Week 7, Day 3: Satan

… the line dividing good and evil cuts

through the heart of every human being.

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

READ: EPHESIANS 6:10-18

In 1942, in the middle of World War Two, author C.S. Lewis wrote:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

Like sixty percent of Americans, according to a 2016 Gallup poll, I ‘believe in’ the devil. I’m not sure exactly how Gallup or any of their respondents define belief in the devil. I believe in God too, but that means more to me than an intellectual assent to the proposition that there is a divine being out there. Believing in God, believing in Jesus, believing in the Holy Spirit—when I say I believe in the Trinity, it means I also believe what they say, that I try to live my life as if they were real.

I was taught — in church and by the culture — that the devil, or Satan, or the Enemy, was the absolute personification of evil, the polar opposite of God, the one who had led Adam and Eve astray in the Garden of Eden (and who continues to lead believers astray), the one who wreaked havoc on Job’s life in the Old Testament, the one responsible for all of the sin and death in the world.

I remember that understanding being shaken when my Old Testament professor John Goldingay pointed out that the Hebrew words in the book of Job are actually ha-satan, meaning “the Adversary or Accuser.” In the story of Job, in the context of the divine court, the role of the Accuser was like that of a prosecutor, whose responsibility it was to bring charges against humanity, to test them, and to make sure God was not being too merciful or soft. I remember the first time I noticed that Satan, long identified as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is mentioned by name in only two books in the Old Testament, and neither of those is Genesis. The Adversary plays the same role in Zechariah 3 as he does in Job.

And yet the world Jesus inhabits is one in which Satan is very real and there is no neutral ground. Jesus knew what it was to be tempted by the devil. As recounted by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the devil tried three times to divert Jesus from his mission by appealing to his appetite (turning the bread into stone), his ambition (offering him all of the kingdoms of the world), and his desire for approval (casting himself off the roof of the Temple so all the people would see him rescued by the angels).

In John 8:44, Jesus described him as “the father of liars” (John 8:44), and in John 10:10, he said, “The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life — indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” The enemy desires to steal the full life Jesus desires for us to have, and often he will operate in half-truths. In this way, the serpent in Genesis came to be identified with Satan: the serpent questioned the couple about what God had said to them: “Did God really say …?” He was testing what they believed about God and what they believed about themselves.

In his close friend and disciple Peter’s words that he should avoid suffering and death on the cross, Jesus saw Satan’s path of least resistance, of taking the easy way out, a test similar to his temptations in the wilderness, and he named it as such: “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23).

Years later, this same Peter — older, wiser, a church leader — would write to Christians facing conflict and persecution, “Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). It was a reminder to them to hold firm to the words and values, the ways and kingdom of Christ. 

I believe in the devil because I have seen the temptation to take the easy route, to seek one’s own advancement and power at the expense of others. I have seen what happens when individuals, communities, countries, and corporations choose to respond with fear, greed, and selfishness instead of love. I have seen how lies and half-truths have destroyed trust, and devastated lives and communities.

I also believe in the devil because I have seen people who were possessed and who were delivered. I have experienced the supernatural and not been able to explain it in materialistic or scientific terms. I have seen people freed by the power of God and prayer from the grip of oppressive forces.

 

I believe in the devil because I trust Jesus and I trust what he says. But I also don’t fear the devil because I trust Jesus and I trust what he says. 

 

As the Apostle John reminds us, “the one who is in you [that is, God] is greater than the one who is in the world [that is, the devil]” (1 John 4:4). Every time the devil tried to tempt Jesus, Jesus responded with Scripture. He didn’t try to resist the enemy in his own strength, but relied instead on God. So James 4:7-8 tells us, “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you.” 

God has given us, for our protection, divine tools, embodied by the stories we live by, the practices we use to build up our spiritual muscles, and the ways we allow community to surround us and keep us going. Therefore, Paul wrote in our passage, “Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:11-12). God’s tools — his truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, Spirit, and word — are our armor. 

REFLECT & RESPOND

  • Head: Do you believe Satan, or the devil, is a real being or simply a symbol of evil, even of the evil in each of us? Why? How do you think about the evil in the world and the evil inclinations in your own mind?

  • Heart: What kinds of temptations do you face to sate your appetite, to seek ambition, or meet your desire for approval? How do you tend to respond to them?

  • Hands: Stay alert today! Notice when you’re tempted to do something unloving and think about the stories in your head that are fueling it. Name them and disarm them with the truth of God, if necessary, with help.

PRAY 

Meditate and reflect on this line from the Lord’s Prayer:

“Let us not fall in times of trial, but deliver us from evil.”

Often the enemy operates

in half-truths.

© 2020 by Justin B. Fung

Christ City Church, Washington, D.C.