The Devil and the Problem of Evil – Greg Albrecht
Some time ago you gave a sermon and talked about Satan, and asked how “real” is he and how “symbolic” is he. I think he is real, and I have many Scriptures that support my conclusion. Of course, I know that there are many references in the Bible which are true but not literally so. Can you elaborate?
Some brief thoughts, perhaps if I enumerate them they might be a bit more logical!
- The question of the devil, and how “literal” biblical references to his existence are, and how symbolic, is an ongoing discussion – has been for many centuries.
- Excuse the double negative: I do not believe that the devil/Satan does not exist. I believe that would be an uncalled for (biblically speaking) conclusion. I have no idea how real and literal Satan is, and that fact does not bother me because my believe in the reality of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit completely transcends any worries I might have about Satan.
- I also believe that it is possible to have an unhealthy interest in the things that constitute evil and darkness. Thus, I suggest the more literal one tends to take Satan and his demons, and how much power one attributes to them, the “weaker” and more “vulnerable” one’s faith is. This is the spirit of 1 John 4:4 –“… the one who is in you [Jesus] is greater than the one who is in the world [Satan].” Trust God, focus on him, know that he alone is on the throne of the universe. That we know. That we believe. There is our faith.
- Whatever and whomever the devil and his henchmen are, and whatever they may do (Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air”) the Bible clearly teaches they are limited in their scope of influence. At times a fallen spirit world (whatever such a spiritual dimension is, and I do not pretend to know specifically and doubt anyone who dogmatically claims they know) they often have power and influence in someone’s life because an individual allows and gives them such powers.
- The greater question regarding how Satan may or may not literally exist, and the biblical passages that speak of him (or is “he” a “she” – just kidding, but the question is fair given the tone of our politically correct world today) is the matter of evil. There is no doubt whatsoever that evil exists, that it thrives and that it causes enormous grief and heartache. Satan may be in some way responsible for much of the evil we see in the world, and in some ways he may stand for and symbolize evil in some biblical references. But evil does exist without him. Humans cannot blame Satan for all the evil in this world and specifically, the evil to which they contribute. The totality of evil in our world is greater than the sum of its parts. Evil is the greater enemy I believe, and thus it deserves more of our attention.
- Christ-centered, biblical faith does not offer any perfect solution to the problem of evil and why it exists (called a theodicy). In brief, 1) God is all powerful. 2) God is good. 3) Appalling evil happens, all the time. Why? How do we reconcile those three statements? Some propose that we blame the devil, and when we are particularly involved in evil, conclude “the devil made me do it.” This is overly simplistic and does not fit within the love, mercy and grace of God. Do we propose that evil exists because of a mutual attack on goodness by our inherently evil human nature and by Satan and his demonic world? Some do – again, I don’t think the Bible speaks authoritatively on this topic. But of course 1) God is all powerful 2) God is good and 3) Appalling evil happens, all the time. These three truths are not perfectly resolved, to our satisfaction, by the love, mercy and grace of God either. We are left with the problem of evil, where it comes from, how it happens, who is responsible and what can be done about it.
- Whether we take all biblical references to Satan being “literal” and “real” or not is a bit of a snipe hunt, I believe. For example, one can say that people put on too much weight because they eat hamburgers and fries, while another person may say that people put on too much weight because they eat too much pasta and drink too much alcohol. While there are folks who say they know dogmatic answers to weight gain, retention and loss (and they stand ready to sell you their book of course!) the issue is a bit more complex than some of the simplistic solutions offered. What can we say and know, and where should be place our attention? In my opinion, Christ centered faith offers no intellectual solution to the problem of evil, or of Satan…. or for that matter, many other topics, including weight gain and loss. But here’s the ultimate solution, here’s where our focus must be — the Cross of Christ stands forever as absolute testimony to the fact that there is no evil so vile and reprehensible that God cannot transform it to his goodness and grace, and that ultimately, he will. Christ-followers have, by God’s grace, a cruciform faith, not a fearful of the devil faith.