Most people believe that there is more to reality than what meets the eye. The materialist worldview, which states that all that is real is measurable or detectable, reigns in the scientific realm because that is all that science can work with. Still, modern thinking wants to be sure to throw off the ignorant and superstitious thinking of the past. Is Satan just that? Is Satan a superstitious personification of evil? Is evil just a cultural norm? Some people would like to think so.
If you believe the testimony of the Bible it is hard to get around the reality of Satan. While Satan isn’t spoken of frequently, why would he be? Satan is mentioned plenty both by name and by inference. The first is in the Garden of Eden. Nobody ever thought Adam and Eve were being seduced by a talking snake. It was always know that this is a possessed being. What went on before the Garden incident?
Though Satan is not mentioned by name, but a taunt directed at the “King of Babylon” is likely not about a human but about Satan:
Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will answer
and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
and worms are your covers.
12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.
Isaiah 14:9-15 (ESV)
Certainly there have been crazy world leaders who claimed to be divine. They were the rule, not the exception in the ancient world. Maybe this is about the King of Babylon. But Satan would be cast from Heaven. He was a being of light. Did he think that he could be God? That was the bill of goods that Satan was selling Adam and Eve.
Another maybe passage is in Ezekiel, this one is more pointed:
“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,Ezekiel 28:12b-17 (ESV)
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I exposed you before kings,
to feast their eyes on you.
This passage is nominally about the King of Tyre. Was the King of Tyre in Eden? Was he a guardian cherub? That might be new information about Satan as well. What type of being is he? A cherub (living one) is not a baby angel. It is the highest level being that is not God. It seems that God created a limited edition of this being. Four are seen with God in Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, and Revelation 4. Was Satan a 5th? Since Ezekiel is prophecy, it speaks of the future casting of Satan to Earth.
Satan appears prominently in Job. He is mentioned in passing in 1 Chronicles 21:1. He appears again prominently in Zechariah. In the Gospels there is the temptation of Jesus and the description of demons as “his kingdom”, and the possession of Judas. Satan gets mentioned frequently throughout the New Testament. Nowhere is there any indication that Satan is merely a personification of evil.
Why wouldn’t we believe Satan is real? A person could not believe anything in the Bible. If you are a “pick and choose” person, certainly Satan is an attractive character to dismiss. Who wants him to exist? But if Satan is real and here, it is best that we know about it.
An important chapter for understanding Satan is Revelation 12. I will just send you there, since it is a lengthy amount of material. We learn that Satan was waiting to kill Jesus at birth. This explains the vague nature of some Messianic prophecies. Too much information would also inform Satan. Jesus seems safe from this plot by early childhood. Jesus may have already been more than Satan could handle by pure force.
Did Satan understand God’s plan? A lot of Christian tradition and early church writers would suggest not. But they are not necessarily informed by God. I give Satan more credit. After the initial miss, he no longer wanted to kill Jesus. He wanted Jesus to quit. With Jesus’ faithfulness through his being forsaken on the cross, Satan was disarmed. He no longer has God’s Law as leverage to protect him. Humans are not hostage because Jesus has fulfilled the Law for us. Now it is power against power, and Satan loses. Revelation 12:7-9 speaks of Satan being expelled from Heaven, but his destination is not Sheol, Hell or the Abyss. It is Earth. Why? I wish I knew.
What are Satan’s capabilities here? Once again, I wish I had a thorough debriefing. Satan seems to have some control over weather (see Job). The same can be said for disease. He and demons can seize the control of the body of certain individuals who stupidly play with certain occultic things. But Satan’s biggest weapon is influencing thought. He uses people to do his dirty work. To this end, it is to his advantage if the public thinks he doesn’t exist.
If Satan does exist, why can’t we find him? The letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 do say that Satan is localized. He is not God with the power of omnipresence. Still Satan is not properly a part of this universe. He is normally formless, and too smart to be detected otherwise.
What can we attribute to Satan in the history of the world? We should not go too far in passing the blame with “the devil made me do it.” We cooperate and innovate in evil by our own “free” will. Still, one has to suspect Satanic or demonic influence in much of the senseless evil in this world.
Is it just social media influence and/or mental illness that leads to the daily mass shootings that happen in the country? Were the atrocities of WWII just a human production? The attempted elimination of the Jews does seem to fit and explain Revelation 12:14-17 and vice versa. Our society works hard to eliminate the “need” to resort to supernatural explanation. But does that make pure sociological explanations the true answer?