Sunday, September 27, 2009

Understand real Satan not cartoon Satan

Satan is a very real risk to all humans, both believers who risk their faith being disturbed, and non-believers who risk never opening their hearts enough to believe and be saved. So I am always glad when I hear a preacher remind their listeners that Satan is a continual reality that cannot be ignored.

However, it is, like all topics related to faith, important that one protects one's self by understanding the real threat, and not a misrepresentation or cartoon of the threat and as always one has to rely on God's word in the scriptures, and the actual events depicted within.

We know that Satan is the leader of the group of angels who, after being created by God, when given the choice of free will (a gift God gives to all whom he loves, both angels and humans), chose not to serve God. Because of this they were cast out of heaven. Satan is allowed to roam the earth at will and has great influence over human world events (which is why he is scripturally refered to as ruling on earth... he's not THE ruler of earth, but he receives that title because by not serving God he can only serve and thus influence things of the world. In other words he is both in the world and "of" the world. Christians in contrast are taught by Jesus to be "in the world" but not ruled by the world, hence they are not "of the world." Their priority, unlike Satan's, is heavenly directed in service to God even while alive on earth and not in heaven).

So there are two aspects of Satan that sound alarming and powerful on the surface, especially the non-scriptural depictions, but are not all that difficult to refute and to have some peace of mind about. One is that Satan is obviously not THE ruler of all earth since he obviously, both in scriptural and in secular earth history, does not run around undoing God's creation. Satan does not blow up mountains, destroy cities, poison the water, kill baby animals as they are born, uproot trees, change the weather, etc. God is still in control of his creation, which he has declared "good" upon the making of each component, and Satan has never had any power, authority or ability to use godly powers to harm life or the natural processes and features of earth. If Satan had that power then there would be nothing left of earth a long time ago, as he would have caused havoc everywhere. But the scripture reports that Satan just wanders around the earth, tempting people to sin against God and each other at every obvious opportunity. Thus it is totally wrong and alarming for no reason to have any concern at all that Satan has some sort of like running amok, evil destroyer, invading alien, anti-life, kicker of sand in the faces of baby dinosaurs type of ability or impulse. Satan's sole interest is to tempt human beings.

And that is the second reality check that people need to keep in mind. As I've pointed out before in my blogging, and I've heard more preachers allude to it recently, Satan by no means denies the existence of God. That is a weird misconception that is pretty recent and is refuted by any even casual reading of the Bible. Satan, actually, is by his obvious existence and interaction with God (the Book of Job detailing a far from hostile conversation between God and Satan) is kind of the ultimate witness to God's reality! People who want to get into witchcraft and so forth or believe strange things have recently thought of the impossibility that Satan is like an "alternative possibility" to believing in God. That's obviously ridiculous since the scriptures show that Satan continues to not only acknowledge God's reality, but interact with him, including promptly showing up to test and tempt Jesus Christ at the beginning of his ministry. Further, Satan obeys God when God establishes limits on how much Satan can afflict Job. Demons and so forth who serve Satan are the first to recognize Jesus, before Jesus even speaks to them, and they rapidly proclaim their belief, their alarm and their subservience to Jesus' authority to cast them out. So people who think that maybe there's a real powerful Satan but no God are totally delusional on two basic points. Satan has very little power and controls none of the infrastructure of earth or the life upon it AND Satan himself is the first on most scenes to acknowledge God's reality and his movement in human matters.

So, if Satan does not deny God AND Satan has no actual power except to tempt, how is he so persuasive, so effective and so dangerous? This can best be understood and thus defeated by thinking of the common saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." This old saying means that many humans end up going to hell because they did something evil, wrong and sinful because they "meant well." In a way, Satan is very much like the humans who go to hell because they do wrong things but self justify that their "intentions were good." Don't get me wrong because I'm not using the word "good" with "Satan," but I'm preparing you for the analogy. Satan's basic error is that he cannot grasp God's All Knowingness; he just doesn't get within the core of his being that God already knows all that there is to know. Satan's a bit condescending to God, thinking that he knows better than God, particularly when it comes to human weaknesses.

Realistically, can anyone of even weak faith think that God knows less than Satan in any scenario? But that is the Achilles heel of both Satan and human beings, which is why they are such a potent mixture. Satan thinks he knows better than God and thus is even somewhat "protective" and condescending toward God. We see this in the Book of Job, where Satan is debating with God whether Job is really truly faithful to God and if he would stay faithful if God's protection were removed from him. Um, duh, Satan thinks that God doesn't already know every "what-if" scenario already? I've blogged before how one must realize God's All Knowingness by using analogies humans can grasp, such as how God knows every subatomic particle that ever existed or will exist in the universe and all the places each particle was and will be. So God doesn't know what Job will do when hardships befall him? God knows everything already because he is God and he is the only All Knowing.

But you can see that Satan honestly thinks something like this: "Wow, that God is naive. Sure Job loves and worships God now, since he's blessed by God and has a great life and many possessions due to God's protection. I've got to show God that he can't trust Job to stay faithful to him once things start going bad for him." Satan simply does not grasp that God already knows everything, absolutely everything. We know this because Satan recognizes who Jesus is, and promptly shows up to tempt him, and Satan thinks, what, that God didn't know that Satan is going to tempt Jesus? And that Jesus, as the Son of God, would be temptable? It's like Satan thinks that maybe God didn't prepare Jesus enough, or send him with enough power, and thus there is some actual chance of tempting Jesus to disobedience to God!

So the crux of understanding Satan and his enormous power over many human beings is to realize that Satan just does not grasp and ultimately does not have faith in the All Knowingness of God. Satan has plenty of faith that God exists because more than anyone he's been there around God "from the beginning" and so obviously God's reality is Satan's continual focus. But what Satan just does not understand is God's greater plan, which is, of course, the culmination of God's All Knowingness.

And that pride, since that is indeed what we are describing, a condescending pride of Satan's, is exactly the same prevalent flaw in many human beings. Can you think of many humans who do not at some point think they know "better" than God does? Or that God "needs their help?" Brothers and sisters, you know exactly what I mean.

While few people would confess to actually thinking that God needs their "help" or that they "know better than God," they do it all the time when they cherry pick what part of God's word they choose to believe. When they discard or ignore large parts of scripture, (or even just small parts that prohibit one's favorite sin), that is more than being someone of weak faith, or maybe a hypocrite. Secretly, subconsciously, that person is thinking that he or she knows "what God really meant" and that he or she can thus figure that "God would agree with me that this part of the Bible is out of date, and that part doesn't apply to me, but that I can go along with that other stuff because those sinners out there (not me) don't do enough of the good things and God needs my help" and so on and so forth. That is music to Satan's ears and fertile ground for him to sow weeds.

This is why some people are such willing and easy dupes and tools of Satan, while others seem to have a Teflon coating and barely notice Satan's existence. Satan works best with humans who do not believe in, have faith in, or trust God's All Knowingness. The people who diminish God's power in their minds but magnify and glorify their own potential roles in both earthly and, imagine that, heavenly matters are natural allies and pawns of Satan, since they have the same weakness and "philosophy." People who lack fear of God but magnify their own spirituality, resourcefulness and role in life are the most prone to be influenced at alarming speed and depth by Satan. People who fear God (in the way I've explained in previous posts on this subject) and who are humble about their role in the major matters of divinity tend not to be tempted by or hear Satan at all. Satan totally gives a pass by to those who are shielded by their sincere fear of God and their sincere humility.

Now, some of the most devout saints suffered from great torments by Satan. I'm about to say something that is not meant to be unkind or unloving, since these were indeed genuine Christian saints of great sanctity. However, even some saints have insufficient fear of God and humility to render themselves safe from any attacks (or imagined attacks) from Satan. Some very revered Christian saints who were indeed sanctified and worthy of God had the all too human flaw of being sucked into thinking that they are linchpins in some sort of huge "good versus evil" striving. I mean, how scriptural is that? Not at all. What do I mean? Here is what I would have said to some medieval saint in the making who is afflicted by torments he or she feels is sent by Satan:

Read the scripture about the Last Supper and the betrayal of Christ by Judas. Judas, the most ripest, the biggest target of all who ever existed for temptation, was only entered by Satan at the moment he left the table to betray Jesus. Satan spent only a matter of minutes, until the betrayal was done, in Judas. Why in the world do you think Satan is having supposedly hours, days, months or years of battle within YOU?

Sometimes you have to be a tough spiritual director, even with the most sanctified of people.

Humans all are in constant grave danger of the "road to hell is paved with good intentions" weakness and pride. Saints are no exception except in one matter: their suffering (even if self induced or exaggerated) never destroys their faith in God or takes them from their sanctity of service. But I explain this problem with certains saints in order to point out to you the scriptural basis for what I am saying: Satan does not occupy or vie with human beings. Satan only strews temptations that those who fear God and are genuinely humble never even notice, while those who do not fear God and who are prone to pridefulness catch themselves up in the temptations all of the time. Satan's temptations are like lint or dust on furniture: you don't even notice it unless you think it is your job to clean it up. That's the danger of not believing completely in God's All Knowingness and over exaggerating your role in "helping" God. You start thinking that you are the one who has to dust all the furniture, and thus those hundreds and thousands of tiny nearly invisible temptations to sin, like dust motes, gather together as you focus your attention on them. The rest of us live with dusty furniture ha ha. (Just some levity for a serious subject... please excuse the humor, I so rarely get to demonstrate it!)

Do you see what I mean? This is why an analogy is so powerful. Satan is constantly scattering tiny harmless temptations, most centered around insufficient faith in God and excess pride in one's own judgment and supposed "goodness." People who are not vulnerable to temptations of hubris, pride or vanity, and who are firm in their fear of God and trust in his All Knowingness, never even notice the tiny dust motes of temptation. But those who are prone to scrutinizing the dust particles start to pick them up in quickly growing clumps that stick to them and they are now accepting of and subjugated to Satan's temptations with alarming weight and rapidity.

Taking upon one's self a perception that you personally are "battling Satan" is a grave and not-scripturally based error. Remember, Judas himself did not "battle" Satan, nor was he owned by Satan or possessed by Satan. Rather, Judas picked up a lot of "dust particles" of pride which estranged him from his basic trust in God's providence, and then Satan only had to enter him for a few minutes to actually perform that greatest betrayal. If you think that you are in combat with some supposed spiritual forces, you have deviated from the truth of what is in the Bible (no one in the Bible is combating Satan etc on a personal basis). What they are doing is resisting Satan's temptations. There is a huge difference between the two.

This is why Paul said that Christians must be "dead to sin." When one is dead one is inert and like a chemical that just won't react with anything. Being in a hypersensitive and combative stance toward anything is not being "dead to sin." Rather, like collecting the dust motes, it is a problem of insufficient protection (study of scripture, faith in God's power, cultivating fear of God and humility) while completely over exaggerating one's own interaction with temptations. People, like that class of afflicted saints, who think they are in some sort of numinous and supernatural "combat" against "evil forces, such as Satan" are driving themselves nuts by collecting every dust mote of temptation that Satan has laid out there for them. Who in the Bible is actually "combating" Satan? Jesus did not even waste an hour of his earthly time doing so. Moses didn't. David didn't. Isaiah didn't. Joseph and Mary didn't. John the Baptist didn't. All the prophets and holy people of the Bible were focused on two things 1) teaching God's will based on righteousness to the people and 2) strengthening their faith so they resist all temptations, both the worldly everyday ones and the opportunistic ones by Satan himself.

Here's another analogy, with pop culture. Remember how in "Lord of the Rings" Gandolf is going crazy trying to open the door that is secured by a magic spell? He is reading the sign that says "Speak friend and enter." He thinks that if you are a real friend you will be able to guess the secret magic password phrase, but all his guesses are wrong. After a painfully long time he realizes that the password IS to speak "friend."

Satan and his temptations are exactly that obvious. There is no secret profound "battle" between humans and Satan or other "evil forces," one where humans must "help out" the obviously hapless God who is just not handling things without the supposed wisdom and combativeness of humans. You just don't pick up the temptations of Satan; it really IS AS SIMPLE AS THAT. Thinking you are battling him personally and that God is just kind of hanging around waiting to see what happens IS one of Satan's most effective temptations: "Guaranteed to work on saints and sinners alike."

I hope that you have found this thought provoking and helpful. Read the Bible (or Qur'an, of course, for my Muslim friends). It really is that simple. Fear of God and humility regarding the puniness of humans compared to the All Knowing of God is the best protection from temptation, such that those who attain it barely notice temptation even if there was a ton of it piled in front of them because, like those particles of dust, the truly faithful and humble just don't even notice worldly or Satan provided temptations.