Thursday, June 30, 2011

Does Satan Really Exist?

Many religions, new and old, believe there are two supernatural forces battling one another: good and evil. I've heard Christians talk about the existence of evil as if it were a conscious, external power that can attack and even take over our lives if we aren't vigilant. I've been told this 'enemy' can wreak havoc by feeding us lies, or worse.

I'm not sold on this dogma. I'll try to explain why.

If God is love (and I think He is) then we do God's will by being loving. But true love is always a free-will choice which means there has to be another option. Therefore, evil (which I'll simply define as not God's will) is a necessary alternative to love. So God created not only love but nonlove as well; He simply cannot create the option to love without the option not to love.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

I see evil as the absence of love. However, just because I don't believe evil is a powerful, omniscient, conscious being capable of personal attacks doesn't mean I dismiss the existence of evil beings (those who set out with the singular purpose of opposing love) altogether.  I think they probably exist in human form and could exist in other forms as well. I can't be certain I've ever encountered one though. In general I think people oppose love because they are wounded, fearful and ignorant -not because they hate the very spirit of goodness.

As for God, I understand Him to be an omniscient, omnipresent, life-giving, creative energy that birthed each one of us into existence. And as the sons and daughters of God we possess a spark of divine light, or God-consciousness, that serves as a moral compass to guide and instruct.

"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." (Jeremiah 31:33)

Now, finally, here's what I do believe about the battle between good and evil:

We grow spiritually by overcoming temptations and aligning ourselves with the will of God. I don't believe these temptations need to be personified into a supernatural entity: we are the enemy! The 'devil' is alive and well in each one of us as our lower, self-serving, God-ignoring selves. The great spiritual battle isn't taking place in the heavens above; it is God's Kingdom Within that is being attacked by our animalistic natures. I think collectively we have projected our evil natures onto this supernatural being to reduce our anxiety and blame something else for our shortcomings. Convenient, but not entirely healthy or helpful. We can't control that which exists apart from us, but we do have authority over ourselves. Through the practices of restraint, discipline, surrender and sacrifice we can crucify our beastly natures and allow God's love to flow in and through us. We must feed the good (God's will) and starve the bad (self-will) by nourishing ourselves with prayer and communion. As our God-consciousness strengthens and our self-consciousness weakens our whole nature changes and we come to identify more with God and less with self.

I don't know how biblical all that is, but it's what I believe. I've spent a little time trying to make a case for Satan (as most Christians define him) from the Old Testament but I don't find the arguments convincing. As for Jesus' teachings about Satan, I think they are open to interpretation as well. But, truthfully, I haven't spent a great deal of time studying the text. Perhaps some of you, my readers, can enlighten me on the subject.

Speaking of Jesus, where does he fit into this battle between good and evil?

Now that is a good question. I suppose, more and more, I am doubting the substitutionary atonement theory. I trust that Jesus was the physical manifestation of divine love and his life had a divine purpose but I'm not convinced his death in any way purchased my salvation. But that's a whole other discussion isn't it!

10 comments:

Pippi said...

Satan definitely exists. I am more sure of that sometimes than of anything else.

jss said...

"I form the light, and create darkness"
Amazing how often Christians overlook the "create the darkness" part isn't it? I will say though that He actually could create the option to love without the option not to love. I would suggest however that he could not create one without the other AND give us free will to choose. That is where there must be one or the other.

There are those that would suggest (me being one of them) that it is the suppression, our denial, our avoidance of our evil nature which is to say our dark or shadow side that is the root of the birth of evil in each of us whereas if we were to give credence and 'voice' so to speak to our dark side we would find a substantial amount of creative and useful energy.

detheologized said...

The Gospel seems to include the belief that Satan was real - but absolutely powerless to confront Jesus. So how real is that?

We get the picture that in Jesus’ day some very distraught individuals were more sure that Satan existed than of anything else, and that this belief in the direct personal influence of evil spirits was widely shared. But whenever one of these people was encountered by Jesus they were invariably freed of this influence by his command.

Whatever our opinions on Satan might be, I trust Jesus’ demonstration that this concept has no power in relation to living truth. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall,” and so has put Satan behind him in no uncertain terms, and we would do well to do the same – the question is moot for a life lived under the command of one who everywhere did the will of a God of love.

Great post. But making a comment here is way too difficult outside the "blogger" domain. If a duplicate to this comment shows up, please delete it.

-John

Reason's Whore said...

If Satan existed, God would have had to have created him, since God created everything (according to your theology).

Now, one would seriously have to question the motivation of a supposedly loving god who would create an evil demon to torment humankind and tempt them to do evil.

My opinion is that both the "God" and "Satan" concepts are primitive attempts to try to explain why good and evil exist, and why we're here at all.

Michelle said...

Pippi, I know many people who share your view and if my experiences were different I might share them too.

JSS, if free-will wasn't present I don't know if I could define the action as love. An instinct perhaps, but not love. I agree, the suppression/denial of our evil natures is the root of many issues. We cannot surrender/transform (create) that which we won't acknowledge.

John, thanks for your excellent points. I haven't really explored this issue much but what you said makes a lot of sense.

RW, I think you're right. We do need to "seriously question" these issues which is why I continue to try and sort through them privately and here on this blog.

Skeptigirl said...

I am not sure weather I beleave in the existence of a literal Satan, just like I am not sure about the nature of hell, or the specific nature of heaven. In anycase I really have no idea why Christians focus on the man in red so much. I know from the Bible that as long as I have God he has no power over me and can do nothing God is not ultimately in control of. That sounds pretty good to me, not gonna worry about him. I also agree, there is enough low and wicked in us that we sure don't need an outside agent for that.

Pippi said...

These comments are thought-provoking. I personally believe that God created Satan as the chief angel, the Light-bringer, and Satan went to war with God and was cast down, becoming the dark reflection of God and his kingdom. I think the western concept of him as the "man in red" is very damaging to our spiritual perceptions, because he is in fact the Great Deceiver, the Enlightened One, and can as the Scriptures say, appear as an angel of light. After all, that is what he was/is. These are just my personal feelings at this stage, mind you.
I have found great significance in the brief account of Noah, and the enigmatic words of Revelation 20 regarding the final judgment of Earth. They make a distinction there between the Beast, Death, and Hell as being separate entities. And even more striking, as giving up their dead separately to be judged out of the Book of Life, AFTER which those whose names are not found from among their number are cast out. This certainly doesn't fit with the traditional western theology. And it does not mention Satan at all, unless he is the Beast, which seems unlikely from the context. This isn't directly related to your subject but strongly influences my opinions on the issue, so I thought it worth mentioning.
I am not convinced that we actually have a dark side. I think, personally, that our problems stem from the repression of our spiritual side, even among Christians. I am believing more and more every day in a mystic world all around us as large and varied as the one we see and touch. And I believe that like our world, it has plenty of good and evil that we must find our way through. So far my feeling on how to do this is stay very open-minded but pray hard and often, and follow my instincts if I am sure I have no self or pride clouding them at the time. Just like I do with this world.
My husband told me that he practiced astral projection the summer he turned five. Sometimes of his own will, sometimes being pulled out against his will and taken places he didn't want to go. Because those times kept getting more frequent, he shut that part of his mind off. He struggles with the western belief that such abilities are innately evil, because he didn't feel that way every time. I often think of that as well.

Tragedy101 said...

Pippi,

That is well thought out.

Please, look up the meaning of "satan." It is Hebrew, the meaning can be found in a lexicon. If I remember correctly, it means adversary, but not any kind of adversary, it indicates a legal adversary, an accuser. I think you will find that the satan is present in Revelation 20, though not named as such.

Satan is presumed by the idea of judgement presented. The reason why a judgement must be rendered is because someone has been accused of something. Without an accuser, there is no need for judgement.

Michelle,

You write well.

I think, this: God created the satan not because of evil, but for the option of evil.

God judges accusations as true or false. God is not the accuser. Devil and Satan do not need to be synonymous. They may indicate the same being, but they are not interchangeable ideas. The names are different trait identifiers.

Michelle said...

Pippi, the thing I don't understand is how an angel can become so powerful as to be the "dark reflection" of God. Not saying it isn't possible, it just doesn't ring true to me. Your personal feelings are shared by many but that story seems to be to be a myth. A good story that has been refined over time but can't be found in the Bible unless you take bits and pieces from here and there-regardless of their original context-and paste them together into a new story.

I think our "evil" nature is actually very simple: it is self-centeredness. When we die to self (like Jesus did) we are crucifying our evil nature which is animalistic and probably instinctual (self preservation)! Which, I suppose makes a case for original sin: we are all born with self-preservation instincts which makes us self-centered!

I agree, we do suppress our spiritual natures! And very interesting stuff you shared about astral projection. I find that fascinating.

Tragedy - Thanks for your kind words. For me, writing well requires a lot of effort. I don't throw my words together quickly.

You said, "Devil and Satan do not need to be synonymous. They may indicate the same being, but they are not interchangeable ideas." That's new on me! I'll have to look into that. Thanks for commenting.

BenYachov said...
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