Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - Updated: 8:46 am
QUESTION: What does the Bible say about the devil?
ANSWER: Two preliminary concepts are important in determining how the Bible understands the devil. The first is the belief that God created everything and that nothing could have been created without God. The second is that God is essentially good and could not create evil. The consequence of these two beliefs, therefore, is that the evil (the devil) that exists in the world cannot be the result of God’s creative power, but rather some free choice of a created being.
With this as a foundation we can look at Satan within the Bible. In the Book of Job, Satan is among the “heavenly court.” Interestingly, he is present there not as an “evil one” but as the “tester.” His job was that of an accuser. He was a type of heavenly prosecutor whose function was to question and to test the genuineness of human virtue. To accomplish this, he had power to inflict suffering, sickness and natural catastrophe.
This function of Satan as the tester is reflected in various places in Scripture. Notably, it is found in Genesis, where he is the tester of Adam and Eve, but also of the prophet Zechariah, where he tests the high priest (3:1-2), and in 1 Chronicles, where he even tests King David (21:1).
The significant question remaining is how do we get from this rather benign picture of the devil as a tester to the view that he is completely evil? The New Testament Book of Revelation may be a helpful place to begin that answer.
In Chapter 12 (verses 7-10), we read of a “war” that broke out in heaven and how Michael and his angels battled against the great dragon. The Scripture goes on to say: “This huge dragon, the ancient serpent known as the devil or Satan the seducer of the whole world, was driven out.” The scene ends with the acclamation, “The accuser of our brothers is cast out, who night and day accused them before God.”
This event is described in the New Testament as “the star falling from heaven” (Revelation 9:1). Even Jesus uses a similar image when he says, “I watched Satan fall from the sky like lightning” (Luke 10:18). We also read: “Did God spare even the angels who sinned, he did not, he consigned them to the realms of darkness” (2 Peter 2:4). In addition, we read, “There were angels too who did not keep to their own domain, who deserted their dwelling place ...” (Jude, verse 6).
Jesus admits the existence of Satan and confronts him (for example, in the temptation in the desert and on numerous occasions when demons are cast out of individuals). For all of this, Scripture does not place a great deal of emphasis on the devil. Particularly in the New Testament, the great mystery of our redemption and salvation is so significant that all other power fades in comparison.
For us, Scripture sketches a vision of the devil that must be carefully understood. To admit the existence of the devil and to acknowledge that he has certain power is not at all to admit that we in turn are powerless.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.