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  • Jun30Tue

    The Devil Made Me Do It

    Is Satan real or just the personification of evil? June 30, 2009 by Major Geoff Ryan
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    snakeandapple“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”
    —Shakespeare, Ninety Fourth Sonnet

    “No theodicy that does not take the Devil fully into consideration is likely to be persuasive.”
    —Jeffrey B. Russell, Mephistopheles

    Have you heard of Flip Wilson? He was the first African-American comedian to get his own prime time TV variety show. It aired from 1970-1974. My brother and I used to watch The Flip Wilson Show regularly—we loved it—and avidly followed the antics of Reverend Leroy of “The Church of What's Happening Now” his parishioner, Geraldine, and her imaginary boyfriend, Killer. Geraldine's most famous line was, “The Devil made me do it!” It became a national expression and part of our lexicon as we grew up. We used it as an excuse when we got ourselves into a jam and even now, 35 years after the show went off the air, if you mention Flip Wilson to anyone old enough to remember the show, they will immediately say, “The Devil made me do it!”

    The Geraldinistas
    That line is a succinct description of one of the three main approaches to the idea of Satan among Christians. The “Geraldinistas,” as I call them, shift responsibility for their issues off themselves and onto Satan. Geraldinistas need someone to blame when they mess up. As a rationale for weakness, brokenness and sin, you simply can't beat Satan. Salvation Story, The Salvation Army's Handbook of Doctrine, contains only two references to Satan (as does Paul's Epistle to the Romans, his theological Magnus Opus). One of these references is a warning to Geraldinistas: “The role of Satan indicates the pervasiveness and power of evil in our world, though it does not absolve us from our responsibility for sin.”

    Geraldinistas talk about Satan a lot. He pops up all the time in their sermons. Their songs are full of warrior imagery. I call them “statement-of-intent” songs—always looking toward some soon-to-be-realized future when we are going to actually do all the things we sing about doing. In Satan's case, it's usually about what we are going to do when we finally get hold of him: rebuke him, cast him out, tie him up and generally lay a good beating on him. Personally, I wouldn't pick a fight with him, especially if he's the same guy the Geraldinistas think him to be, as he seems powerful, prone to extreme violence and as scary as the place he lives in!
    The problem of evil is powerful enough in each of us, so why would I take on someone as fearsome as a wayward angel?

    In subscribing to this view of Satan, Geraldinistas not only sidestep responsibility for their personal failings, they also give themselves permission to hate. Followers of Jesus are supposed to love and never hate, but Satan represents an “acceptable hate” for the Geraldinistas. In the same way that leaders and society demonize certain people—such as Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or pedophiles—the Church permits an outlet for our hate, too, when it comes to Satan. With clear consciences we can sing about tying Satan up like an inmate of Abu Ghraib and righteously stomping on him like a gang of Christian skinheads. It raises the question of whether it is ever acceptable for a Christian to hate someone, even Satan. The Bible gives us no indication that God hates Satan; he hates the sin but not the sinner, and always plays by his own rules (love) and never Satan's (hate). Are we permitted to act differently?

    The Satanatheists
    At the other end of the Satan spectrum sit the “Satanatheists.” They completely deny the existence of Satan. Taking issue with “the personification of evil,” they focus exclusively on the problem with people. And they can make a fairly good argument from Scripture.

    In the Genesis account of the Fall, Satan made his first appearance in the form of a snake, although he is never referred to as Satan but simply as the serpent, which is odd in a book where names are of paramount importance. From that point on, Satan doesn't figure much in the Old Testament, aside from the Book of Job. God is referenced frequently because the Old Testament is really the story of God's interaction with his creation. All the bad stuff, all the evil, is being done by us—by people. Satan is not needed as we seem to mess things up enough ourselves. In the few Old Testament references there are to Satan, his title is always preceded by a definite article, as in “The Satan,” which literally means “The Adversary”—more a title than a name, more a concept than a person.

    Satan, as many understand him now, really emerged in the New Testament period. As the Israelites evolved from idolatry through monolatry to monotheism, gradually the other gods were discredited and cast aside, sometimes quietly and sometimes with epic fanfare (for example, Elijah versus the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:16-40). The heavens, in a sense, became depopulated and only Yahweh was left. He was alone in the palace with no retainers, no retinue, no court, which was hard for the ancients to understand. The only frame of reference they had were their own kings and potentates. How could the heavenly King, the King of kings, have no court? This brought the angels and other heavenly beings to the forefront. And since the old gods were always fighting each other, as were earthly kings, it further stood to reason that God had an adversary, who also had fallen angels in his court, which brings us to Satan and his demons.

    The Satanostics
    The third approach, I suspect, is where the majority of Christians land. I call them the “Satanostics.” These are people who believe in Satan's existence, but don't think much about his presence. Satanostics find enough references to him in Scripture that they can't fully dismiss the possibility of his existence, so they decide to live with the contradictions and incongruities. For example, how can the Spirit of God and the spirit of Satan co-exist in one human body as in those who are “possessed”? They take some intellectual comfort from believing that when evil is unspeakably immediate, there is a reason beyond our own fallen natures. Many secularists occupy this middle ground and blame Satan when faced with incomprehensible evil.

    I'm not really comfortable with the Geraldinistas. I have some sympathy with the Satanatheists. Ultimately, I am most comfortable with the Satanostics. I'm not willing to dismiss Satan outright (having taken to heart
    C. S. Lewis' admonishment in The Screwtape Letters), but I also refuse to give him more credit than he is due. I like to think I take responsibility for my weaknesses and sins, and do not play the victim to anyone, Satan included.

    Does Satan really exist? Does it really matter? The problem of evil is pervasive, powerful and problematic in each of us. I see it every morning as I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. It is enough of a battle to sort myself out, so why would I take on someone as strong and fearsome as a wayward angel?

    As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said: “The line between good and evil is not drawn between nations and parties, but through every human heart.”


    On Tuesday, September 1, 2009, Robyn said:

    Thanks Major for an excellent, thought provoking article. Be encouraged!

    On Wednesday, August 26, 2009, Lee Westman said:

    Man's wisdom is foolishness to God. I say that with a smile as I read some of the responses above. Eat from the word of God and be nourished, it is living bread which will fill you with strength and a discernment that is God given. If you are not feasting from God's table, what provision are you passing on and from whom have you taken it. Don't be tossed this way and that by every new doctrine, stand firm on the Word which inspired by God Himself has the authority to teach, exhort, reprove and draw wretched, fallen man toward God's will. Do not boast in your wisdom, doesn't it perish even as the words leave your lips, rather, boast in the Lord who will endure all things.
    Be content to be a child, a child is not confident in him or herself, but is confident in the Parent in whom is no flaw.
    There are many wolves walking amongst the sheep, more every day. But the sheep know the Shepherds voice and will not be deceived.
    God Bless you and keep you dear brothers and sisters.

    On Wednesday, July 29, 2009, Peter Haslett said:

    A very thought provoking article...I still say:

    "Storm the forts of darkness, bring them down! Bring them down!"

    Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, heal, and cast out demons (fallen angels) one of whom Satan is (the angel formerly known as Lucifer).

    I believe that the Christian should be prayed up and studied up in scripture before going into battle against Satan and his minions.

    On Friday, July 24, 2009, Phyllis said:

    I agree with what Jon says above in his comment and I quote ^ we need to keep our minds open and be willing to listen to what others have to say. If Salvationists never take the time to examine other possibilities, there will never be any growth in the Church. People question things. It’s natural, and it needs to happen

    I would add this applies to any other religions as well. etc.

    I too am a student in a secular University studying for my BRS and have nearly completed it then moving on to my Masters. I have learned much re the Word of God and also to keep an open mind . We must be able to listen to what others have to say and yet at the same time if we do disagree with them do it in love and with consent to agree to disagree. If we lose that ability to be open minded and think that only we are right then we lose out with God and that is sad.

    As to the devil made me do it well I like what Ephesians 6 has to say on that

    11Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

    12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

    13Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

    Also God gave us free will and we make choices , some are good , some are bad and with each choice there are consequences good and bad depending on what choice we make . There is a real devil out there and he loves to get our minds off Jesus so we need to stay in the Word of God and be in prayer .

    God bless

    On Sunday, July 12, 2009, Jon said:

    Dear X,

    I believe that the main purpose of this article was to make us stop and think. In the Christian Church, we are allowed to think and question everything. By questioning everything, we often come to a better understanding of who we are and what we believe. If you have not already realized, this edition of The Salvationist was a theological publication dealing with many theological questions. In order to be effective in today's society, the Church needs to continue to question itself on its beliefs.

    X, I am a Chemistry and Religious Studies student at a Secular University, and I have no regrets in saying that I have learned more in five Religious Studies and Theology courses than I ever learned in attending church for 20 years. Major Geoff Ryan is not re-writing Scripture, as there are many different ways to interpret Scripture. Each person, depending on their personal circumstances, will have a different reading grid for the Scriptures. John Bartkowski clearly demonstrates this in his article 'Beyond Biblical Literalism and Innerancy : Conservative Protestants and the Hermeneutic Interpretation of Scripture' (1). Bartkowski demonstrates how two conservative Evangelicals can have drastically different interpretations of the same Scriptures dealing with the place of the Female in the family.

    The bottom line here is that we need to keep our minds open and be willing to listen to what others have to say. If Salvationists never take the time to examine other possibilities, there will never be any growth in the Church. People question things. It's natural, and it needs to happen.

    Reference :

    1. Bartkowski, J. (1996). Beyond Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy: Conservative Protestants and the Hermeneutic Interpretation of Scripture. Sociology of Religion, Vol. 57, No. 3 pp 259-272.

    On Friday, July 10, 2009, X said:

    This article is heretical and while yes, can generate 'discussion' takes in a total disregard for our 11th doctrine. Now I get it, people don't like talking about sin and the devil and his actual powers in the Church because we like to feel good about ourselves; well we can all feel good about ourselves as we march into the fiery pits of Hell.

    I read this article; and although I talked about it with some peers felt like I was being told a) I don't know if the Devil exists and b) If he exists; why does it matter? I'll tell you why it matters - because it is dictated to us in Scripture countless times that our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with spirits. We are told to put on the full armor of God to defend ourselves from the attacks of the enemy. But now Major Geoff Ryan is re-writing scriptures by telling us: it doesn't matter if he exists. Well my friends it does matter. A time old saying is that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.

    By either a) denying the access of Satan or b) not caring if he exists we're shifting the responsibility of evil onto God; and while yes we as humans must be accountable for our actions evil must derive from somewhere.

    We are walking a thin line and we're encouraging people to not care that our biggest enemy in this world is lurking around every corner waiting to pounce. I think, Salvationist, that you need to rethink and re-edit the works that you put into your magazine because you never know whose going to read it and what's going to cross their minds as they do.

    On Wednesday, July 8, 2009, Kenneth and Joshua Champ said:

    We were very disappointed with the article because it lacks a true perspective of Satan’s influence in a person’s life and in the world system. The scriptures clearly states in Ephesians Chapter 6:12

    “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” NIV 1984

    If a Christian is going make a difference in the world today, they are going to have meet the demonic realm head on. The individuals who have not received Christ as Lord and Saviour belong to “lord of the darkness”, Satan. Read Ephesians. Winning these souls to Christ is a spiritual battle, not simply a matter of intellectually convincing them about the merits of becoming a Christian. In the article the author makes it very clear he does not want to pick a battle with “a wayward angel”. This is a serious paradox since we are an Army of God fighting for the souls of men who are “prisoners of Satan”. A spiritual battle means you are fighting something spiritual and it certainly isn’t God or His ministering angels. If we as an Army don’t engage the enemy, then we are nothing more then a social organization and we should take the word Salvation out of our name. The secret to winning the battle with Satan and his host is to understand the following:

    1. We fight from victory to victory. The word “from” indicates that Jesus has already won the victory on the cross. This is where we as God’s redeemed have the authority over the demonic realm.
    2. Satan (the accuser) always attempts to undermine the authority by finding fault in our lives. We must live our lives in such a way to never provide him with this ammunition. I refer to this as fighting from a defendable position and putting on the amour of God.
    3. Do not tire or give up in the struggle. This is the easiest thing to do. Demonic realms require no rest and know that a weary Christian lacks the desire and motivation to do battle. Its practical advice; get sufficient sleep.
    4. Each night before bed my family locks the doors physically and spiritually. Locking the door spiritually is as important if not more important the doors to our home. How do we lock the demonic influence and presence out? Ask God to shed the “blood of Jesus” over the house, put angels around our entire property, anoint the Holy Spirit on all creatures in the house (includes physical and heavenly creatures) and out loud tell Satan that he has no right in our home for we are redeemed children of our Lord and he will be trespassing.
    5. Do not be afraid. Many Christians openly confess that they are afraid of demons. A Christian who is afraid has no understanding that he (Satan) is a powerless defeated foe to both God and His redeemed children. God’s love casts out all fear; John 4:18. Find rest and peace in the Lord.

    Kenneth S. Champ, London Ontario
    Joshua A. Champ, London Ontario (Age 15)

    On Monday, July 6, 2009, Terrie Westman said:

    It is important not to focus on Satan but focus on Christ Jesus who has overcome the evil one. It is also extremely important to know that we have an adversary.

    10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6

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