Before I was a Christian, I just assumed that all Christians believed in Satan. Now that I’ve been a Christian for twelve years, I know that some Christians believe in Satan, and some Christians don’t.
My first six years as a Christian I attended a very large, old, rich, conservative Presbyterian church in downtown San Diego. Not once in those six years did I hear Satan mentioned from the pulpit. For the last six years, I’ve attented a very large, old, rich, liberal Episcopal church just outside downtown San Diego. Not once in those six years have I heard Satan mentioned from the pulpit. Because of my work I’ve gone to all kinds of services in all kinds of churches, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Satan mentioned from any pulpit — and if I have, it’s never been more than in passing. I once had a job as a Church Relations Manager for a Christian Rescue Mission, and nobody at that job ever mentioned the Devil or Satan. It’s the same in my professional life now. It’s just not something that ever comes up.
It’s been my own personal, humble experience that if Christians do believe in Satan, they don’t talk about it very much at all.
The question of Satan did, however, come up the other night during a Lenten class I’m leading at an Episcopal church here in the San Diego area. The subject of the night was evil. I had offered up my Basic Thought on the matter (which, if you care, you can read at Evil: Surprise! It’s a Good Thing!), and in the discussion afterward a man asked me if I believed in Satan.
“I think the whole idea of an evil entity existing out in the world is pure hogwash,” he said. “What do you think?”
The first thing I thought was, “Wow! Someone’s finally talking about Satan. And in a church!”
That was the good news. The bad was that the man had asked his question a full five minutes after the class was supposed to have ended. So we’re going to pick up on that subject next week.
If you were me, how would you answer that question?
(I suppose I should say that my personal answer amounts to this: I don’t care if Satan is real or not; I tend to have zero interest in questions I know can’t be answered. I know I believe in the reality of evil; and I know I have enough on my plate keeping as much of it as possible out of my own heart, mind, and behavior. And I know that’s enough to keep me busy for one life time. I certainly don’t have any problem with the idea of Satan being real. I think it’s a perfectly useful and even outstanding construct. Because it’s true that whenever you’re dealing with real, pure evil, it feels as if there is more to it than can be accounted for by the sum of its parts. It does feel separate from people in that way. So at the very least I think the idea of Satan makes perfect sense; I have found it is sometimes good and helpful to think of evil as something outside of, or foreign to, human nature and/or God’s will. As I say, though, the bottom line for me personally is that I stay plenty busy just trying to rid myself of all the selfish, greedy, petty, animalistic thoughts and feelings that I know I generate by myself, on my own, every hour of every day. I sure don’t need Satan to understand the difference between right or wrong, or to help me know when any wrong that’s happened is my own fault, and due to my own nature.)