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Hollywood has a bit of a fascination with the satan. Films have depicted it as a horrid monster, as an angel with wings and horns and as a human being (Al Pacino no less). Films like Constantine or The Exorcist owe little to the canonical scriptures and more to the second Temple Jewish literature, medieval speculation and fear, Dante and the writings of the Puritans. I say this to show that while there is a lot of speculation about the satan, there is little that we can actually say for the devil is not a prominent figure in the Bible.
Other than the prologue to the book of Job, a reference in Chronicles and one in Zechariah one does not find much in the Hebrew Scriptures. Even the serpent of Genesis 3 hardly qualifies. The Henochic (= 1 Enoch) myth of the fallen watchers has to be imported somewhere between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 much like dinosaurs have to be read back into the creation narrative. The devil does just not play a major part in Israel’s story.
When we come to the New Testament, there is a definite change. Jesus casts out demons and the world seems enthralled and under the power of evil. This is all due to the influence of apocalyptic watcher myth of I Enoch. In this literature the satan goes by many names including Beelzebub, Samma’el or the ‘diabolos.’ It is at the head of a hierarchy complete with generals, lieutenants, colonels, sergeants and minions.
One of the striking elements of the Henochic (I Enoch) myth is that after the rebellion of a certain number of angelic beings, judgment is passed and they are all consigned to eternal punishment. However, they send an emissary to God pleading that a small percentage of them may remain behind to plague humanity, and worse still, God seems to acquiesce to their request. One has to ask, what kind of a God, having passed such a judgment would then turn and allow this to occur. It would be like a person who had cancer being cured but because the faith healer felt sorry for the cancer allowed some cancer cells to remain and reinvigorate the disease! Strange.
Hollywood’s depiction of the devil owes more to popular cultural experience and ancient and medieval speculation than it does to Scripture. Films often depict the satan as an almost-god; one with extraordinary powers that rival God’s powers and in some films even outdoes God’s power. The devil is a virtual equivalent of God, a most powerful being complete, not only with armies, but with personality, something the Bible never ascribes to the satan.
This dualistic approach to the satan, creating a worldview of some divine yin and yang, or equal opposites of good and evil in the universe is not that of Scripture. If in the Hebrew Bible, there is very little mention of the satan, in the New Testament, the satan is most frequently mentioned in contexts of defeat. So how is it that entire Christian traditions can make such a fuss over the devil? Entire industries have arisen and there is a lot of money to be made off of the devil. Exorcism schools, like that of Bob Larson, movies, books, websites, music and even the so-called satanic church all profit off of a myth, yet people continue to believe that there is some virtually omnipresent, omniscient being capable of making us all spin our heads and vomit pea green soup.
I am not mocking those who have had genuine encounters with evil. I will discuss these in upcoming posts. For now I simply want to debunk an unhealthy emphasis placed on the satan in certain Christian circles. Christians do not believe in the devil, they believe in Jesus, conqueror of all evil, in all of its forms, including whatever we may understand by the satanic. Christians need not fear “the satan” anymore than they fear a thunderstorm. Perfect love not only casts out the demonic, it also casts out all of our irrational fears.
Next Episode: (3) God the Creator and The satan