As children, we hear about the Devil as being a bad, scary being and I think for some people, especially those of a religious persuasion, this sub-conscientiously carries on into adulthood. The Bible is full of examples where Satan tried to undermine God and Jesus in many different ways and also how he tried to influence people to do bad things throughout the ages. Arguably, he has influenced people to leave the ‘straight and narrow’ and make bad life choices from time immemorial which has caused many very bad occurrences throughout the world. Many evil people in control of countries may possibly have also fallen under Satan’s power leading to wars, corruption and the myriad of other monstrous and immoral acts which go on.
Non-religious people would say that it is up to each individual how they live their lives and that the Devil is just a construct to frighten and manipulate naive people. Each person has their own perception of what is good or bad and this is often based on childhood socialisation. Some believe scaring people with thoughts of the Devil is just a means of mass control.
Graham – part of your theology training would have covered the subject of the Devil and his works. How do you explain your belief of his existence to a modern-day audience who, because of mass communication, technology and developments in science, are now more sceptical of such a supernatural being? How do you know that Satan is still around?
Rev Graham replies:
Thank you, Carol, for your question, asking if Satan is still around and exists in our modern world! I guess we all have been taught from childhood that in some form or another good and bad exists. How we assess the existence and reality of evil and good as represented by Satan and God will vary according to our religious, philosophical and humanistic point of view.
As a Christian, I believe in the existence of an evil presence, as taught in Holy Scripture and witnessed by many personal testimonies of people who have suffered and experienced evil in a number of different ways. Such a view compares to philosophical, humanistic and scientific thinking that is based on intellect and reason and would dispute personal faith and superstition that is seen to use the concepts of evil and good to control human thought and behaviour.
In my theological training as a preacher and teacher, combined with over forty years of pastoral care within the church and community, it is clear that there is an existence of an evil force at work either implicitly or explicitly.
In the Bible there are many references to supernatural agencies and activities that seek to oppose the will and purposes of a Holy God as exampled in Psalm 91 where the Psalmist seeks protection from evil. In 1 Sam 16: 14 – 23 we read that the ‘spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.’
In the mystery of faith, evil spirits are under the complete control of God and it is very hard to understand why God allows evil to exist and act in opposition to his own will on earth. At this point I think it will be helpful to think about the Names, Character and Tactics attached to evil and how an End Game is predicted.
In Genesis 3 we read of a Serpent who represents a force contrary to God’s perfect will. The Tempter successfully changes the actions of Adam and Eve to disobey God’s command ‘not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge’ and in so doing gave the Devil ‘a power of attorney’ over their lives.
This evil force has a personal dimension to it as found in the discussions with Adam, Eve, Jesus and other people in the Bible. The serpent is also known as Satan, Adversary, Lucifer Day Star, (Isa 14: 12 – 15) Beelzebub the Prince of the Devil. (Mat 10: 25) the ‘Ruler of this World,’ (John 14: 30) and the ‘Prince of the Power of the Air,’ (Ephesians 2: 2) all working against the plans and purposes of God, especially in the life and ministry of Jesus.
It has been said that Satan is like a malignant reality, a cancer that exists and will grow if left unchecked. In Isaiah 14: 12 – 14 and Ezekiel 28:12 – 18 we read of a symbolic account of the fall of Satan from heaven because of pride and, as a result, seduces many to follow him. In 1 John 3: 8 we find that ‘the devil has sinned from the beginning,’ and there are lots of common ground between all the writers in the bible about there being a force of good and a force for evil. The devil in 1 Peter 5: 8 is described as ‘a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ and in character is very cunning and ‘disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11: 14) and darkness.
The influences and activities of evil are not necessarily obvious and therefore it is very hard to explain, describe or even believe in Satan’s existence in a modern world which adds to any confusion or sense of naivety. In trying to define evil, Satan is very plausible and would want us to believe that good is evil and evil is good and that there is no distinction between any forces of good or evil.
In the early chapters of Job (1 and 2), we read how Satan was present among a heavenly host and asked to test the righteous Job which God allowed him to do. In the Old Testament there are a number of references to Satan who works against those who follow God such as Joshua the priest. (Zechariah 3: 1 – 5)
In the New Testament, Satan has his minions who exist in waterless places, (Matthew 12: 43) are objects of worship, (1 Corinthians 10: 20 – 21) seek the possession of people, (Mark 1: 34) cause suffering (Matthew 12: 22 – 24) and have great strength and possess animals (Matthew8: 32)
In Jesus’s early ministry (Matthew 4:1) the devil failed in tempting him to follow his way instead of his Father’s way and then subsequently left Jesus for a season. Many Christians and non-believers are deceived into thinking that Satan is not a reality and is just part of a superstitious age and way of thinking. However, as noted in Jude 9, all Christians and archangels are in conflict with Satan and it will never cease until we enter into the presence of God in heaven.
Paul, in (2 Corinthians 2: 11), suggests that we should not be ignorant of Satan’s designs for he wants to gain an advantage over us. Encouragingly in(1 John 4: 4) it reminds us that ‘greater is he that is in us than he (Satan) that is in the world.’ God is faithful and will protect us and not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to cope with but in our testings will provide a way of escape. (1 Corinthians 10: 13) In the book of Ephesians (6: 11 – 17) we are told to ‘put on the whole armour of God’ and to stand against all the fiery darts of the evil one. Jesus, when he was approaching the time of his crucifixion, was affected by the words of Peter which he discerned as coming from Satan. (Matthew 16: 23)
Overall we find that Satan tempts people at all times to thwart the plans and works of God as witnessed in the lives of the believing Ananias (Acts 5: 3) and Elymas (Acts 13: 10) who was ‘a child of the devil’ and didn’t believe. We have a reference to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2: 9) who are likened to ‘a synagogue of Satan.’ There are those who are said to dwell in ‘Satan’s seat’ (Revelation 2: 13) and seek to disrupt all missionary and church work. (1 Thessalonians 2: 18)
In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), Satan seeks to snatch the good seed that is sown in the heart of people responding to the gospel message. We have the example of Judas (Matthew 26: 21 – 25) who was used by the devil to try and undermine Jesus in Passion Week and Satan was allowed by God to shift Peter, with Jesus praying for him to resist. (Luke 22: 31 -32)
The main purpose of Jesus was twofold: 1) To destroy all the works of the evil in exorcisms and prayer. 2) To defeat Satan through his work on the cross and cut off ‘the power of attorney’ Adam and Eve had given to the devil.
Satan has limitations and can be defeated. He only exercises power as allowed from God which can be hard to comprehend and reason why. Indirectly we can find that the efforts of Satan can cause the plans of God to succeed where otherwise they wouldn’t. Satan is ‘a malignant reality’ and, in his hostility to God, needs to be contained. As Satan seeks to trick and deceive us, James tells us to ‘resist the devil and he will flee from you,’ (James 4: 7) and in (Hebrews 4: 15) we find that Jesus was in all points tested and tempted in every way just like we are, yet without sinning.
Satan faces judgment where an everlasting fire awaits him and all his angels (Revelation 20: 10) and his final defeat will be at the end of the age. In our modern world, many people would say that there is no room for a concept of Satan and may be more inclined to take a neutral stance over the forces of good or evil. However, when things happen, the media and people in general are very quick to describe such actions as evil or miraculous from an evil force or a good God.
Humankind is free to believe and act in whatever way and form they choose. Is Satan real today? Think about the spirit of the age we live in which promotes itself as a ‘god’ over any biblical God who is seen as irrelevant and meaningless.
As a Christian, it’s important to discern the spirits that are active in our home, church, work and community life and stand against the character and tactics of the devil knowing he is a defeated entity. Through personal faith, prayer and action we can be guided by the help of the Holy Spirit to promote and take forward all the plans and purposes of a good and Holy God for the healing and blessing of everyone.