We continue our series on…
The A- Z of the Christian Faith
D is for the Devil.
And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels
fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were
defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon
was thrown down, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil or Satan
[Revelation 12: 7-9a]
The Devil is one of those subjects on which
Christians hold a variety of beliefs and opinions. For some the Devil is a
definite supernatural being; for others he is a symbol of all that is evil,
either in the world, or in the human heart. If I’m honest, I’m not sure what
I myself believe. But that does not worry me unduly as it is faith in Jesus
Christ that matters and not the Devil. However, I know I should not discount the
devil to quickly as for much of the Church’s history his existence has not
been questioned. And whether the Devil is symbol or person, the realities to
which he points, temptation, sin, and evil, are very real.
So, in this article I am going to recount the traditional understanding
of the Devil.
The passage from the book of Revelation, quoted
above, is a good place to start when thinking about the Devil. It contains many
of the tradition beliefs about the Devil.
First, the Devil is a fallen angel. He was once an
angel, a heavenly being like Michael and Gabriel but, for some reason, he sought
to over-throw God. He was then thrown out. Cast out of heaven he roams the earth
seeking to thwart God’s plans wherever he can. As the first letter of S. Peter
states, “Like a roaring lion your adversary, the devil, prowls around seeking
someone to devour.”
Second, he is not alone but he is the chief of the
fallen angels. In the gospels we see lots of accounts of Jesus curing people
posses by demons. Early Christian writers viewed these demons as either fallen
angels themselves, or as the sons of fallen angels and human mothers. In either
case they are Satan’s followers.
Third, the book of Revelation calls Satan, “the
ancient serpent”. Many Christian writers and thinkers have seen in this a
reference to the snake in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve in the book of
Genesis. It was Satan who tempted Adam and Eve and caused death to enter the
world [see Wisdom 2: 24].
The Devil does not appear much in the Old Testament
but one obvious place is the book of Job. Here the Devil acts as a tempter and
tormentor, but always in submission to the will of God. In Job he has not been
vanquished for ever from heaven but still returns. He is an agent of God.
In the New Testament, the idea of the devil as
tempter is taken up in probably the most famous story involving the Devil. The
tempting of Jesus at the start of his public ministry. He offers Jesus easy ways
to accomplish his success; attractive lies and half-truths are whispered into
his ears. Jesus does not resist the temptations of the devil by arguing with him
(can not arguing with temptation become a way of playing with the idea until it
is too attractive too resist?). Rather, he quotes scripture. He draws upon the
religious traditions of his community.
It is extremely unlikely that we will be tempted in
the same way as Jesus, but every Christian will be tested at points in their
life and vocation. We need to draw upon the varied religious traditions of our
faith community to be able to resist, such as the Bible, our liturgy and
worship, and each other.
All to often in the Church’s history, the Christian discipline of fighting temptation has been reduced simply to rejecting all those parts of our God-given humanity which are pleasurable or attractive. Instead, we must seek to celebrate all God’s gifts and, like someone learning a musical instrument, discovering how to tune and play it so as to produce aloud that beautiful music with which God has filled all his creation.An A - Z of the Christian Faith