Editor's Note: Clarion will be posting Michael Hardin's 20-episode series (excerpted from What the Facebook? vol. 1) on The Satan as a weekly release, each Thursday. CLICK HERE for the full pdf or kindle document.
(9) Once More: Worldviews
Worldviews are the presuppositions about reality that we bring to our understanding of what “is” without realizing that they inform all we think and even how we think. In that previous post I wrote “None of us come to Scripture as blank slates. We all come to Scripture informed by our worldviews. A worldview is the way we have been taught to see and interpret existence. All of us have been raised in different environments, with different educations, values and beliefs about reality. These all form our worldview. When we disagree about theological ideas it is usually not the things we are actually discussing but it is a clash of our underlying worldviews.”
As I have noted, our understanding of what constitutes a ‘person’ informs our understanding of the devil. I have (in summary form to be sure) argued that the devil is a concept with a history, not a being created by God, whether good or evil. When the biblical writers speak of the devil in ‘personal’ terms that is because this is part of their supernatural worldview; they had no other way or categories by which to describe evil. Evil, when done to us, feels very personal. Little wonder then that as the Old Testament sought to understand evil it would at times use personal categories.
There are various understandings of the satan in the Jewish world. There is first of all God as the Creator of all that is good and all that is evil as we find in Isaiah 45. This is a rather deterministic worldview but its importance is only in contrast to the background of the dualism of Persian religion where good and evil are co-equal powers that struggle back and forth for eternity. By saying God is the Creator of evil Isaiah is also asserting God’s authority over evil. The Prologue of Job portrays the satan as part of the heavenly court; the function of the satan is to watch out for troublemakers who would bring dishonor to the heavenly King. The satanic function is a purely negative one and it is this figure’s “job” to test humans to see if they are worthy of divine favor. Evil in this experience can be attributed to life “tests” that we go through to test our fidelity.
With the advent of the apocalyptic worldview in the third century before Jesus, the split between this evil age and the good age to come, evil became a king in its own right. The satan in this way of thought was the ruler of a host of demonic forces that plagued the world, taught humans evil skills, wreaked havoc among the faithful. The function of the satanic was to lead people away from God’s holy Torah and thus God’s blessing. This worldview divided humanity into two groups, the in group which would be saved after much tribulation and the rest who would be doomed to perdition. Here, evil is a pervasive reality that must be constantly guarded against and the best way to guard against evil is to study Torah.
There is another viewpoint of the satan in the Bible: the satan was conceived of as the evil impulse (Hebrew: ha yetzer). The New Testament writer Paul is the one person who has done the most vigorous thinking on this subject. As we begin to work through Paul’s understanding of evil, we shall see that while Paul retains the apocalyptic worldview, he has altered its structure to bring it in line with the rabbinic anthropological view that evil is a purely human phenomenon. He does this in a surprising way and so this is fair warning that the next few posts will be a real challenge to those who would still retain the Henochic worldview as though this was taken over lock, stock and barrel in the New Testament. The question we must examine through several posts is how does Paul understand the relation of the satan, evil, corrupted desire and the Torah for they all belong together in his thinking. There is an internal logic to all this that is easily missed by us who read the Bible some 2,000 years later for we do not think like first century Jews. In preparation for these future posts I encourage you to read Genesis 2-4 and then Romans 7. We are about to see that Paul’s thinking on this subject will totally alter most contemporary Christian understanding and release us to see clearly just how it is that Jesus has defeated sin, the devil and death in his crucifixion and resurrection. If these posts can be compared to a roller coaster, then we are finally at the top of the beginning of the ride. Hold on tight, for that first big drop is coming.