Conspicuously missing from most modern theodicies – including some of my own writings – is the role that Satan plays in our fallen world. Most philosophers of religion most likely attempt to stay away from the Devil’s role for a myriad of reasons, notably that Scripture isn’t exactly clear on what the Devil’s role is and it’s quite taboo to admit a belief in the existence of the Devil. Many naturalists believe that belief in the Devil is akin to belief in Zeus; even for fair minded atheists, who forgive a belief in God, forgiving a belief in the Devil goes a bit too far.
Even among Christians, however, there is a great reluctance to speak of Satan (unless, of course, one happens to be Pentecostal or Charismatic, but then there is much superstition around such beliefs). For Christian intellects the issue of Satan appears to be quote superfluous; ultimately, we humans are the cause of our own sin and natural evil is caused by natural forces. While many well-meaning Christians believe in an active God, they implicitly believe in a passive Devil. Yet, this is not what the Bible or Christianity present. The Bible is quite clear about Satan’s existence, attributing at least 180 passages directly to dealing with the Devil.
There are consequences to downgrading or even eliminating a belief in Satan. For one, even without a belief in Satan, we must deal with the fact that evil is present within our world. As St. Nikolai Verlimirovic wrote,
As long as man regards men, and not Satan, as the source of evil in the world, fratricide will rule in place of brotherly love.
Without a source of evil beyond ourselves – though we still stand responsible for evil – it is easy to condemn the man along with his actions. Such a view is actually what has existed for quite some time within human history, but it is not an accurate view.
The Bible is quite clear that while we ultimately bear responsibility for our moral choices, the enemy seeks to destroy us, seeks to tempt us into giving into sin. 1 Peter 5:8 says that the Devil roams around like a lion, seeking to devour the weak. 1 John 3:8 says that Christ came into the world to destroy the works of the Devil. Notice that He didn’t come to destroy the works of man, but the works of the Devil. While Ransom Theory – the idea that Christ ransomed us from the Devil – is by itself an incomplete view of the Atonement, there’s some merit there; Christ ransomed us from the works of the Devil, works that we had adopted as our own. 2 Corinthians 11:3 states that just as Eve was deceived by the Devil, so too can our own thoughts deceive us, indicating that Satan and the angels who followed him (popularly called demons) attempt to manipulate us into justifying our own sin.
The Bible, especially the New Testament, seems to indicate that Satan is the source of our temptation, of evil, of suffering, and so on. When we give into his deception and lies we only perpetuate his evil. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that unbelievers are blinded by the “god of this world.” In other words, Satan is not some metaphor for evil, some mythical figure concocted by early Christians in order to explain away evil. He is an actual person, an entity who was created by God for good, but chose to rebel against God instead. The world, then, is a battleground between God and the Devil. We are not merely caught in between, pawns in some supernatural struggle; we are the reason for this fight.
The atheist philosopher Stephen Law posed a challenge to theists to support the presupposition of “God is morally good.” While I gave my own response, let me summarize the response by saying, “We exist.” We know what it looks like to give into evil in a total manner, we know this because we see the Devil. He is pure narcissism, which is why he doesn’t care one bit about anyone else. He is rage for the sake of rage, because it satisfies him. Were God evil, being an absolute being, we wouldn’t exist because His narcissism (the ultimately root of all evil) would prevent Him from thinking about anyone else. Satan, being a finite being, but deal with the reality that other beings exist, and in so doing treats them as objects of his desire. Thus, the fight over us is between Love and hate. Love is self-sacrificial, self-giving, and seeks to protect; hatred is the opposite of all those things.
At the same time, the battle between God and Satan is not a battle between equals. We only use the term “battle” because our language is inefficient. It is not as though God is at any risk of losing this war or is struggling. Rather, we call it a battle because we are involved in the battle, and as finite beings we can lose. We can either follow our original purpose, which is to love God, or we can rebel against God. Rebelling against God, however, is the same as rebelling against love, it is to take sides with the enemy of love, Satan. It is to become a co-belligerent with a person who is worse than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or any other tyrant throughout the ages. These tyrants, though evil, still masqueraded their evil behind a cause. Satan, however, stood behind these terrible acts and simply enjoyed the show, enjoyed the destruction of God’s image because that’s just who he is (John 8:44).
None of this is akin to saying, “The Devil made me do it.” We have a choice to follow God or to align ourselves with His enemy, but we should not think that we are the ultimate cause of evil. When a person does something evil, while he chose that path, we should recognize that he was also deceived. In creating a victim, he is also a victim. A murderer has destroyed a body, but at the cost of destroying his soul. I once heard a preacher say, “Christ came to save us from ourselves” (a line I have often repeated). While that is somewhat true, it is not entirely true; He came mainly to save us from death, from the great whims of the Devil.
What, then, are we to do? We serpent roams the earth, seeking to devour the weak and helpless. What can we do against such a force? We are not powerless. Genesis 3:15 contained a prophecy that the future descendent of Eve would crush the serpent. This descendent is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Through the incarnation human nature finally overcame the Devil. He only roams on borrowed time and ultimately holds no power over those who have begun the process of deification. While he may fight and clamor, it is in vain against those who have given into the path of light. Is it any wonder that the banishment of Satan coincides with the arrival of the New Earth? With no one to whisper words of rebellion into our ears, we will be able to grow with Christ.
Therefore, I do very much believe in the Devil. I believe in the Devil because I believe in my salvation. I believe that I shall be saved, but there must be something from which I am saved. I believe in the Devil because I see evil in this world and I see that the perpetrators of this evil are, in many ways, victims to their own desires. I believe in the Devil because I have seen him in the hopelessness of this age, but I also believe in his defeat because I have seen the Hope of eternity.