The Reality of Satan


Since I go to Haiti every year to teach Spiritual Warfare I have a perennial interest in how others view the topic.

This came out of the local paper this morning and I had to share it. All in all it’s a fairly accurate representation of what I’ve found to be true in the past.

Could it be Satan? Even among Christians, the Evil One is often viewed as just a symbol

By STEVE ARNEY – Lee News Service Writer

In art and most media, Satan is a vicious creature, usually red with pointed ears or horns and sometimes with a forked tail.

In the Bible, Satan is represented as a serpent and a dragon but also as a more alluring, less fear-inducing seducer. In 2 Corinthians, a book attributed to the Apostle Paul, the writer warns that “for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”

Year-round in America, Satan gets blamed for many evils. But in the minds of most people, he doesn’t exist.

The Barna Group, a California-based Christian research firm, found the following in a U.S. survey this year:

* 55 percent view Satan as symbolic of evil rather than a real entity.

* 45 percent of born-again Christians don’t believe Satan is real.

* 68 percent of Catholics think of Satan only as a symbol.

Studies in previous years produced similar findings, Barna reports.

As the Catholic Church and most houses of worship for born-again believers espouse the reality of demons and a demon lord, spiritual leaders find the survey troubling, said David Kinnaman, Barna’s vice president.

“It’s quite a conundrum for many church leaders, and it’s not limited to Satan,” said Kinnaman. “People tend to pick and choose teachings that feel right and fit. It’s sort of a smorgasbord.”

It might be shocking, had Barna not found similar results over decades, said Kinnaman. But the group, which leans to conservative church teachings, finds it nonetheless alarming. It is a sign of syncretism – that is, the blending of faith with culture.

Barna’s vice president concludes that the survey shows an American cultural bias toward spiritual optimism – picking to accept teachings about goodness while choosing against believing in evil supernatural beings. Further, Kinnaman said, the survey may reflect a wide but shallow faith in America.

As the Catholic Church and virtually all churches categorized as being for “born-again” Christians espouse a literal demonic world, church leaders evidently aren’t persuading the congregations, if they are teaching the subject at all.

Barely one in four churchgoing teenagers surveyed for a separate study recalled hearing a church lesson on the supernatural in the past year – meaning, said Kinnaman, “either they (churches) didn’t teach it or it wasn’t compelling or penetrating.”

It is not just Christian adults who regard Satan as metaphor.

If taken at their word, even many Satanists regard the devil as symbolic. The Church of Satan, for example, states a disbelief in supernatural beings, as does an offshoot, the First Church of Satan. These churches espouse that Satan represents indulgence, self-gratification and vengeance – all good things, in their view. What many regard as sin, the satanic churches have addressed as desirable fun to be sought with gusto.

Other Satanists, Theistic Satanists, worship Satan as a deity.

Pastor Jeff VanGoethem, who heads East White Oak Bible Church north of Normal, said he isn’t familiar with the particular satanic churches. But he said one of the central character traits of Satan is lying. And an apparent tactic of the evil one, he said, is to make people think he doesn’t exist.

If people don’t think he’s real, they won’t flee from him and are more likely to “blunder into enslaving sin” such as drug addiction, VanGoethem said.

And Scott Sherwood, from First Church of the Nazarene in east Bloomington, notes that very few people are prone to worship Satan outright. “But almost everyone is prone to be a self-worshipper.”

In the Bible, Satan is a tempter, and Jesus is among those he tempted. In a move that Eastview Christian Church Associate Pastor Mike Baker calls “going for the jugular,” Satan tried to destroy Jesus’ ministry just as he began it, the Bible teaches.

Jesus gets baptized, then goes into the wilderness and fasts. Satan appears at the end of the 40-day fast. As told in Matthew, the dialogue went like this:

Satan: “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

Jesus: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple.

Satan: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus: “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Satan brought Jesus to a mountain to show him the world’s kingdoms.

Satan: “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

Jesus: “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”

Throughout the episode, Satan is appealing to the human in Jesus in an attempt to make him stumble, said Baker.

Sexing up sin, lying, denying his own existence, Satan is a master of human psychology in a world in which man’s selfishness and circumstance cannot account for all the evil, said VanGoethem.

But preachers also warn of another danger: Overly blaming bad events on Satan.

“We try hard to not give him more credit than he deserves,” said Sherwood.

And Baker added, “Sometimes life is just life. Bad things do happen to good people.”

Steve Arney can be reached at sarney@pantagraph.com.