A friend and mentor of mine, Dave Bland, reflected on the scene in Revelation 12 where a great red dragon tries to devour the baby of the pregnant woman. The issue for Dave and for us is whether we truly acknowledge the presence and existence of evil in our world and how Satan impacts us, influences us, and even interacts with us.
Our culture refuses to believe in the reality of evil in the world. Often, we simply deny Satan’s existence and relegate him to an archaic religious or Christian tradition. Some see him as an outdated idea, an unrealistic figure, and a figment of our creative imagination. The devil’s cleverest trick, however, is to convince people he does not exist.
Many see Satan, or the Devil, as a playful figure. He is confined to the nether worlds. He is a guy that is easily spotted because he's in this red suit with a pitchfork in his hands and he has horns (especially during Halloween). Satan is nothing more than a cartoonish boogeyman. We lightheartedly sing: "If the devil doesn't like it, he can sit on a tack.” And we jokingly say on occasion when we do something ornery, "The devil made me do it." We associate mischievousness with Satan. We have difficulty taking Satan seriously.
Additionally, sometimes people simply psychologize Satan. Evil is associated with our mental or emotional ailments. Evil is within not without. Evil is confined to human imperfections and mistakes. While it is true that sin resides within us as humans, evil is not confined to the human mind. That too makes Satan anemic. He’s nothing more than a personal or mental problem.
But for those who do acknowledge the existence of Satan, and by extension evil, we still carry some problematic misunderstandings about Satan. To start, some believe that God and Satan have the equal amount of power. So it becomes a back and forth ongoing battle between them, like the Greek myths of the gods battling one another. But Satan, though powerful, is not a god. He does not have the power God possesses.
For others, even Christians, the reality of Satan’s power strikes fear in their hearts. They live out their Christian lives in constant fear of being assaulted by these demonic powers. A popular novel some years back was This Present Darkness (1986) by Frank Peretti. Peretti presents the reality of demons in the world and their constant assault on Christians. It is good in that he portrays the reality of these evil powers in our world. But it is wrong in depicting Christians as always looking over their shoulder, living in constant fear as if we're on a tight rope ready to fall at any moment if we let our guard down. But Christians do not live life in and out of fear. We do not obsess about devils and demons. Christians live their lives with confidence and with joy. Our lives are not characterized by perpetual fear.
Sometimes we connect Satan, and evil, to stereotypes so we can project demonic qualities onto others we don’t like or we project evil on another ethnic group and call them Satan. That enables us to confine Satan to our stereotypes. The result is twofold: (1) it results in horrendous injustices to others, (2) it does not take Satan seriously.
Lastly, A misunderstanding of Satan can lead us away from taking responsibilities for our own sins and misbehaviors. When confronted by God in the garden, Eve said, “The serpent tricked me” pointing the blame to someone else. She was simply a victim of someone’s trickery. If Satan is the cause then we don’t need to change. We excuse behavior with the old “The Devil made me do it,” and give ourselves a free pass on sin.
So, are the advantages of believing in Satan? Sure, I believe there are advantages like causing us to realize that evil is not to be taken lightly. It is a powerful force in the world. Second, evil is more than individual acts of wrongdoing. Evil is not just within the human being. Evil has a life of its own. It affects institutions, organizations, and nations. This is part of the difficulty in trying to correct social injustices. Evil doesn’t reside in the individual alone. It is part of a larger social, political, and religious system. Lastly, Let me remind you of Eph. 6:12: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
Revelation 12 ends with the dragon, that is Satan the embodiment of evil, leaving to wage war with those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (could be seen as the church). In what ways can we encourage each other as Satan wages this war? Should we be surprised when we face persecution or hardship? How can we keep holding to the commandments of God when faced by Satan’s persecution within the institutions, organizations, and nations (not to mention the personal stuff)?
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.