The Devil You Say

It is initially curious to some that fundamentalists will say, in their statements of faith, that they believe in a personal devil. At first glance it might appear to be a statement about the inspiration of the Bible — since the devil is such an obvious reality in Scripture, and since the liberals were engaged in denying the authority of Scripture, this would be a good litmus test to detect any incipient liberalism. And it is a good litmus test. The devil is obviously more than a vague miasma.

And so put me down with the fundies as believing in a personal devil, and in a real Hell. At the same time, this is a subject where a lot of extrabiblical traditions have gotten mixed in with what the Bible teaches. Here are just few areas where we need to look more closely.

First, the devil is not God’s opposite. God has no opposite. To affirm this is to fall into a kind of Manichean dualism, with two eternal principles at war with each other — good and evil. As Lewis points out, the devil is a fallen creature, and if he has an opposite it would be someone like the archangel Michael.

Second, the common conflation of names for him has to be carefully reviewed. Satan and Lucifer are common enough, but the biblical case there is tenuous. Possible, but tenuous. Beelzebub and Belial are others. We tend to lump them all together, and we might be right. But we might not.

Third, he is not mentioned by name in the account of our first parents, but his presence there is implied. In Genesis, he is the “serpent.” But his presence there is confirmed by statements in the New Testament. John tells that he was involved in instigating the murder of Abel by Cain. In Revelation, he is called “that ancient dragon.” And in Romans, Paul applies to Satan the prophecy that was made against the serpent in Gen. 3:15. May the God of peace soon crush Satan beneath your feet.

Fourth, he is not the king of Hell. Jesus is the king of Hell. The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. Contrary to popular cartoons, demons are not the jailers and tormentors in Hell, but are among the tormented.

Fifth, this place of final torment is Gehenna, Hell, the lake of fire. It is not Hades, the intermediate place of the dead, called Sheol in the Old Testament. In Revelation, we are told that death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. Jesus, as the Creed accurately tells us, descended into Hades. He did not descend into Gehenna.

Sixth, the fact that the devil is a personal devil, having a genuine independent reality, does not keep him from being a spirit. He is the prince of the power of the air. The ability of demons to possess a man, as in the case of Legion, and numerous other New Testament examples, means that the structure of a devil’s personal identity is conducive to linking up with the spirit of a man. Where does the devil live? What is a conducive environment for him? He lives in the cloud of envy and accusation that the unconverted human heart so easily generates.

And last, the devil and his angels were definitively thrown down from their position of power in the death of Jesus. As Colossians tells us, Jesus triumphed over them by His death. We are told in Hebrews that Jesus, through His death, destroyed him who had the power of death, that is the devil. But the fact that the devil was defeated in the cross does not mean that he was vaporized in the cross. He had his ability to deceive the nations taken away, thus making way for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But after his defeat on the cross, in the pages of the New Testament, we still find him active — Paul says we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.

 

 

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