when Jesus was a baby. It says so in the Bible, so it must be factual history.

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