Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 87: Satan, part 1
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 87: Satan, part 1

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

After rejecting the “Three Temptations” (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13) Jesus cited Scripture to Satan: “You shall worship the Lord your God.” This passage identifies only the Lord as God, in which case Satan is not a god. Satan is not a god, yet Satan has a prominent role in the Gospels. Therefore, understanding the nature of Satan is unlikely to tell us much about the divine, but such understandings will likely yield profound insights into human culture and human relationships.

Rev. Paul Nuechterlein notes that, if we do not explain Satan in terms of human culture, we will gravitate towards one of two dangerous tendencies. One is Manichaeism, which envisions the world gripped between two divine, warring forces, one good and one evil, which fight for pre-eminence. However, Jesus seemed to reject Satan having divine status. The problem is that it is tempting to see the universal tensions between love and destructiveness in our communities and in our own souls as part of a universal war between God and the devil. Since we want to regard ourselves as “good” and on God’s side, we may find it tempting to deny our own destructive desires by projecting our own anger, hatred, and other malevolent sentiments onto other individuals (people and animals). This, combined with the violent imagery (e.g., references to “war”), is a prescription for scapegoating.

Recall last week’s passage about how “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). The Apostle Paul did not describe God intervening to rid the world of violence and destructiveness. Rather, he wrote that the peacemaking sons of God will usher in a new age. This accords with Ephesians 6:15, in which Paul instructed his readers to resist the forces of evil “with the equipment of the gospel of peace”.

The other dangerous tendency associated with Manichaeism is to project violence and hatred onto God. This, Nuechterlein has argued, is a form of idolatry (see part 12), in which people worship not the God of love but rather a human-made God who is angry, violent, and dark. John warned against this: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 john 1:5)

Understanding Satan in terms of human culture involves explaining violence and destructiveness not as divine attributes but as consequences of human fallenness. We will explore this further next week.

Go on to: Part 88: Satan, part 2: “Get behind me Satan” (Mt: 16:21-23)
Return to: Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence Table of Contents
Return to: Christian Living Table of Contents