Who or What is Satan?

“I hate it!” Charles Wallace cried passionately.  “I hate the Dark Thing!”…

“What is it?” Calvin demanded.  “We know that it’s evil, but what is it?”

“Yyouu hhave ssaidd itt!” Mrs. Which’s voice rang out.  “Itt iss Eevill.  Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknnesss!”

“But what’s going to happen?”  Meg’s voice trembled.  “Oh please, Mrs. Which, tell us what’s going to happen!”

“Wee wwill cconnttinnue tto ffightt!”

Something in Mrs. Which’s voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs. Which with pride and confidence.

“And we’re not alone, you know, children,” came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter.  “All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle.  I know it’s hard for you to understand about size, how there’s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy.  You think about that and maybe it won’t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it’s a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy.  You can be proud that it’s done so well.”

“Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.

“Oh you must know them, dear,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said.  “Why of course, Jesus!”

“Of course!” Mrs. Whatsit said.  “Go on, Charles, love.  There were others.  All your great artists.  They’ve been lights for us to see by.”

“Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively.  “And Michelangelo?”

“And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “And Bach!  And Pasteur and Madame Curie an Einstein!”

Now Calvin’s voice rang with confidence, “And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!”

“Now you, Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit ordered.

“Oh, Euclid, I suppose.”  Meg was in such an agony of impatience that her voice grated irritably.  “And Copernicus.”

A Wrinkle in Time

Who or what is Satan?  I have no idea.  Does that inspire you to read on?  Satan was one of the first major points of doubt I had when it came to my faith.  I remember sitting in class, and my professor was talking about the medieval concept of the Hellmouth (Buffy!), and all of a sudden it came to me: “Satan is really weird idea.”  I mean you have this omnipotent God, and then there’s Satan, a gadfly that likes to poke the Creator because…he’s just really evil, and that what he likes to do.  That sounds kind of goofy to me.  Who is enough of a masochist to go up again and again against an all-knowing, all-powerful God who cannot lose?  At some point, wouldn’t Satan just grow tired of the war dance or wise up to the inevitability of his failure, maybe think of taking a break or calling a truce?  The truth is, Satan reads well as a character for a story–every Road Runner needs a Coyote–but logically it’s difficult for me to believe a personified evil like that exists.  (It kind of reminds me of all the stories I’ve been told about demons–how they make televisions flicker when they aren’t plugged in and lift people up in the air or sit on the chests of their victims.  Yes, I suppose non corporeal beings might do those things, but why?  It’s a little petty and unimaginative, to be frank, and I’m not sure how messing with electronics aids the cause of the evil one.)


Aside from the logistics of Satan as a personality, I just don’t think his existence is necessary to explain the proliferation of sin.  We human beings are pretty good at being awful on our own.  We don’t seem to need any encouragement to hurt one another or to behave selfishly.  Some might call it original sin; I would go with transworld depravity (shout out to Plantinga), but either way, a horde of invisible bad guys egging us on to do terrible things is, in a perverse way, a kind of gilding the lily.  It’s overkill.  It’s more likely to me that Satan was an ancient way of explaining why evil exists and why we do the things we do.  N. T. Wright says it better than I do in this video because his English accent is way better than mine:

Evil as a pervasive but nebulous force makes sense to me.  It jives with my experience of my own wickedness, which I’m well acquainted with, as well as the wickedness I’ve seen around me.

That said, the non-existence of Satan and sundry other devils is not a cut and dried case for me.  I’ve known too many people who have had experiences with what they took to be otherworldly forces, and I don’t want to disregard those.  Even I, skeptic extraordinaire, had a strange encounter that I cannot explain.  I was in the back of my church at the time in the sound booth watching a soap opera on my ipod (don’t judge; I was on the worship team, and it was my practice to goof off during the first sermon and listen piously to the second) when I got the strong feeling that someone was looking over my shoulder.  I turned around, but no one was there.  Shrugging it off (I’m remarkably incurious about things that happen in my vicinity.  It drives Mom crazy) I went back to watching All My Children.  But the feeling of having someone standing closely behind me never left, so a minute later I turned around again, thinking my mother, who worked sound, was standing nearby.  There was no one.  But that feeling just would not go away, so finally, I ripped out my earphones and shut off my ipod, and that’s when I heard it–voices speaking some language I couldn’t recognize right next to my ear.  I sat frozen for a spell, not really afraid but baffled in the extreme.  By the time it occurred to me I should try to write some of what I was hearing down so I could google it later, the voices started fading away.  The whole thing took maybe a minute.  At the time, I wasn’t sure who it was I’d heard, whether angels or demons or alien radio signals or maybe I’m just a bit nuts–enough to make me eccentric but not enough to warrant locking me up–but that experience still throws a bit of a wrench in my attempts to explain away the demonic forces written of in the Bible.  It may not make sense to me, but what do I know?  Very little, as it turns out.

Because this post needs more Buffy.  Source.

So I don’t know if a person playing the role of Satan exists or not.  My intuition says no, but I’m confounded all the time by how much more there is in heaven and on earth than is dreamt of in my philosophy.  Either way, I’m not sure it’s nearly as big a deal as some Christians make it out to be.  Whether you believe in demons or not, evil does exist.  This I know.  It takes many forms–from gossip to murder to poverty to drone strikes.  And we are called to fight it.  I think that’s the greater part of what it means to follow Jesus.  We rebuke the wickedness we find in ourselves and in the world, we agree that God’s will is good, and we work to live out that will where we are.  For me, the particulars of that mission are still rather hazy, but the goal is clear: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Amen.


2 thoughts on “Who or What is Satan?

  1. I think it matters from, at the least, a singular standpoint questioning whether the Bible is the inerrant, word of God, or if it is just a good book. If you believe Satan does not exist (in the Biblical form because I get friggin’ ticked at the typical form seen) then the Bible is no more than maybe a good book.

    That said, I think it is intellectually vacant to blame all evil in the world and all travesty on Satan. Holding that statement as true, I would also argue that it is inappropriate to believe that there is only Satan as a singular evil force on the earth. But even with demons factored in, it is inappropriate to blame all evil on Satan and “his” demons.

    “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” – James 1:14

    I think the only thing we can accurately “blame” on Satan is the provocation leading to the first sin in the garden.

    Just my two cents, for whatever it’s worth.

  2. I’m not sure that our only two options regarding the Bible is to hold it as inerrant or to dismiss it as just another good book. American evangelicalism often frames it that way, but considering the history of our faith, evangelicalism is very young. Many Christians from ancient times on have interpreted the Bible in ways other than “literally” (I put it in quotes because I’m not sure it’s even possible to take the entire Bible literally, even accounting for genre). C. S. Lewis took at least the first 11 chapters of Genesis, Jonah, and the book of Job to be mythical rather than historical. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t believe them to be the Word of God. He believed God used myths and folklore to communicate His message to mankind. Likewise, a lot of biblical scholars today acknowledge that the Bible contains historical inaccuracies and even immoral divine commands, but they continue to affirm that God speaks through what seems to human eyes to be a very flawed book.

    For myself, I’m only halfway there. Most of the people I know hold to inerrancy, and as long as it doesn’t lead them to be oppressive, I have no quibble with that. Personally, I cannot presently believe in the doctrine. I see too many errors, too many disturbing signs that fallible men have left their marks all over the Bible. I’m still trying to figure out how God speaks through all of that and how His word is authoritative for me. Those aren’t easy questions. How would you go about being a Christian if you didn’t have the Bible as a reliable guide? That’s pretty much where I’m at. I hope the Bible and I can come to an understanding, but I’m realizing that sometimes God likes to let us wrestle for a very long time.

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