Thursday, May 21, 2009

Satan

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Satan:

Q: Is the Devil a real being, a mythical character, or a symbol of evil in the world?

The Bible describes a being, most frequently called Satan or the Devil, who is portrayed as the originator of sin and evil in the world. Other names, such as Lucifer or Beelzebub, are also used in reference to this being, as well as “prince of this world,” “god of this world,” “evil one,” and other descriptive phrases. His work is described as accusing (Zechariah 3:1-2) and tempting (1 Chronicles 21:1) humans.

The Bible tells us some things about Satan with clarity and certainty. He was originally created by God as an angel. At some point after the heavens and earth were created (Genesis 1-2), he led a rebellion in heaven against God, and he was cast out of heaven, along with one third of the angels, because they had followed him in rebelling against God (Revelation 12). These angels are now known as demons. The images of a red, hoofed, devil with a pitchfork and horns are based more in human imagination than Biblical teaching. Instead, Satan and the demons are spiritual beings without bodies.

After he was cast out of heaven, Satan took on the appearance of a serpent in order to tempt the first humans, Adam and Eve, to sin against God (Genesis 3). They followed his temptation, and Satan and the demons continue to tempt humans even today. However, contrary to popular opinion, the primary goal of Satan and his demons is not specifically to entice humans to immoral behavior, but rather to persuade them to regard anything more highly than the One True God and to trust in anything other than Jesus for salvation. (2 Peter 3:8-9) Satan personally tempted Jesus during the 40 days He spent in the wilderness after being baptized (Matt. 4, Luke 4), by attempting to persuade Him away from His mission of being sacrificed for the sin of the world.

Greek and Roman mythology described a wide variety of gods, some good and some evil. In light of this framework, it is a common misunderstanding that the Christian God is the “good god” and Satan is the “evil god,” and that they are in competition with one another. In contrast, the Bible teaches that there is only one God and that Satan is merely one of his creatures gone bad. While Satan is the enemy of humans and of God, he is not an equal adversary. He has already been defeated by Jesus (Colossians 2:15) and is awaiting eternal punishment (Revelation 20). In contrast to a related misunderstanding, Satan is also not the ruler of the place of eternal punishment. Although he is often imagined to be the one in charge of Hell, tormenting its captives, he is actually one of the inmates rather than its ruler.

The Bible often describes a far different Satan than centuries of human imagination have led us to envision. In spite of the fact that many people have attempted to portray this biblical character as symbolic or mythical, the Bible clearly describes him as being an actual spiritual being. Although he is real and has some degree of power, he is infinitely inferior to the True God, and those who trust Jesus for salvation need have no fear of Him.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to revjpeterson@yahoo.com or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

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