Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More on the Devil

Some very good questions were raised regarding my last post on the devil. I haven't had time to respond (thanks to my Greek Reading Class -- actually, thanks to my procrastination catching up with me) but had some time unexpectedly free up yesterday and today(long story). So, I here's an attempt to answer a few of the questions:

I believe the Bible casts the devil in personal terms, not impersonal. I think it is a mistake to view the devil as the 'dark side' or some other impersonal force. That the bible portrays the devil is evident from the fact that he has a name(s): Satan, Beelzebub (Luke 11:18). In addition, his interactions with others indicate person-hood - he speaks with Eve (Genesis 3:1-7), argues with God (Job 1:6-2:7), tempts Jesus (Mark 1:13), accuses the saints (Zech 3:1, Rev. 12:7-10). Jesus speaks of Satan using personal pronouns like 'himself' and 'his kingdom' (Luke 11:18). Moreover, Satan has a will and intentions - to destroy (Mark 9:22, 1 Peter 5:8) and is morally accountable for his rebellion and evil actions (i.e. Satan is called a 'murderer' in John 8:44. We don't call gravity a murderer though it has killed people. Murder is a term used of persons, not forces - see also 'liar') . Hell was created for him and for his legions of fallen angels as punishment for their rebellion(Matt 25:41).

The Christian response to the devil should be awareness of his existence and schemes, resistance to his temptations and confidence in his utter defeat, not fear. Satan is powerful, more so than man but infinitely less so than God. In fact, the only power he has is the power God allows him to have. It will one day be utterly stripped, and already he has been bound (though that's another post for another day). He is old, but not eternal - he is a part of the created order (Neh 9:6), not an eternal negative counterpart to our good God (not a yin and yang dualism). He is spiritual and non corporeal, but we are never give the idea in the Bible that he is omnipresent. He is wise (in an evil way) and cunning, but again, we are not given the idea in the Bible that he is omniscient. When we are attached by the devil (or his evil demons) we are to resist. He can deceive and tempt, but he cannot make us sin or cause us to do evil. He can himself do evil and cause evil (every lie he speaks is evil he will be held to account for; moreover, it appears that he has some limited control over natural forces and can cause physical evil, see Job 1:19), but he cannot cause us to do evil. Yet, like every other part of God's creation (even those parts with free will), the devil is still bound to follow the sovereign plan of God. Far from being outside the scope of God's sovereignty, he is a tool in God's hand which God wields to accomplish his good purposes. In this Satan is not seeking to advance God's purposes but to thwart them (see posts on Job and on God tempting David?).

I agree with one commenter that we should not give the devil too much attention. He is real and mean, but he isn't the source of all our struggles. Our own fleshly desires are more often to blame. Moreover, we can never simply blame the devil as though 'the devil made me do it'. Adam and Eve tried that in the Garden and it didn't seem to go over too well there! I've talked with a lot of Christians (especially college students) who see demons behind every corner and in the eyes of every gargoyle statue at IU (thank you Frank Peretti). I think that's a mistake. Yet, they are a minority, albeit a vociferous one. Some do, at times, use the devil to magnify all their struggles, casting them all in heroic terms. Yet, they are a minority, albeit a vociferous one. Most people ignore this reality, which is also dangerous. Most modern Christians seem to treat the doctrines of the devil and demons (alongside the doctrines of angels) as an embarrassing holdover of Medieval superstitions. It think the biblical doctrines were clouded in superstitions for centuries, but as those superstitions are pealed away there remains a robust theology of angels and demons, of a spiritual world that is real but unseen. We should not ignore this reality.

I would recommend to anyone interested a small book by Warren Weirsbe The Strategy of Satan: How to Detect and Defeat Him. I think we should make ourselves aware of Satan's patterns of deception and arm ourselves against his schemes.

Resist by reminding him that 'he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.' Here's another line from Luther (I thought it was a fictitious movie line, but it comes from 'Letters of Spiritual Counsel by Luther): "When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: 'I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is there shall I be also.'"

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