Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Devil Part 2

Many Christians, including myself, grew up believing "Satan" is a fallen angel who is in charge of hell.  Many of my friends even now would be extremely uncomfortable knowing I don't believe this anymore. Keith Green (a popular Christian singer from the 80's) had a song that warned of this disbelief called "Satan's Boast" with the ominous verse:

And as your life slips by you believe the lie
That you did it on your own but don't worry
I'll be there to help you share
A dark eternal home, a dark eternal home

So I understand the fear of questioning these things.  But I have come to a place where I have to question these things--not because I want to disprove the Bible and destroy people's faith. I want to understand the Bible, and I want a real that can survive deep questions. 

And so, my last post ended with the question, "if Satan isn't a fallen angel, then what is he?"  The Bible explains that the devil and the adversary (satan being the Hebrew word meaning adversary, as explained last time) are the same thing as the great dragon and the old serpent.  All these images are trying to convey the same thing...but what?

The book of Revelation uses imagery for everything--anyone who interprets Revelations as literal (as in a literal star falling to the literal earth) is just nuts in my opinion. (Especially when 'star' is used over and over in the old testament when talking about a person.)  A number of years ago a Christian book series came out that 'explained' Revelations as completely literal. (the "Left Behind" series) It took a verse like this:  

"And the likenesses of the locusts [are] like to horses made ready to battle, and upon their heads as crowns like gold, and their faces as faces of men, and they had hair as hair of women, and their teeth were as [those] of lions, and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron"...  

and told the story of these real locusts that went around tormenting people after all the good Christians got taken up to heaven and out of harms way.  It makes me so angry I can't even discuss it anymore--because I know far too many Christians that take those books as completely legitimate. 

So, moving forward with the idea that everything in the Bible does not need to be taken literally, but can be speaking of truths in more mysterious and poetic language, let's look at the verses about the devil. The first time the word 'devil' is used is in the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. First of all, it says Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, for the purpose of being tempted. (Where the devil is also called the "Tempter.") Many sermons have been given about the tempting of Jesus--it's certainly rich in meaning.  In Anne Rice's book, Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana, she depicts the Devil as Jesus dressed in fine clothes, coming to himself and trying to convince himself to do it all "his" way--take charge basically, and prove who he is, without all the suffering business.  I found it very interesting, and I'll confess, this is becoming more and more my idea of what the devil really is.  Not a fallen angel...but something in us that needs to be fought and resisted.

In the book of John, Jesus saves an adulteress woman from getting stoned, and subsequently he gets into quite an argument with the religious leaders of his day.  First they are questioning his authority...who the heck does he think he is, anyway?  Jesus basically says his authority comes from his Father, and then he says they don't know his Father, because if they did, they would have loved Jesus.  The religious experts not knowing God?  How dare he!  Jesus tells them he can set them free from sin, and of course they are very insulted and say they are no slaves--they are children of Abraham!  Then Jesus really lets them have it, and says:   "You are of a father -- the devil, and the desires of your father you will to do; he was a man-slayer from the beginning (not an angel?) and in the truth he hath not stood"

In Luke Jesus tells Simon that the Adversary did ask for himself to sift him like wheat. This is at the last supper, when Jesus is instructing them on humility, and how the kingdom of God is not like earthly kingdoms that "exercise lordship" over people. He also tells all 12 they will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel. (even Judas, whom he described as "a devil"?)

Paul warns in his letter to Timothy not to let a new convert become a leader, "lest having been puffed up he may fall to a judgment of the devil" and "into a snare of the devil".  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul instructs, "a servant of the Lord is not to strive, but be gentle unto all, patient under evil, in meekness instructing those opposing, that they (the people opposing) may awake out of the devil's snare"

In 1 Corinthians, Paul advises the people to "deliver up such a one to the Adversary for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (knock on the doors of hell and tell Satan the ex-angel you have a delivery?) 

In 2 Corinthians Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as given to him by a  "messenger of the adversary", so Paul can be buffeted and not exalted too much. 

In 1 Timothy, Paul says he did deliver up Hymenaeus and Alexander to the Adversary, so they "might be instructed not to speak evil".

It seems this adversary has a lot to do...sifting, buffeting, testing...even instructing.  Could it be this adversary is with us for a purpose?  Is he literally sneaking around, as Peter describes, devouring people?  When you look around, and see people's lives destroyed and 'devoured'...what is it that has done that? What battle have they lost?  Is it not their own pride, arrogance, ego...their inability to recognize and admit their own shortcomings?  Their refusal to forgive and give grace to others; their inability to see others as no different than themselves?  I know for myself, these are the things that torment me most, and these are the things I battle with daily. 

In the end, whatever this devil is or isn't--the more important thing might be to ask; does he win?  If this devil has power over death (Heb. 2:14) then does death win in the end? Not according to Paul, who also writes in Hebrews this promise:
and when this corruptible may have put on incorruption, and this mortal may have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the word that hath been written, `The Death was swallowed up -- to victory;  where, O Death, thy sting? where, O Hades, thy victory?'
and the sting of the death [is] the sin, and the power of the sin the law;
and to God -- thanks, to Him who is giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ;

And another promise in 1 Corinthians:
 then -- the end, when he may deliver up the reign to God, even the Father, when he may have made useless all rule, and all authority and power --
 for it behoveth him to reign till he may have put all the enemies under his feet --
the last enemy is done away -- death  

And the best promise of all:
 for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corn. 15:22)