What To Do with the Bible’s Talk of Satan

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Recently, Roger Olson raised the question on his blog about why Satan is ignored in modern theology. He observed how Greg’s theology takes an “obvious, ‘up front,’ blatant belief in a very personal, very real, very active Satan who has great power in the world.” Because we often have so little to say about Satan and the problem of evil, we are left with imaginary caricatures passed on to us from our culture like the silly one depicted in the image above. What follows are some key passages from Greg’s landmark book on this topic, God at War, that can point us in the right direction:

“[B]iblical authors generally assume the existence of intermediary spiritual or cosmic beings. These beings, variously termed ‘gods,’ ‘angels,’ principalities and powers,’ ‘demons,’ or, in the earliest strata, ‘Leviathan’ or some other cosmic monster, can and do wage war against God, wreak havoc on his creation and bring all manner of ills upon humanity. Whether portraying Yahweh as warring against Rahab or other cosmic monsters of chaos or depicting Jesus as casting out a legion of demons from the possessed Gerasene, the Bible as well as the early postapostolic church assumes that the creation is caught up in the crossfire of an age-old cosmic battle between good and evil. …

If we modern Westerners cannot “see” what nearly everyone else outside the little oasis of Western rationalism the last several centuries has seen, then perhaps there is something amiss with our way of seeing. It is just possible that the intensely materialistic and rationalistic orientation of the Enlightenment has blinded us to certain otherwise obvious realities. It is just possible that our chronocentrism—our tendency to assume that the worldview we hold at the present time is the ultimately true worldview—is preventing us from seeing significant feature of reality” (18).

“The central difference in perspective between the New Testament and early postapostolic church on the one hand and Augustine and the later church on the other is that the former almost unanimously locates the ultimate reason for why there is evil in the world is the evil will of Satan, while the post-Augustine church and the whole of the classical-philosophical tradition following him tends paradoxically to locate the ultimate rationale for evil within the mysterious, omnibenevolent, all-encompassing will of the Creator. …

The later church thereby acquired an intellectual problem with evil that the New Testament simply does not have. For a variety of reasons, the later church attempted to understand evil as a function of God’s all good and all controlling providence rather than as a function of Satan’s evil, controlling rule of the world. The former is problematic while the latter is not, assuming (as the New Testament does) that angelic free will is intelligible. If a self-determining, supremely evil being rules the world, then it is hardly surprising that it is deluged with nightmarish evil, despite having been created by an all-good, omnipotent Creator. …

[I]t is quite peculiar that after Augustine, through the church’s history up to the present, very few thinkers conceived of Satan as being in any way relevant to, let alone central to, the solution to the problem of evil. It is remarkable that the one who in Scripture and in the earliest postapostolic fathers is depicted as the ultimate originator of evil and the one ultimately behind all the world’s horrors has been thoroughly ignored in discussions on the problem of evil” (54-55).

Omar Bárcena via Compfight

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