Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The role of Satan in Christianity

“But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian’s daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?”
- Mark Twain



On Satan

Although he does not play a very large role or have an enormous presence in the Old Testament, at least according to Jewish interpretations of it, Satan is a central figure in Christianity. Different denominations have different views on what he does. The present view that is well accepted among theologians is heavily influenced and inspired by old but well-known literature such as the works of  Dante and Milton as well as the book of Revelations. As such, most theologians now believe that Satan is the enemy of both humanity and God who rebelled against God and was exiled as a result, taking a third of the angels with him. His reasons for rebelling, except that he liked being evil (a tad clichéd) because bad guys are cool (also clichéd), and he did it for the laughs, are unclear and suggested motivations for his rebellion vary between theologians. Usually it is accepted that he did it due to a pride or a desire for God's power. In the Old Testament Satan is part of the heavenly consort and is sometimes employed by God to test people’s faith (such as occurs in the book of Job, although that was a bet), there is no mention that he was exiled because he became power-hungry.

It is never explained why Satan thought it was a good idea to rebel against an all-powerful deity knowing he would fail, it makes him sound omni-stupid. It can be assumed that he was more than aware in the story that God was omnipotent and he [Satan] was not and must have known there was no way he could get away with anything unless God let him get away with it. Although it is frequently argued by theologians that humans are no different in the fact that we rebelled against God there is the major difference. That is,  Satan was in heaven  in the story and could see God and communicate face to face and not just through prayer (and Satan also had access to heaven, at least until, as per Christian belief, he was exiled).

God’s response to Satan’s rebellion  is also odd, he kicked him out and put him where he could cause the most trouble possible for humanity. It gets even weirder because although  Satan was thrown out for trying to usurp God, he was given Earth to have as his own kingdom which sounds like a really odd punishment considering the whole reason he was kicked out was for trying to make a kingdom his own. Couldn't Satan have been thrown onto some desolate, uninhabited rock as far away from Earth as possible? Why would God kick him down to Earth and allow him to roam to Earth contributing indirectly or directly depending on your take on Satan’s role, to hundreds of thousands of souls ending up in hell through his temptations? Again, God would have had complete foreknowledge of all of this if he were omniscient.

  • According to some eschatologists following the end-times, the devil will be brought to bear, chained and after a thousand years be released to tempt people again and he will, yet again, try to duel it out with God… Then lose. Again.
  • In the 4th chapter of Matthew Satan even tries to tempt Jesus with a kingdom, when Jesus already has one. In addition, Jesus is God. How is it remotely possible that he could fall for temptation, or even be tempted if he is God? If he was capable of being tempted then this would imply that God is capable of being tempted to sin and therefore able to sin which makes little sense.
  • The angels of the Old Testament are not portrayed as having free will. Satan even has to get permission to make Job’s life a hell, including sending a twister in his direction. This makes me question whether the interpretation that Satan was the snake in the Garden of Eden is very good because that would mean the devil had been given permission by God to bring about man’s fall and all the consequences that would befall Earth because of it, as blasphemous as it might sound it is as though God sold the Earth and humanity to the devil before deciding that was a bad idea. Indeed, some Christian denominations claim that the devil is the prince of this world.
  • Why would God create something with the predisposition to rebel and become his enemy, taking a number of angels with him and that then not stop it when it did so. This would suggest either God made Satan as powerful as, or more powerful, than he is by mistake which is definitely not in agreement with current theology, or God wanted Satan to rebel for unbeknownst reasons thereby making everyone’s life miserable. It does not really sound plausible either that an all-powerful god could make something stronger than themselves.
  • Interpretations of Satan’s followers are even weirder than interpretations of the devil. Widely popularised by Hollywood, they are seemingly incapable of doing anything except making people behave strangely, despite being presumably powerful otherworldly beings that were capable of causing significant destruction when ordered. One would think that they would be subtle if they didn't want God’s followers knowing they were around (although angels in the bible weren't always subtle). At least you'd think they'd be  more subtle than demons in Hollywood that seem to do nothing more than make objects behave in ways they normally would not or make people act in ways they normally would not.
  • There seems to be no consensus on Satan or his followers capacity to influence Christians. Many Christians upon hearing that another believer is doubting their faith will blame the doubt on Satan or a demon whispering into their ear. How he is able to do this when God, or the Holy Spirit (or other angels depending on the denomination you talk to) is supposed to be protecting them I’m not sure. If this could endanger the person’s faith, potentially leading to them ending up in Hell, and that is not what God wants (presumably) then how is this able to happen? Some Christians have claimed to have been troubled by the devil or demon and it has not gone until they told it to in Jesus name (something that the Bible says Christians can do). If God is protecting his followers it doesn’t explain how they were harassed by an evil spirit when he is more than capable of dealing with them and preventing that from happening in the first place.
  • It would also appear that Satan is omnipresent given his capacity to influence people or events in multiple places at once, it is not implied that he or angels are omnipresent in the Bible.