Satan’s existence is suggested by human experience and the Bible and is confirmed by reading the Times. The Times is almost surely not a particularly diabolical organ, but it does report the news and the news often shows signs of the demonic.
The bad news about the world is evidence for evil that goes beyond the merely human.
The Devil is a spiritual being gone wrong who could not be satisfied with goodness, truth, and beauty. This proud tyrant seizes power and authority that he is not fit to wield. The Creator grants the Devil his free choice and allows the natural consequences of his folly to come to full fruition.
God, in his justice, allows the case against truth, goodness, and beauty to be made by Satan to humankind. Sensible humans will take this into account when living life.
The existence of the devil is a good reminder that just because a being is spiritual does not mean he is benevolent. Religious experiences can be diverse partly because we misunderstand them, but partly because some spiritual beings are deceptive and malevolent.
Theology, the science of knowing God, helps protect humankind from these beings. People who try to be spiritual without theology are doing the spiritual equivalent of walking into Los Angeles and asking anyone they meet to be their best friend and boss. It might work out well, but it probably will not.
God speaks to humanity and the Devil has chosen to try to confuse our reception of His loving words. As a good Father, God tries to warn us of bad behavior and theology and the Bible gives us those warnings in writing. One hears the voice of Satan when this sensible morality is attacked in the name of a “new theology” which is always as old as the Garden of Eden.
Satan tells every generation of Christians that something big has happened and that the Church must change or die. The Internet, the pill, the bomb, World War II, flappers, the steam engine, the Enlightenment, the Fall of Rome all have been given as reasons that goodness, truth, and beauty had to change to fit the times. Ignoring this demonic folly has proven good policy.
Humans are quite capable of imagining and performing evil acts without help, of course. In our broken condition we act badly even when we wish we wouldn’t. Nobody needs a devil for that kind of thing, but with a little aid and encouragement we can go further and become positively inhuman. Knowing this puts us on our guard and makes our prayers an even more pressing priority.
Because he is not a god, Satan cannot do everything. His resources are great, but limited. He is often happy to be ignored, because the ignorant cannot expose his limitations. The skeptic will overlook what he does do and the fanatic will give him credit for evils he could not do. Like any insecure and tyrannical soul, Satan cannot simply hide, but must sometimes demand either fear or love.
His limitations suggest a mixed policy of encouraging atheists to ignore him, Satanists to worship him, pagans to misidentify him, and Christians to be obsessively fearful of him. This maximizes his influence and minimizes his defeats.
Nobody save a prophet can look at the Times and be sure what God or the Devil is doing at any given moment or in any given news story. God’s providence is inscrutable in its complexity, but rational, while the Devil’s work is manifestly irrational and thus difficult to discern. Over time, in the hideous works of Stalin, Hitler, or Mao, humankind can begin to discern a touch of the diabolical. Meanwhile, we trust in God, attempt to do the good He gives us to do with the means he gives us, and keep an exorcist or pastor handy.
It is sensible to suspect the diabolical when an evil is sustained, irrational, and obviously and spectacularly destructive to the very parties practicing it. We should enter such situations reasonably and prayerfully. Let me suggest two types of “front page” wickedness that might give a Christian special concern.
The irrational, wicked, continuous, and destructive hatred of the Jewish people has a bloody and sordid history. Anti-Semitism has sponsored so much wickedness that it is reasonable to suspect diabolical forces behind it.
The tyrant in any cult of personality in a nation or in a small group behaves much like Satan. The weird, wicked, and ultimately self-destructive actions of the leader of North Korea make our special prayers for the deliverance of that nation especially appropriate.
Jesus believed He was God and died for our sins, Kim Jong-Il acts like he is god and kills others for his sins. If “Dear Leader” is not possessed of devils, he gives a fair imitation.
Of course, the pages of the Times only record the public actions of humankind. They rarely venture to tell the private struggles of the men and women that form most of the actual history of our sad race. It is there that most of us come face to face with devils.
Each of us faces temptations and some of these come with special force and are particularly hard to resist. No man can blame devils for bad choices or pass off his personal moral responsibility, but many men are aware of the persuasive power of Satan’s pleading for evil.
The devil did not make us do it, but he surely is not helpful.
Plunging into wickedness is bad for the human soul in itself, but also because it allies the bad man with the devils. Demons are not helpful or trustworthy allies.
Satan exists with his demons and he is intent on destroying as much that is beautiful as he can. We need not fear him, but cannot ignore him. And so the wise man prays for deliverance from human and diabolical temptation while longing for mercy from Jesus Christ, God’s Son, for our failures.
Thank God such mercy is available.