Monday, December 11, 2006

Is the Devil Real?

About a week ago, we had a conversation about the sin and fall of Satan. In the comments, Richard Johnson asked:

Is it heretical to believe that Satan (as a person/being/character/persona) never existed?

I'm inclined to say no, as belief in Satan was never a creedal article for the ancient Church. But I find it pretty bizarre that anyone would deny the existence of Satan. Dan Trabue wrote in response:

Not necessarily. One could assume that God's Holy Word was written in a style that used devices such as "Satan" to get a point across. Such a person could still think that God is God, that Jesus is God's Son and that we are saved by God's grace. One would still find God's Truth in any of the few places where Satan does appear without embracing Satan as an entity.

Couldn't one?


Again, can't one take that as a spiritually-themed allusion?

When we fight city hall (as we have done sometimes at our church), we have talked about the Spiritual battle we do in our work for Justice. We have had sometimes had to stand against principalities and powers.

That doesn't mean that we think that City Hall is run by Satan or satanists, but rather that we're working against oppressive systems and unjust structures.

I'm not necessarily saying I don't believe in Satan, just that I'm indifferent towards the notion of demons and much more concerned about my brother and sister humans (and myself) who are prone to sin and err. It's not a rejection of biblical teaching, just a different way of interpreting it than many have and do.

Dan would have a point if Satan were only described allegorially or parabolically. But Matthew 4:1-11 describes him as a personal being with the ability to speak. This is not an impersonal force or abstract concept -- this is an intelligent, communicative entity. Why would anyone deny his existence when it is so clearly stated in Scripture?


Anonymous said...

Good point. I guess it would mean contradicting a great deal of scripture to feel that Satan is not a real person.

The thing is, I see sin as an outcome of our choices. God gave us freedom to make choices and sin is our tendancy to make the wrong choices. I had never really pictured someone like the Devil acting as a pupateer.

But you're right, Jesus does have a conversation with Satan. So I guess in that sense, we should accept him as true?

bob said...

I don't think Satan as puppeteer is the right way to look at it either . I'm more inclined to look at Satan as someone who trys to lead us away from God. I think the passage where he confronts Jesus is a perfect example of this, Satan held up temptations for Jesus to resist. Much like the temptations that are put befor us.

Anonymous said...

I never thought of Satan as the one who led us away. I always saw it as a result of our freedom/free-will in our every day lives given by God.

bob said...

Richard Exactly were free to follow who we choose.

Dan Trabue said...

Jesus tells many parables that have characters that speak and have opinions and take actions. They are, nonetheless, parables - and the individuals therein are not to be taken as representing real, specific people.

Unless I'm mistaken, it was a common literary device to describe actions as if they were literally taking place when one is instead telling a story.

My point is not that Jesus did or did not have a literal conversation with some entity known as Satan, but rather that this is not a critical point of faith. The Bible, while containing many facts, is not a book of facts, but a book of Truth.

The Truths are the important thing to heed. In Jonah's story, the Truths are that one can't run from God, that God loves everyone - even whale-belly-laden xenophobes and misbehaving Ninevites. That Truth does not change if Jonah was a parable or if it was an actual story.

Truth is what is important. Biblical Truths are what are important for our faith, not facts. If that were true, then a simple misunderstanding ("What?! The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a parable?! But..but...I've staked my faith on that being a literally true story! Egad! It's all a lie! I'm undone!...")

So, to answer your question: "Why would anyone deny his existence when it is so clearly stated in Scripture?"

One might say do so - OR one may not deny the possibility of a Satan, but may instead be indifferent - because it is not a critical point of faith.

That's why.

John said...

But Dan, Jesus isn't telling a parable in this passage in Matthew 4.

Dan Trabue said...

That's what I was getting at in saying that sometimes literary devices were used by writers in past, such as presenting a fictional person as an actual person. I'm not even saying that this is what happens in this passage necessarily.

All I'm saying is that it's not a critical point of belief for Christians to believe in a literal Satan.