The Echoes of the Mind (100-5) Satan


There are two great forces, God’s force of good and the Devil’s force of evil, and I believe Satan is alive and he is working, and he is working harder than ever, and we have many mysteries that we don’t understand. ~ American Christian evangelist Billy Graham

Shadow lurks beyond the reach of light. For God to truly shine there must be a force of darkness.

In Genesis, a serpent offers temptation in the garden of Eden. Being the weaker sex, Eve took the bait, of which then Adam did partake. So began the descent of man.

The serpent who tempted Eve is strongly associated with Satan, but many theologians think that the composition of Genesis predates the idea of the Devil. The serpent is simply a manifestation of evil.

Satan had only a bit part in the Old Testament: not as an opponent of God, but rather as an adversary, as exemplified in the book of Job. Passages alluding to Lucifer’s fall can be found in the books Isaiah and Ezekiel.

In but a few books of the New Testament is Satan given the briefest mention. More often there are only allusions to a dark force. “The ancient serpent called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world,” rears up in Revelations [12:9] for a flyby as the evil force that is foe to all those that fear God and love Jesus.

Satan supposedly started as a cherub: one of God’s most powerful angels. At some point – eternal Heaven not known for its timekeeping – Satan got uppity and rebelled against God. The book of Job suggests that Satan went bad between the creation of Earth and the turning of mud into Adam (and Eve’s fabrication from Adam’s rib).

Satan must have been devilishly persuasive, as he rallied 1/3rd of the angels to his cause.

An apology for the Devil – it must be remembered that we have only heard one side of the case. God has written all the books. ~ Samuel Butler

The rebels – the Devil and his demons – were cast out. Eternally trendy, they moved to Hell well before humans torched this paradise planet.

The descent of the Devil in scripture started with the Vulgate, a 4th-century translation of The Bible into Latin. There Satan is transcribed into both the Old and New Testaments. Beginning in the 5th century, interpreters began to apply the Vulgate denotation of Lucifer as being the ultimate agent behind all unearthly malice.

4th-century Augustine of Hippo took demons seriously. He wrote that demons had winged bodies endowed with “keenness of perception and speed of movement” which allowed them to foretell the future and perform miraculous acts. (Augustine’s description of demons was later developed in the concocting of the vampire Dracula.) Such prowess, Augustine observed, led some “to serve the demons and to render them divine honors.”

Augustine inspired medieval stories of selling one’s soul to Satan in return for certain powers. The most famous is the 1592 stage play by English playwright Christopher Marlowe which birthed the common phrase: Faustian bargain.

The graphic depiction of the Devil also evolved. A 6th-century mosaic shows the Last Judgment, where Satan appears as an ethereal blue angel. In the centuries that followed, Lucifer gained animalistic traits that trace back to earlier religions.

Ancient Babylonian texts describe wicked demons called Lilitu: winged females which flew through the night, seducing men and attacking pregnant women and infants. In the Hebrew tradition this demoness became Lilith, Adam’s first wife. Lilith came to embody lust and other ungodly traits later linked to the Devil.

Beelzebub – “Lord of the Flies” – began as a Philistine or Canaanite god. The Philistines (Phoenicians in actuality) were a people in conflict with the ancient Hebrews, and so were cast as evil beings. Beelzebub is sometimes attributed to the Canaanites, which was a Hebrew ethnic catchall for people to be exterminated. (Canaan was a Semitic-speaking region in the Levant during the 2nd millennium bce. Canaanite is an endonym for the people of that region. In Old Testament usage Canaanite meant non-Hebrew.) (The later Christian ideal of compassion was an alien concept to the hard-pressed ancient Hebrews.) Cultural attribution aside, Beelzebub was named in the Old Testament (2 Kings) as a false idol that Hebrews must shun.

Classical influences also played a role in the crafting of the Christian Devil. As Christianity took root in the Roman world, early worshipers rejected the pagan gods as evil spirits. Pan – half goat, half man – was a lusty god of Nature with carnal appetites which made him easily despicable to God-fearing and sexually-repressed Christians. Pan’s horns and cloven hooves became graphically synonymous with sin in the images medieval artists made of Satan. Augustine’s account of the Devil granted him wings (depicted as bat-like, naturally).

The Devil was pervasive during the Middle Ages, responsible for all manner of misfortune and illness. Mental illness in particular was seen as demonic possession.

It was believed the Jesus had exorcised demons; a nasty task taken on by medieval priests in his name. Manuals were written on the proper practice of exorcism during the Middle Ages.

The medieval representation of Hell grows out of the core Christian belief that Jesus Christ will return to Earth and humanity will be judged: the Last Judgment. Those who are saved will ascend to Heaven. The undeserving remainder will be ushered to Hell, which is ruled by Satan and overseen by his army of demons. There the damned face an eternity of torment. In the meantime – before the Last Judgment – souls are judged, and their eternities decided when they shuffle off the mortal coil.

The Scientific Revolution scoured at Satan, but the Devil did not utterly succumb; believers hung onto the Devil as a wicked counterweight to God’s goodness.

Times change. Whereas all Christians believe in God, Satan is a sour sell nowadays. Only evangelicals think the Devil is real, though most Christians still believe that a person can come under the influence of spiritual forces, such as demons or evil spirits.

Angels are a much different confection. Most Americans believe in angelic spirits: 97% of evangelical Christians do. Unsurprisingly, belief in angels drops as education level rises.

Temptation is the Devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in. ~ American evangelical Christian preacher Billy Sunday