Monday, April 21, 2014

Satan: Lifting the Veil - Part 1: Introduction

Table of Contents:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Two Case Studies
Part 3: Serpent = Satan?
Part 4: What is Satan's Real Name?
Part 5: Accuser
Part 6: A Son of God?
Part 7: God's State Prosecutor
Part 8: God’s Sifter
Part 9: Azazel
Part 10: Desert Temptation
Part 11: What Does a Jewish Messiah Look Like?
Part 12: Bow Down to the Domination System
Part 13: Proclaiming Jubilee
Part 14: The Evil One
Part 15: The Angels of the Nations
Part 16: The Gerasene Demoniac
Part 17: Further Lessons on Exorcism in the Bible
Part 18: Driving Satan from Heaven
Part 19: The Unveiling of the Beast of Rome
Part 20: Unveiling the Beast Today
Part 21: Jesus and the Domination System

Part 22: Violence
Part 23: Death
Part 24: The Advocate
Part 25: Conclusions?

 
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I believe that the biggest problem with theology in the modern world is that people don't treat it with the respect it deserves.  Now you might think I’m making a statement about Atheists - but I’m not.  I’m actually making a statement about Christians.  I’m saying that it seems there is a large population of "people of faith" who just want easy answers.  These people often don't even realize that the answers they accept often contradict each other.  I believe that exploring theology that is consistent and based on the Bible is like piecing together an immense and complex jigsaw puzzle.  What people don't seem to think about is that if one is to use the Bible as their basis for theology, there are three rules one ought to live by:
  1. You are not allowed to throw out ANY of the pieces.
  2. The entire puzzle must fit together - you're not allowed to have little islands of theology that don't connect.
  3. The puzzle is not the point.  The puzzle is supposed to give you a picture of "real life".  If the picture you are left with does not resemble the "real world" out there, you might want to think about how you've assembled your puzzle, and maybe try rearranging some of the pieces.


 
So, with these principles in mind, you might correctly imagine that when I started to explore Universalism (which I defend in detail in my series: "Checkmate For Hell"), this raised questions about the arrangement of the pieces of other sections of my puzzle.  And, being a tenacious and determined seeker who never gives up on a question until the question has run its course, this resulted in the deconstruction of other ideas I once held as beliefs.

One of the first questions that began to raise itself in my mind after deconstructing my ideas of Hell was: what about Satan/the Devil/Lucifer?  After rejecting the eternal conscious torment model of Hell, I began to have an uneasy feeling that there was something wrong with the "traditional" view of this character I had grown up with.  After all, if I am going to reject the traditional views of a fiery realm where souls are tormented for all of eternity, it's reasonable to assume that I might start to wonder about the "king" of this realm.



But before I get into any of this, I want to take a brief pause to ask "why is this important?"  At the heart of the question of understanding the Devil/Satan/Lucifer is the question of our understanding of what "spiritual warfare" is, and how we are supposed to wage it.  And so in my attempts to understand the Devil/Satan/Lucifer, the real quest is to find a proper understanding of what it means to be "soldiers for Christ".

My Encounter With the Devil
I suspect that my early understandings of this dark character are not unlike the majority of those who "grew up Christian".  I believed Satan was, in fact, an entity.  He had a personality, and that personality was 100% pure evil.  He was out to get us.  He took pleasure in causing pain.  He was powerful, and we had to watch out for him.  


And yet there was this strange balance (or perhaps imbalance?) in the way Christians around me talked about this character, as they always seemed to imply that, while we needed to take the Devil seriously, we also should understand that he is not in control: God is.  So we should be afraid of the Devil...but we shouldn't be afraid of the Devil.  The Devil has power...but he doesn't really have power.  This seems inconsistent, at best.

And so, with a teaching like this, it becomes something that one who believes in it takes for granted, but doesn't usually talk about or think about.  Often, because of these inconsistencies, those who "believe in" Satan as an entity don't ever address the topic.  It's just this idea that goes into a box deep in the basement of their minds, only to be brought up when an explanation is needed for something bad that happened.

Shadows are scary, man.

But sometimes one is forced to address the issue.  Twice in my life I have really thought long and hard about this character.  The first time was during my college days.  I was a camp counselor three summers in a row at a Christian summer camp for junior high and high school students, and one of those summers we had a strange incident.  The camp had a practice of having a night when the "camp band" would give a rockin' concert, and there would be ice cream afterwards.  So we were having a lovely evening, and really enjoying ourselves as we ate our ice cream after the show, when suddenly we heard a piercing female scream.  A number of counselors, myself included, sprang into action and within moments the girl who had created the sound was surrounded by concerned individuals.  The tale she told us involved her seeing the very face of the devil in the shadows, jumping out at her as she walked along a dark path within the camp.  There were plenty of campers and counselors within earshot when this tale was told, and that night I suspect every counselor was questioned by at least one scared camper - myself included.  After everyone in my cabin was in bed and the lights were out, I made sure my co-counselor was set and then took a little walk to clear my head.  There was a pastor who was in charge of the music and the devotionals at this camp, and I found myself at his cabin...with most of the other counselors on staff that week.  I found myself wondering:

  • None of us saw...anything.  We didn't see a thing but a scared girl.  How did we "know" that what she saw wasn't an illusion?
  • Or what if she was just trying to get attention?  If she was, she certainly got a lot of it that night.
  • What if she was psychologically troubled?
  • Why were we all so scared?  If we believed in a God who was omnipotent and in control of all things, why was Satan even anything to be concerned of?
  • Why did this incident ruin a perfectly good evening?  Hours of fun were virtually erased within moments - why did it seem as though fear won the evening?  If "Satan" is a real entity - it seemed as though he won that battle.
I pondered many questions that evening, and thought of this incident a bit here and there for a while afterwards, but never really came to any solid conclusions.

Years later, I went through a process of deconstructing my beliefs, and this led me to start wondering about this dark figure once again.  The subject honestly never really made sense to me.  What sparked my desire to examine these beliefs was one of N.T. Wright's commentaries on the gospel of John - John for Everyone Part 2.  In Wright's commentaries, he will bold certain terms, and has a glossary for explaining those terms in the back.  I noticed in one of my readings that he had bolded "the satan".  When I looked this term up in the back, I found this definition:

the satan, "the accuser", demons
The Bible is never very precise about the identity of the figure known as "the satan".  The Hebrew word means "the accuser", and at times the satan seems to be a member of YHWH's heavenly council, with special responsibility as director of prosecutions (I Chronicles 21:1; Job 1-2; Zechariah 3:1f.).  However, it becomes identified variously with the serpent of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-15) and with the rebellious daystar cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15) and was seen by many Jews as the quasi-personal source of evil standing behind both human wickedness and large-scale injustice, sometimes operating through semi-independent "demons".  By Jesus' time various words were used to denote this figure, including Beelzebul/b (lit. "Lord of the flies") and simply "the evil one"; Jesus warned his followers against the deceits this figure could perpetrate.  His opponents accused him of being in league with the satan, but the early Christians believed that Jesus in fact defeated it both in his own struggles with temptation (Matthew 4; Luke 4), his exorcisms of demons, and his death (I Corinthians 2:8; Colossians 2:15).  Final victory over this ultimate enemy is thus assured (Revelation 20), though the struggle can still be fierce for Christians (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Now, I have a good friend and spiritual advisor whose favorite author is N.T. Wright, so the next time I saw him, I asked him what he thought about this.  I asked if my friend thought that satan was an actual entity, or more like a general term we use to describe a type of personality or phenomenon.  My friend's answer surprised me, somewhat - on the one hand, he seemed to understand my desire to question in this manner.  But on the other hand, he warned me of the dangers of questioning Satan's existence, and spoke of experiences he'd had where he had witnessed what he believed to be demonic actions being played out in the physical realm.

This attitude of emphasizing the danger of questioning Satan's existence as a separate personality is nothing new - in the 1800's, a famous poet, art critic, and essayist named Charles Baudelaire said:

The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.
One thing I find curious about this idea is the presupposition that a being of pure evil would not want us to know that it even existed - it seems to me that a being of pure evil might actually have an ego so large that holding a belief that this being didn't exist at all would be highly insulting to its psyche.  That’s not just an idea I made up, either - Ezekiel 28:17 has at times been interpreted to be written about Satan, and if this is so, it seems to indicate that pride was the root cause for Satan’s fall from heaven!  So if Satan’s ego was his biggest problem, why would he want us to think he didn’t exist?

C.S. Lewis takes a similar line of thought to Charles Baedelaire's statement, but gives it a bit of nuance:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
What I like about that statement is that it points out the dangers of becoming obsessed with "Satan".  I have, on far too many occasions, heard Christians use Satan and/or demons as an excuse to scapegoat a person or group of persons, or as a sort of trump card to win an argument about whether something was bad or not.  It's like an easy way to condemn when reason fails to prove what's right and what's wrong.  With this kind of usage, Satan really becomes the owner of all blame for any experience that I don't like, and credit for everything else goes to God.  Someone took issue with something I said and an argument broke out as a result?  Satan.  Someone won't do what I say?  Satan.  I’m feeling doubt about a long held belief?  Satan.  Traffic on the way to work?  Satan.  Scratch on my favorite CD?  Satan.

Humans seem to have this huge need to assign blame in every situation that involves undesirable results.  We can't seem to move on to try to make anything better until we've figured out who the "bad guy" is.  Oftentimes, a situation can be more complex than that - involving mistakes from multiple parties.  But we don't like dealing with the complexity, and we also don't seem to like to just move on and try to fix things, either.  So we assign all of the blame to one person or perhaps a group of people - this is called scapegoating.  


"And then he said stuff that sounded...LIBERAL!"  "GASP!"
One of the best modern examples of scapegoating, in my opinion, is the tendency in today's American politics to assign the blame for anything that happens to the President.  Now, the President is not a monarch - he doesn't have complete control over everything.  He doesn't exist in a vacuum.  There is a House of Representatives, a Senate, and a judiciary system that also make decisions, and sometimes a policy you might not like has nothing to do with the president.  Sometimes, a president may have tried to do something to make changes, but had those changes rejected by the other areas of the governmental system.  But people don’t tend to think this way - it’s much easier to just blame the president for everything.

One of the most interesting examples of presidential scapegoating in modern American politics is with the way people will blame President Barack Obama for the bank bailouts that occurred after the crash in 2008 - the Pew Research Center did a poll that found that only 34% (roughly a third) of Americans actually knew that it was the Bush administration that enacted the TARP program.  Nearly half - 47% - said they thought it was President Obama, and another 19% admitted they didn't know.

And this is not the only example of people assigning blame to Obama for outrageous things.  The variety of conspiracy theories that have surfaced in regards to President Obama are astounding - take a look at this chart.  The imagination of those who hate Obama seems to have run wild in a way that is astounding and, frankly, disturbing, and it seems impossible to use reason to reign these wild stories in - those who believe them want to continue believing them so badly that no amount of reasoning will change their course.  For these conspiracy theorists, the blame for all of society’s problems lies squarely on the shoulders of President Obama, and all the wild stories about him are further proof of the validity of this scapegoating process.

And scapegoating is not a rare occurrence within the history of the church, either.  Even a cursory glance at the church’s two thousand year history reveals crusades and other religious wars, heretic burnings, witch hunts, inquisitions, using the Bible to justify slavery and segregation, and so much more.  It seems that when facing one who is engaged in scapegoating, even a lack of evidence provides legitimacy for their accusations, but no amount of real evidence will divert this accuser from their path of prosecution and persecution of the other.  


In Monty Python’s classic work of comedy titled “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, the scapegoating process is brilliantly revealed for the farce that it is when a group of people bring a “witch” to trial - in this scene, the knight Bedemir questions this group as to how they know this woman is a witch.  “She looks like one!”, one concerned citizen replies.  When it is revealed that the accusers dressed the woman up like a witch, one man says “well, she has got a wart.”  You may think that this is just a ridiculous comedy, but it’s actually a very poignant satire of the scapegoating process.  A careful observation of how Christians talk about outsiders reveals that this scene is not so different from the real thing - all too often accusations are brought up against caricatures of the outsiders, without having ever given them a chance to defend their point of view.  We’d rather attack these caricatures than try to understand why the outsiders feel the way they do - we assume that we hold a monopoly on reason and righteousness, and the outsiders hold a monopoly on ignorance and stupidity, sin and evil.

In "New Seeds of Contemplation", Thomas Merton wrote the following about our tendency to scapegoat:

When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self. In ourselves, it is the other way round; we see the sin, but we have great difficulty in shouldering the responsibility for it. We find it very hard to identify our will and our own malice. On the contrary, we naturally tend to interpret our immoral act as an involuntary mistake, or as the malice of a spirit in us that is other than ourself. Yet at the same time we are fully aware that others do not make this convenient distinction for us. The acts that have been done by us are, in their eyes, 'our’ acts and they hold us fully responsible.

What is more, we tend unconsciously to ease ourselves still more of the burden of guilt that is in us, by passing it on to somebody else. When I have done wrong, and have excused myself by attributing the wrong to another who is unaccountably 'in me,' my conscience is not yet satisfied… The temptation is, then, to account for my fault by seeing an equivalent amount of evil in someone else. Hence I minimize my owns sins and compensate for doing so by exaggerating the faults of others.

As if this were not enough, we make the situation much worse by artificially intensifying our sense of evil, and by increasing our propensity to feel guilt even for things which are not in themselves wrong. In all these ways we build up such an obsession with evil, both in ourselves and in others, that we waste all our mental energy trying to account for this evil, to punish it, excuse it, or to get rid of it in any way we can. We drive ourselves mad with our preoccupation, and in the end there is no outlet left, but violence. We have to destroy something or someone. By that time, we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. He is the cause of every wrong. He is the fomenter of all conflict. If he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war.

What I'd like to do in this series is to explore the ideas behind this character, Satan - this one who is somehow responsible for all kinds of (if not all) evils.  I'd like to delve into the Biblical evidence, and explore possible interpretations as to who or what this "Satan" is, as well as how to fight this entity.

But first, I’d like to explore the question: why?  Why should we care about Satan?  Why is it important to discern his identity and purposes?

But I’m going to  take a break here, and in the next section, we will explore those questions, and then we will delve into some of the passages where this character is represented.

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Table of Contents:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Two Case Studies
Part 3: Serpent = Satan?
Part 4: What is Satan's Real Name?
Part 5: Accuser
Part 6: A Son of God?
Part 7: God's State Prosecutor
Part 8: God’s Sifter
Part 9: Azazel
Part 10: Desert Temptation
Part 11: What Does a Jewish Messiah Look Like?
Part 12: Bow Down to the Domination System
Part 13: Proclaiming Jubilee
Part 14: The Evil One
Part 15: The Angels of the Nations
Part 16: The Gerasene Demoniac
Part 17: Further Lessons on Exorcism in the Bible
Part 18: Driving Satan from Heaven
Part 19: The Unveiling of the Beast of Rome
Part 20: Unveiling the Beast Today
Part 21: Jesus and the Domination System

Part 22: Violence
Part 23: Death
Part 24: The Advocate
Part 25: Conclusions?

10 comments:

  1. Enjoyed the first part Geoff looking forward to the rest.

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    1. P.S. Who is this spiritual advisor you refer too???? I wonder?

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    2. He's someone I consider to be a very dear friend.

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  2. This was a really interesting read, but there's one thing I'd like to comment on. You state:
    "One thing I find curious about this idea is the presupposition that a being of pure evil would not want us to know that it even existed - it seems to me that a being of pure evil might actually have an ego so large that holding a belief that this being didn't exist at all would be highly insulting to its psyche."

    Christians are taught that the enemy's one, singular goal is to keep people from God. "Hiding his existence," so to speak, is, indeed, a great method of doing that.

    I don't disagree with much of what you say here, but I think it's important to realize that we are guilty of our own sinful behavior. Perhaps Satan brought sin into the world, but we decide what we do, not him. And I don't think Satan being an actual entity means people need to use him as a scapegoat to say, "I did something bad and it's not my fault."

    Just my personal perspective on the subject.

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    1. First- thank you for reading! I hope you will keep reading as I publish each successive section (which I plan to do every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until the entire series is published). I think you will find what follows to be very thought provoking!

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  3. How easily and blindly we embrace scapegoating is a, perhaps THE major issue in modern society. This introduction is definitely on target and most certainly entices me to pay attention to the days when the rest of this work are posted on-line.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Geoff

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    1. Thank you for reading! I've really enjoyed reading about the subject myself, and found it to be very provocative. I am so excited to share the rest of the series! I will be publishing my work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until the entire series is out. :)

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  4. Truly wonderful post!:) These are things I have often battled in my own head also. Funny isnt it, how you start out questioning one certain thing, and as your researching that out, it seems to open up all sorts of other aspects and questioning beliefs that you never thought of LOL:) I am of the belief right now, that he is a real entity, one that people should be fearful of...in the sense that if you let him into your life and you start going down that road with him, it can lead you into some very very bad situations and circumstances. But I dont believe that he is greater than God, so if we stick with God and listen to the Holy Spirit inside of us and pray, then we will always be able to combat him. I also tend to agree with Zadian in that...His purpose is to lead people away from God and towards him. If people dont think he exists and theres nothing to be fearful of, then they are more apt to do as they please and not worry about anything bad happening. Your right though that I feel Satan does have a huge ego but he also knows he has to work discreetly and silently to win. I also agree that far too many things are blamed on him and many Christians use that as an easy excuse for everything under the sun:( I am looking forward to hearing more as these come out, keep up the great work!:)

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    1. Thank you, Carrie! Stick with me - you might find my exploration of the Scriptures behind this mysterious character to be very interesting! ;)

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