02 March 2021

Our ancient foe, the devil.

Yes, Satan exists.

But in both popular and Christian culture, Satan has been profoundly misrepresented. It’s intentional. Like Sunzi said in The Art of War, all warfare is based on deception. True of spiritual warfare as well. The devil gets a leg up on us humans by making us believe all sorts of disinformation.

Like the popular rubbish that it used to be the highest angel in heaven, second to God himself. There’s no evidence at all for this in the scriptures; it’s entirely taken from Paradise Lost. Yet people still claim it’s in the bible somewhere, and come up with the darnedest proof texts as “evidence.” Talk about lying on your résumé; in fact if you were hiring Satan at your business and found absolutely nothing in a background check, you’d be far more likely to believe your applicant’s a dirty liar, than people do Satan—who’s a known dirty liar.

But a mighty successful one. Which is why Christians still think it’s an angel of light, instead of how Paul and Timothy actually described it: Only appearing to be one. 2Co 11.14 Like how it rules this world Lk 4.5-6 as the prince of the power of the air, Ep 2.2 and never imagine these are titles it usurps, ’cause Jesus has conquered the world. Like how it appears to be everywhere, almost like God… or that it’s not almighty, but it’s still pretty darned mighty.

And other such things which intimidate Christians against resisting or fighting it. Or make us so wary of it, we never refer to it by name. Various Christians never refer to it as the devil or Satan; they’ll only call it “the enemy.” Lest saying its name or title might get its attention or conjure it up, like Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels.

Or on the opposite extreme, people might consider Satan laughable. Pagans especially. They imagine it a red creature with horns, goat legs, a tail, and a trident. It sits on your shoulder, opposite an angel on your other shoulder, and goads you into doing what’s fun while the shoulder angel convinces you to do what’s right. It tortures people in the underworld, and sometimes ventures to the surface to tempt musicians with awesome heavy metal songs. It’s an imaginary being, like fairies and gnomes and Smurfs and mermaids. It’s a representation of evil, but it’s not a literal being. It’s silly.

We Christians believe there’s an actual devil. Jesus taught us it exists, Lk 8.12 and told his students it actually came to test him once. (How else do you think Matthew and Luke contain that story?—Jesus told it.)

But contrary to the paranoid fantasies of dark Christians, it’s not a mighty being. It’s a defeated foe. Jesus beat it, 1Jn 3.8 and someday will destroy it. Rv 20.10 Meanwhile he gave his followers—us—power over it. Lk 10.19 If we submit to God and resist it, it’ll flee. Jm 4.7

Yeah, that’s correct: Flee. It can’t withstand us. The only reason we think it can, is because we won’t submit to God. We’re more likely submit to Satan. We fold like a desk lamp. We capitulate.

Our situation is like a trained elephant on a leash. Why don’t elephants snap the leash, or take off and drag their handlers wherever they please? Because they were trained all their lives to obey humans. Frighten an elephant badly enough and then you’ll see ’em snap leashes, drag people behind them, even maul their handlers. The devil has humans on a very similar leash, hoping we never, ever notice how thin it is. How easy it is to fight back. Especially with the weapons the Holy Spirit offers us.

Various new Christians wanna know why God doesn’t just put a stop to the devil. He doesn’t have to! He empowered us to. We can.

Whenever Christians get off our apathetic backsides, or quit being scared for no good reason, we easily overthrow Satan. It’s so quickly defeated, people get surprised: “You mean the fight’s over?” No knock-down, drag-out, end-of-the-TV-season battle with the Big Bad where anything can happen (and come on; on most TV shows you know the good guy’s gonna win). Satan flees like a cockroach when the lights turn on.

Humans (and our fears) are way harder to fight off.

Where’d Satan come from?

Bible doesn’t say.

Seriously, it doesn’t. Satan just shows up and acts as an antagonist. First time we read of it is in Zechariah. (I know; you’re thinking, “Didn’t Satan tempt King David centuries before that?” Yes it did. But I’m going by the order in which the bible’s books were written. Zechariah was written before Chronicles.)

Zechariah 3.1-2 KJV
1 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. 2 And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?

Both the Hebrew word שָּׂטָ֔ן/šatán and the Greek word διάβολος/diávolos (which is used in the Septuagint to translate “Satan”) mean “accuser, slanderer, blasphemer.” They’re interchangeable terms for what the devil does: It accuses and slanders.

We tend to treat šatán as a proper name, but it’s not really. Zechariah called this being “ha-šatán,” the satan, meaning the accuser. But I’m gonna go with custom and treat “Satan” as its name, and “devil” as its species. (And I’m not gonna do that silly practice of lowercasing its name, as Christians do in petty revenge for all the pagans who refer to God in lowercase. We need to be better than that.)

The author of Chronicles figured it was incorrect to say the LORD got David to sin by taking a census for other than tax reasons. Ex 30.12-14 So she updated the story to say Satan did.

2 Samuel 24.1-2 KJV
1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. 2 For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people.
1 Chronicles 21.1-2 KJV
1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. 2 And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.

Neither Zechariah nor 1 Chronicles give Satan a proper introduction: It’s just there, acting as antagonist. Zechariah didn’t say whether this accuser is a spirit, an angel, another human, or some other biological being. Jews and Christians have always assumed it’s a spirit.

Satan appeared again in Job, this time accusing Job of not being truly worthy of God’s approval.

Job 1.6-12 KJV
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. 7 And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. 8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? 9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. 12 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

In Pharisaism and Judaism’s mythology, Satan’s the prosecutor when you stand before God in judgment. Arguably this is what Satan was doing at the time: It was there to object to the way “the sons of God” reported on Job, lest God be too gracious, as usual.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “devil’s advocate”: In order to test how valid an argument truly is, a person takes the opposing side and fights for it. Not because they believe it, but because you wanna make absolutely sure your own side is solid. Devil’s advocates can be really useful. Problem is, some devil’s advocates fight dirty. In some cases they really do believe their contrary side. And this might’ve been Satan’s original purpose—and problem. God wanted a contrarian, so he had Satan around: He wanted someone to make it obvious just how sound and merciful his judgments are. Problem is, Satan was too competitive. It didn’t just challenge God’s statements. It tried to make its case not just by fair means, but foul. It tricks us humans into sinning, thereby proving its point: We “ain’t all that.”

Hence Satan accused Joshua. And Job. And David. 1Ch 21.1 And that’s all we see of it in the Old Testament.

Wait, what about the serpent in Eden? Yeah, turns out that was Satan too. It just wasn’t identified as such till John did in Revelation. Rv 12.9, 20.2 Just ’cause Satan isn’t called out by name doesn’t mean it wasn’t busily accusing people, or tripping them up.

Genesis 3.1-6 KJV
1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

If Satan wanted to prove humans are easily deceived, easily tempted, easily manipulated into destroying ourselves… well, this proves its point, huh?

Hence Satan is identified as “the accuser of our sisters and brothers,” Rv 12.10 who day and night tries to prove we’re not worthy of God’s grace. By hook or by crook, ’cause Satan doesn’t play fair. It’ll lie, cheat, steal, and kill in order to win. Y’notice the serpent accused the LORD, of all people, of not being honest with the first humans about good and evil.

That really is all of the devil passages in the Old Testament. I know; many Christians will point to a passage in Isaiah which is supposedly about the devil’s origin and fall. It’s actually not, as I wrote elsewhere. That interpretation is yet more disinformation. Satan was never a mighty prince in heaven; it was a lower functionary who went rogue. Claiming anything more for it, is simply swallowing its lies about itself. Ignore the myths. Stick to bible.

Escalating the battle.

In the Old Testament, Satan was a minor antagonist, barely mentioned. By the New Testament, it had become a full-on enemy of Jesus and humanity. So much so, Michael had to throw it out of heaven.

Revelation 12 is an apocalyptic vision of how Satan reacted to Jesus’s birth. Bad enough that God frequently overruled Satan’s objections; now through Jesus, every human can be saved. So Satan revolted. Christians tend to imagine Satan’s fall took place at the beginning of human history, so it could fall to earth and tempt Eve. Not in the middle of history, in Jesus’s day, as it’s described. We have a serious blind spot when it comes to this; we keep falling back on the myths, not the scriptures.

Jesus said, present-tense, “I see Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Lk 10.18 The devil didn’t go to war till it realized, through Jesus’s appearance, how totally biased God is in our favor.

Satan still firmly believes we’re not worthy of God’s attention and love. It tries to corrupt us in order to make its case. It tries to destroy us in order to get us what it thinks we truly deserve. It’s stuck in the past, and functioning by its own twisted sense of “fairness”: If Satan deserves hell, humans deserve hell just as much. If not more.

And yeah, we kinda do. Grace is completely unfair. But hey, you don’t see me complaining.

This is largely why Satan tempts. Same as it did with Eve, it does with us: It gets us to doubt God, give in to our own desires instead of following God’s will, and be as self-centered and corrupt and evil as it’s already convinced we are. Then it turns round to tell God, “See? They’re awful. Put ’em in hell!”

It’s not almighty like God. It’s mighty clever (though Satan has its own blind spots too), but it doesn’t know all. We humans are fairly predictable. We regularly, easily give in to temptation. So Satan knows how to manipulate us, and it’s had millennia of practice. Don’t underestimate its intelligence!

But never let that stop you from resisting it. And don’t presume Satan can successfully entrap you in a moral dilemma. It might’ve tried to entrap Jesus in many, but it never succeeded. God always provides a way out of such “dilemmas.“ 1Co 10.13 We can’t use the excuse, “Every option I had was a bad one, a sinful one; I had no choice but to sin.” Yeah you did. God doesn’t abandon us in those circumstances. Follow him out of them.

Satan’s not everywhere like God. The devil’s finite: It’s limited to one place at a time, and of course it doesn’t fill time like God does. It’s not tempting every Christian simultaneously. So why does it look like it tempts so many? Because there’s not only one devil. There are many. Christians tend to call ’em demons, but basically plenty of evil spirits tempt humans or otherwise mess with us. Sometimes for the same reason as Satan; sometimes just for the evil fun of pure mayhem. Generally they do Satan’s job for it. And don’t forget we humans are plenty capable of tempting ourselves and others—and blaming Satan for it when it’s really our own lack of self-control. If you wanna generically refer to these various accusers as “Satan,” go right ahead; Jesus did. Mk 8.33 But the actual Satan is likely off tempting someone else; not necessarily you.

Satan’s not mighty like God. Satan’s power comes from getting us humans to do its bidding, not by any power it itself has. It can’t do miracles; only tricks. It can’t cure the sick; why would it even want to? So whenever you see an anti-supernaturalist insist a miracle has been done with devilish power, you’re watching history repeat itself: They’re doing the same as the Pharisee scribes who blasphemed the Holy Spirit by claiming Jesus worked with the devil. They don’t realize how ridiculous it sounds for Satan to undermine itself with good deeds. Mk 3.26 The devil has no interest in curing the sick; just prolonging the misery.

Lastly and most importantly, Satan’s been conquered. Jesus defeated its works, and empowers us to do likewise. The devil is someone to watch out for, but isn’t anyone to fear. Ignore how much it might try to convince you it can’t be beaten: It is beaten. It can’t own you; God does. It can’t pwn you when you follow God. Do that. Resist it.