Satan, the Hero

Theology Thursday

A few weeks ago I was driving to work and thinking theologically, as one does when one drives to work . . . naturally . . . what?

ANyway, I was just leaving the exit ramp off the highway when a question exploded into my brain:

Why does nobody ever teach that the wager at the beginning of Job could well symbolise what’s going on here in the world?

[Pause] Nothing? Okay, let me back up. (Not back up the exit ramp, though. That would be bad.)

Job, right? We’ve talked about him before. I used to find that book of the Bible frightfully difficult, and more recently I find it to be one of the ones I cling to most when stuff doesn’t make sense, which it often doesn’t. I think I’m glad God put a book in His Book about stuff not making sense. I’m glad He recognised that.

There’s a lot of debate in some Bible-geek circles about whether Job was a real guy and whether God and the Accuser (that’s what satan means, folks) really placed a bet on him, and there are good reasons for believing the story is literally true and good reasons for believing it isn’t, and frankly I don’t think it really matters with this particular story because most everybody can agree that, literal or not, it’s a universally applicable story about human suffering and about wrestling with what (or who) causes it.

That day in my car I was thinking about Satan, and the reason is because one of TheBro’s friends (whose theological views may well be made clear momentarily) posted the following on TheBro’s wall:

*Facepalm*

*Facepalm*

Apparently he posted it for the joke (theology==>==>Batman. ?), but this is a pretty familiar argument-not-intended-as-a-joke to me and it drives me absolutely bonkers. So I wrote to TheBro what I would have written on his wall to his friend if I hadn’t been afraid of starting a flamewar on TheBro’s facebook wall, and it was this:

Wow. So familiar. So many potential rants. In short–does it ever occur to anyone that maybe the fact that God made a forbidden tree that people could or could not eat from demonstrates that thought-slaves are precisely what He DIDN’T want? Does it further occur to anyone that a being who drives a wedge between humans and their Source is a) not protecting them and b) megalomaniacal enough to start some spin about himself to the effect that he’s the good guy and c) the one ACTUALLY in the market for thought-slaves?

So in the car I was thinking about this, and thinking about the usual futility of these arguments: God’s the good one. No, Satan’s the good one. No, God. No, Satan. It’s just kind of dumb. And I was thinking about how the Biblical accounts of Satan and God and their relationship to each other are sort of hazy and mysterious except that, when looking it all over, you really can sort of arrive at some pretty solid conclusions like:

  1. God is uncreated and Satan is a creature like everybody else.
  2. Satan was created good, but (as a free creature) he capitulated to his own envy/pride and then tried to get God to capitulate to him. Not being actual God, that didn’t work out so well. (I will admit for honesty’s sake that not everyone takes the passage I just linked to, to be about Satan. I suspect that what happened to him, however, is something like what is described here regardless, given the whole rest of the Bible.)
  3. Satan still “cleans up” well, so it’s easy for him to make us think he’s the hero/underdog/noble rebel if we really want to. Except he never is.
  4. Satan has a deep-seated vendetta against the rest of creation, and humanity in particular–presumably because we were made in God’s image and God made us to be His vice-regents on earth–demigods, as it were. (I think the humanist literary and cinematic fantasies nail this one–the vendetta–even if they can’t grasp a Saviour figure or an Ultimate Good or even are cognisant that their villains are satanic. See especially Islington in Neverwhere and Agent Smith in the first of the Matrix movies.)
  5. Failing to usurp the throne of God, Satan has usurped the throne of God’s favourites instead–and God let him, because we, by believing the lie that we could be more like God by turning away from him (so much for critical thinking), let him.

It was after delineating all of these points to myself that I started thinking about Job and then had that question firework into my head. I guess what I was really wondering was, why did God let Satan be (even a temporary) ruler of this world again? I mean, it’s traditional to say that Satan tried to usurp God’s place and then God kicked him out of Heaven and he landed on Earth, but is that really from the Bible or more from Paradise Lost? Except that either way it is in the Bible that Satan’s at least nominally in charge here, so . . . why is that?

I guess I started wondering if the reason (not why Satan got kicked out of the Royal Throneroom, but why he was allowed to scourge us here) was something like the reason he got to wreak havoc with Job’s life, too. If God said something like, “Hey, have you seen these fantastic new creatures I made? Don’t they look like Me? They’re going to represent Me in the rest of that gorgeous creation I made!”

And Satan said, “Yeah, well, beauty’s only skin deep, and I’ll bet they don’t want all that responsibility. Just let me at them and I’ll wager You they’ll abdicate to me without a fight.”

And God let him try it. Because He didn’t want thought-slaves. Or any kind of slaves, actually. Too bad our critical thinking isn’t a little more rigorous . . .

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13 thoughts on “Satan, the Hero

  1. Also, more seriously, Greg Boyd does a great job of answering this very question in “God At War.” He basically uses scripture to support the idea that angels are free-willed beings, like us, who may chose to use their free will to do nasty stuff. And God allows it, because – again – he’s not after thought-slaves. God isn’t looking to micromanage creation.

  2. Loved your response to TheBro.
    Although I would not have used the word ‘demigods’, but probably…’ambassadors’, due to the cringe I get to thinking we’re anywhere close to being like our Creator God. Made from the dust of the Earth, or a rib, what little power we have in our personal choices to accept or reject biblical reasoning and God, the Spirit, and Jesus himself. We represent Heaven as Christ followers, and in that, the apple of God’s eye, Satan wants to steal, kill, and destroy. Like your fantastic point number 4.
    When disobedience occured in the Garden, we figuratively handed over keys to the earth to Satan. God had given them to man, but they defaulted to Satan by handing over authority to him in our sin. I believe that’s why Satan’s been allowed to rule and reign in chaos and havoc. However, when Jesus died and rose again, Satan and death were defeated. Jesus was not God’s Plan B-He was always part of God’s love story. In Revelation 1:18 Jesus claims to finally, and tangibly hold that key ring.
    Any character, I’m sure by reading your post you agree, that poses a coniving trick question, or allows for a rebellion against the holy God, cannot be any sort of hero, but a dissident and a fool. To follow him in that rebellion…well someone would have to be blind.
    Great post!

    • Thanks for the further musings.
      Naturally I agree wholeheartedly that we are not in any way on a par with the divine, but I use the term “demigods” intentionally because 1) “demi” implies “not on a par with” πŸ™‚ , 2) Psalm 82 (and Jesus quoting Psalm 82 in John 10) refers to humans as “small-g” gods and especially 3) I think the Bible is pretty clear that, although there is nothing inherently godlike about us, astoundingly and beyond all expectation, God made us in HIS OWN IMAGE (wow!) and intended for us to be his viceregents on earth–little image-gods doing His work in creation. It’s a privilege and an honour which He nevertheless bestowed out of love, and which we, as you say, relinquished to Satan.
      I love “Jesus was not God’s Plan B.” Absolutely right on. Thanks for that reminder.

  3. I do not have any good, thoughtful things to say … which probably means I should not be commenting. But, I had to pop on here and give you a round of comment-applause. Love this post!

  4. This is truly compelling stuff. I hadn’t seen the Facebook post, nor did I know your list of five Satan conclusions. What I think the problem is, is that both the Facebook post and the arguments at the superficial level seem pretty okay. You could frame it like that, there seems to be a good point in it, and after all: if God wants us to have free will, why does he get all upset if we do make a choice?

    The problem, of course, is that sin isn’t something that comes flying at you at full speed so you can dodge it (although it’s pretty obvious in other people). It’s creeping up on you, telling you exactly what you want to hear and slowly making you ‘realize’ how you deserve it. How you’ve been holding back for too long. How, when you think about it, you’re not a bad person. You’re a decent person that can perfectly make his own decisions. Rules are okay, but only for those who need it. Not for strong-willed people who, whenever they slip up occiasionally, never harm anyone.

    As usual, I digress. I truly loved your post.

  5. Ahem, excuse me for butting in…

    Before we talk this kind of theology, we have to assume that Biblical accounts of Satan/God etc. are literally true? Are they? Says who? For someone like me who has read a lot of the Bible and thought about it, Bible is a vast collection of, well, literature–stories, aphorisms, allusions, essays, poetry, moral/ethical teachings. A lot of it has universal value. True. But it is NOT a Literal account of God and His Creation….

    As for God not wanting thought-slaves argument, I will try to use logic to interpret Biblical text. I still find God’s creation of Satan as problematic. To say, Satan created evil is wrong. Creation cannot create something that was not intended by the original Creator. Everything was created by God and that must include sin and evil.

    Furthermore, if God is omniscient then He knows the future. He knew EXACTLY what would Satan and sinful humans would do. Yet, He created them with all these manufacturing/ genetic defects if you will. To me all of this is one big whole mess.

    But we don’t need to get worked up about the Good God and Bad Satan argument. Read first paragraph of this comment again and the problem is solved. πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks for getting my attention to this comment.

      I do assume it’s true. I have a hard time seeing the Bible as literature. It’s got too many subplots, irrelevant details, a sloppy ending without real closure, and so many plot holes saved by devine intervention, it’s hard to believe it ever got published. Harry Potter has some universal values to it as well; I think the Bible does tell an overall story that is elevated above any other book, or life itself even. If you see how Jesus talks about Satan, I have no reason to believe that Satan is anything less than a reality. Maybe not as literal as hiding in a snake’s body (with feet, nonetheless) and whispering evil on our ears so we’ll end up eating fruit, but certainly a reality. Perhaps Satan shows us that all creatures have a free will and are thus subject to evil if they choose to. I think the only reason Satan is after us, is to frustrate God. We’re the precious china that has been in the family for generations and Satan knows that the best way to hurt God, is to smash it to pieces. We’re His weak spot (so to speak, I mean, I’m sorry God). It’s not about the china itself, that’s totally irrelevant; it’s about the message; the false believe of power that happens when you fight something that is too strong for you to take on.

      • Well thanks for your thoughts. However, I think it all boils down to one’s personal religious/supernatural beliefs.

        Before you comment about GOD/SATAN debate you “assume” that Bible is literally true. This assumption–or leap of faith– is necessary for you to maintain your religious faith.

        You wonder how Bible ever got “published” with all its inconsistencies? I think Bible is one of the most consistent and readable collection of books, hence its popularity. You should take a look at other religious scriptures from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. and see how messed up their content and editing is!

        People will believe what they want to believe. Lots of Mormons will swear by their special Book of Moroni. No matter how crazy it sounds. But who is to say they don’t have the right to believe?

        Eventually, when it comes to religion, sometimes we need to learn to shrug our shoulders, agree to disagree and move on.

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