Friday, July 9, 2010

Could it be... SATAN????!!!!

Our most recent discussion as a fellowship was Satan. We quickly realized that none of us had a very clear understanding of the problem we faced by having Satan be an ever present and unwanted guest in our lives. We do not have theology degrees, and, of course, we are only familiar with our own comfortable lives, really, even as we press on to become more familiar with the nature of God. There is an undeniable value in understanding the way your enemy operates; Sun Tzu made a pretty clear argument for that.

Satan, however, is very difficult to observe. We have a very extensive bit of scripture describing the nature of God, but describing Satan is not the same level of priority. Christ mentions him a lot, and the presentation of him in Job makes me scratch my head. The serpent, whom we all recognize by tradition as being if not identical, very closely related with, Satan himself is a little confusing, too. The whole Fall of Man confuses me, but that's a story for another post.

You might say that "He's the bad guy, and that's all we need to worry about," but that is not any more helpful than than saying, "God is the good guy and that's it." I was never a fan of the "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." bumper sticker because while it is a demonstration of resolute faith, it is of a rather immature sort. Ultimately, because we are choosing to stand with God, it is important to know against whom we are standing and what their business is.

There are a couple of explanations that are commonly held about Satan. The simplest is that he is what God is not; if God is love, forgiveness and justice, then Satan is selfishness, guilt and arbitrariness. The trouble with this is that Satan is not just the bad equivalent of God. He does not possess the same qualities of omnipresence and powers that God does in the negative or else he would be God -- just a fouled and terrible one. The next simplest is to draw an analogy with darkness and heat, defining them by what they lack. Satan is the absence of God or evil is the absence of good. God, however, is omnipresent and all powerful, so this is hard to reconcile. Another possibility is that there is no Satan at all, and it is just a metaphor for our own failings as men. Both of these are tricky, as they do not account for the active nature of evil, and require pretty creative interpretations of scripture and disagreement with Paul. The most common understanding is that Satan is a creature, with an agenda, out to do us harm. Being a creature, though, requires a creator, and why would God create Satan for the sole purpose of opposition? Can God even create something that is evil?

We accept that Satan is evil and just evil. Is Satan really just evil, though? God created men, and men are evil, but not purely so. We were created in His image, after all. So, can Satan be similar? Evil, but not purely so? Satan's name means Adversary. One who opposes. That is action. I think that the source of man's evil is weakness, as shown in the Fall. Adam did not want to oppose God, he just did not have sufficient faith to win the spiritual battle. The serpent opposed God, on purpose. This distinction is no small matter. Men rarely oppose God directly; there are plenty who oppose religion. Atheists oppose the way we worship, but almost none of them oppose love, forgiveness, justice, charity, peace or patience. God is all of those things.

Is Satan not? I do not think we know. Satan's temptations of Christ in the desert showed us the strength of God in the face of man's weakness. Man failed when offered a piece of fruit; Christ was offered a good deal more -- escape from hunger, deliverance from suffering and physical dominion over all He could see. He turned them all down. Satan also entered Judas Iscariot to cause the betrayal, which started the immediate events that led to the Crucifixion, which was tragic of course; but it ended with the salvation of humanity. That was a pretty positive outcome from a Satanic deed. Christ's words, though, about how "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (sounds so much nicer in the KJV) shows that while productive, these actions are not of God. I make the point to say so because the relationship between Satan and God in Job seems oddly chummy, given the understanding of being cosmic nemeses.

I think we can all agree that Satan has skills and knowledge that we do not. The discussion that Daniel has with the divine vision about the Prince of Persia [who is opposing God's messenger] implies that Satan, or his surrogate, is powerful to detain individual actors on God's behalf. (I am hesitant to say angels, because there is an interpretation that Daniel was speaking to a preborn manifestation of the Son of God, I think.) However, he might not have understood the outcome of the execution of Christ. Undoubtedly, Satan had at least the same access to the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah that Jesus did. The worldly understanding of power and the Jewish reading leads to an expectation of political authority, or at least some other earthly exercise of strength. I cannot say that anyone would have been able to predict exactly the nature of Christ's message -- that the whole of the Kingdom of Heaven would be made accessible to anyone simply by asking for it with sincerity, and the forgiveness of the very sin that separated men from God in the first place, which was instigated by the serpent.

This raises a handful of other questions in my mind. Is Satan the sole source of opposition to God? While men may not purposefully oppose God in intent, frequently we do in action. The prophecies in Daniel and Revelation about the Endtimes discuss evil men and creatures rising up and demanding worship, and we naturally associate them with Satan. I do not know if that necessarily has to be true; those men could very easily be just men. Are there other supernatural beings also in opposition of God, like Beelzebub, the Dragon, Screwtape and Wormwood? Christ calls Satan and Beelzebub by name (at least in my NIV translation), are they names for the same thing or distinct? What would that mean? One question that my last paragraph raises that we did not discuss is can Satan be saved? If he repents of his opposition, can he be welcomed into the Kingdom? How much worse is he than the rest of us, anyway?

We, of course, did not come up with any definitive explanations or even new strategies to avoid his spiritual traps. I do feel like we left with a better understanding of God, though. We know that Satan, whatever else he is, is the Adversary to the Will of God. Since God seeks relationship with us and clearly wants triumph over opposition to His own will, He must support us to triumph over that adversity -- or at least be able to survive it. Based on the Book of Daniel and Christ's example, that struggle is real and power and continuous, so must His support for us to overcome it be. That is something I can get behind.

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