Posted by: gmscan | November 16, 2011

Where Did Satan Go?

I have said here before that God communicates to me through the books I read. That is how I came to Christ – for several years every book I read was pointing me in that direction.

These days whenever I have a question about Jesus or my faith or what I should be doing next, that very night I will read something – usually on an unrelated topic – that answers the question. It takes my breath away how reliable that has become.

Last week I started pondering what has become of Satan? My men’s group has been reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, which I have reviewed here before. We were on the second chapter, which addresses “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?” Keller’s answer in pretty good, but what I didn’t realize before is that he doesn’t even mention Satan. Isn’t that odd? There is in the world an evil force that promotes and celebrates suffering, and Keller doesn’t say a word about it.

This force lies to us, tempts us, appeals to our basest instincts. I feel it every day. I see what it does to people I know and people I just hear about. People like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears – sad, lost young women who are crying out for help. Are they not possessed by the very same kinds of demons Christ was dealing with 2,000 years ago?

When I reviewed Keller’s book, I said it was a Mere Christianity for our times. I take that back. C.S. Lewis took Satan very seriously. He wrote:

“One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe – a mighty evil spirit, who was held to be the power behind death and disease and sin.”

Lewis said that this Dark Power actually rules the world, and we Christians are like commandoes dropped behind enemy lines.

Another book a friend gave me expands on this. The book is The Invisible War, written in 1965 by Donald Gray Barnhouse, pastor of the 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Dr. Barnhouse reminds us that Satan tempted even Christ by offering him dominion over the world. But how could Satan offer this unless he already owned it?

This world is evil and lost because it is run by Satan. Yet Keller doesn’t mention it. Then I started looking back on all of the other popular contemporary books on Christianity I have read recently  – The Shack, What’s So Amazing About Grace? The Language of God – none of them have a word to say about Satan.

So what happened to Satan between 1965 and today? Where did he go? Do you think he gave up? Or are today’s Christian writers simply afraid of mentioning him? Are they so fearful of being mocked by characters like the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live that they are censoring themselves?

Then last week I decided to take a break from reading religious books. Bill O’Reilly was offering a deal – buy his Killing Lincoln and he would throw in Lis Wiehl’s new novel Waking Hours for free. When the package arrived I decided to read Wiehl’s book first. It would be nice to get lost in a nice suspenseful murder mystery for a few days.

So I was reading it and enjoying it more than I expected to, and guess who shows up at the end? Satan himself. Clearly and explicitly. Here is some of the dialogue between the two protagonists –

“Suppose for a second she wasn’t raving. What was she trying to warn us about?”

“Satan?”

“Yes,” Tommy said. “So let’s assume for one second that Abigail Gardner isn’t completely off her rocker. What’s Satan’s chief distinguishing characteristic? Satan, the great . . . ?”

“Deceiver,” Dani said.”

“Right,” Tommy said. “And it’s not like he’s some Las Vegas lounge magician pulling quarters out of people’s ears. He’s not in it just to fool people. He wants to destroy God’s work. To destroy souls. To destroy everything. God gives us free will, but Satan actively tricks and lies and manipulates. He wants us to destroy ourselves. So suppose we’ve been deceived by the master of all deceivers, who wants us to destroy ourselves.”

Astonishing. A mystery writer is willing to go where theologians are apparently afraid to tread.

I will come back to this in future blogs, but for now I just want to ask you – what about Satan? What about evil in our world? Not just error, not just corruption, but active, hungry evil that doesn’t rest until souls are destroyed? As Christians, shouldn’t we be naming it for what it is? Shouldn’t we be confronting it?

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Responses

  1. Yes, we should be acknowledging him for who he is.

  2. It seems to suit satan just fine to do his dirty work in the shadows and not be mentioned by those who walk in light. Just a little light dispels darkness….and Jesus can dismiss satan by His name. In Screwtape Letters Lewis tells of satan’s tricks. We as Christians do need to know our enemy. He is not going away but we are given the armor and weapons to deal with him.

  3. In Pirke Avot, The Ethics of our Fathers, part of the Oral Torah, it states “If fear of sin precedes wisdom, then wisdom will endure.
    If wisdom precedes fear of sin, then wisdom will not endure.
    We need to have a healthy, realistic fear of sinning.
    The causes are both external and internal.
    Satan lurks without and within.
    By honestly seeing our weaknesses, we have a better chance of dealing with them.
    But, if we are arrogant enough to think our wisdom can overcome sin, we are headed for self destruction.
    Jews do not belove in original sin, but we do believe in the original inclination to sin (the yetzer hara), which is stronger than the good inclination.
    This again is a healthy view of sin and Satan, for they are formidable adversaries.
    Don Levit

  4. It is very clear that Jesus both believed in and frequently actively opposed Satan. Acts 10:38 tells us, “that He (Jesus) went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with Him.” Back in my medical days, I had many encounters with patients who were clearly “oppressed by the devil.” Scott Peck, in his book, “People of the Lie” writes about his experiences in this area. In the mid-80’s I also penned a book, “Renewing The Mind,” that outlined my understanding and experience in dealing with these issues within the lives of my patients. In my experience people who don’t mention Satan/the devil usually don’t expect God to show up in supernatural ways either.

  5. Wonderful question: IMHO he didn’t go anywhere.

    “Satan actively tricks and lies and manipulates”

    That is the key. The evil we do is the evil we do and we remain responsible for it. It would be wrong to attribute the evil people do to Satan. One theologian I knew put it this way, after reading Job: “Satan is the proctor of the exam. He has permission from God to put us to the test”.

    From the spiritual retreat, to the pinnacle of the temple. to the mountain top. When we are being most religious, that is where he finds us.

    The Church is always being put to the test. To see what we will DO.

    Some people do evil without even being tempted.


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