Who is Satan and Should we Fear him?
All things truly wicked start from an innocence. Ernest Hemingway.
Lucifer. Satan. The Devil. Prince of Darkness. Beelzebub. God’s Enemy. Evil Incarnate. Belial. The fallen angel goes by a dozen names in a thousand different settings, but he almost always invokes the same response – fear. Who is Satan and why do we fear him so much? Our first recollection of him is the Garden of Eden. That sneaky serpent lured Eve into biting the apple, yet Eve takes the rap for it, bringing all of mankind to their perceived condemnation. How did he get away with that exactly? It’s the oldest trick in the book. By deflecting attention onto someone else – someone more vulnerable -- the guilty just sort of slink into the darkness and hide. And it worked. For thousands of years now, Eve has carried the torch of Satan’s diabolical handiwork about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Satan’s origins preceded the Bible, however. Josephus, one of the oldest recorded historians, wrote about factions and fighting, about traitors and looters, about the evil actions of men. The concept of evil came long before the fall of the one particular angel we now call the Prince of Darkness. The Hebrew term satan refers to an adversary – it does not refer to a specific being. And in fact, when Satan first appears in the Bible, he is just another one of God’s obedient angels. The Greek term diabolos, later translated as "devil, means "one who throws something across one’s path." It is clear to see that our earliest exposure to Satan in the Garden of Eden is just that. He was an adversary. He threw a monkey wrench into the game plan for Adam & Eve. He created an obstacle sufficient to alter the course of mankind.
All of the encounters with the satan in the Old Testament demonstrate that God used the satan as a tool. God allowed the satan to afflict Job with devastating loss in order to test his faith. The satan later retreated. Then the satan was blamed for the civil unrest and destruction brought about in King David’s reign. Yet it seems to be ignored that even God himself was angry enough to send another angel to destroy 70,000 Israelites with a plague. Read it. It’s all there in the book of I Chronicles. God Himself personified evil.
So when did Satan fall? What happened to cause the one we now call Satan to turn against God? As stories of the satan proliferated the Biblical era, so did stories about his fall. The Book of Isaiah suggests it is because the satan decided he would ascend to heaven and set his throne on high that God debunked him. In fact, the name Lucifer is translated from the Latin "light-bearer." Other stories suggest the fall was centered around lust. The Book of Genesis refers to angels that mated with human women and produced hybrids who later became demons and took over the earth. Other stories suggest that the satan refused to bow down to his younger sibling, Michael, and this jealously cost him his "status."
Against the history of evil itself, it is clear to see that the problem with evil began long before the fall. But what’s more important to see, is that the problem of evil began with those closest to Satan. The satan isn’t some enemy, far and away. He is the enemy among us. He is God’s own angel. He is your brother or sister. Your trusted colleague or co-worker. He is no outsider wanting in – he is already in – and this is exactly where he goes undetected until he wreaks havoc or throws obstacles into your path. He is the loyal person who suddenly turns jealous or hostile. He is the doting spouse who suddenly flies into a rage. He is the employee or colleague who has been there for you every step of the way, waiting for you to stumble so he can take over.
You might tend to think of the Prince of Darkness as this evil being that lives in a distant place. This natural tendency helps us feel safe. But Satan is very much in the thick of things. He is looking right back at you in the morning mirror and testing your faith on a daily basis. You might think you are a good person because you ‘do unto others’ or because you try to be good and go to church on Sundays. But you are not exempt. There is evil in all of us. There is a part of each of us that we must temper and control. There is a part of all of us that requires discipline and forgiveness in order that we might live with ourselves. Satan is the source of conflict within ourselves and within our communities. He is civil strife. He is war. He is discrimination. He is jealousy and hatred. He is road rage. He is selfishness and conceit. He is sibling rivalry. He is any tool that keeps you off balance and unproductive. Where Satan lives, is within all of us.
"The only thing necessary for evil to prevail, is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke
I had a dream several years ago. I dreamt that I was in a glass encased stairwell and something invisible picked me up at the bottom and rushed me to the top. I knew in my heart that this invisible thing was evil and intended to drop me to my death. So I began to pray, "the Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want." Terrified and paralyzed with total fear, I could not even recall the words to the prayer, so I just mumbled the same words over and over. "The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want." "The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want." Eventually, the invisible thing that picked me up in my dream, put me safely down again.
Years later I was talking to a pastor and I told him about my dream. When I recited the end where the evil spirit put me down, the pastor rather non-chalantly said, "that’s not what happened."
"What," I said defiantly. It was my dream. I knew what happened.
"No," he said. The devil didn’t put you down. The good Lord picked you up.
He was right. I am sure my dream in its metaphorical way was revealing to me some conflict in my life that I needed not fear, but I had missed the message. And here the message is the same. Evil is not to be feared. It is to be shunned. It is a part of each of us and the only way to prevent it from ruling the day is to recognize it and to confront it. Only in this way, can we overcome it.
It is much easier at all times to prevent an evil than to rectify mistakes. George Washington.
Fairly examined, truly understood, no man is wholly bad, nor wholly good. Theognis of Megara.
The only thing necessary for evil to prevail, is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke
The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. - Hannah Arendt.
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. - Henry David Thoreau
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness. - Joseph Conrad
The meaning of good and bad, of better and worse, is simply to ask whether you are helping or hurting. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil; With them forgive yourself. - William Shakespeare
The devil had he fidelity would be the best friend; Because he has ability - but devils cannot mend; Perfidy is the virtue that would but he resign The devil without question were thoroughly divine. - Emily Dickinson
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- The Yellowbrick Road to Immortality
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