Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 88: Satan, part 2: “Get behind me Satan” (Mt: 16:21-23)
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 88: Satan, part 2: “Get behind me Satan” (Mt: 16:21-23)

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

A central theme in Mark’s Gospel is that the Disciples had great difficulty understanding Jesus’ message. They repeatedly fell into mimetic rivalries with each other, and consequently they had difficulty appreciating that God wants us to be loving and compassionate. The Disciples expected Jesus to become glorified and powerful, and they eagerly anticipated gaining power and prestige as Jesus’ closest associates. However, Jesus’ mission did not involve power and success in mimetic, human terms. Mark reads, “And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.’” (Mark 8:31-33)

Jesus knew his destiny. Only by allowing himself to be rejected, killed, and raised could he reveal how human violence and destructiveness involves scapegoating. Only in this way could he reveal the scandal of “sacred” violence and give humankind a chance to reject the evil, satanic tendency to scapegoat the innocent. Peter, however, had different ideas, hoping to gain power and glory as Jesus ascended to power. Peter’s acquisitive, mimetic desire was derived from seeing what other people want. Such acquisitive desires are satanic, because they invariably lead to destructive mimetic rivalries. Indeed, Satan had previously tempted Jesus with these same acquisitive desires, and Jesus had rejected the temptations, telling Satan, “You shall worship the Lord your God.” (See essays 35, 36.)

As discussed in the previous essay, Jesus’ response to Satan indicates that only the Lord is God, and therefore Satan is not a god. Therefore, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18b). With the Christian revelation, Satan has lost his transcendence – people should no longer regard satanic desires as having a divine source. We are less inclined to believe in Satan’s power or accede to Satan’s demands. Satan is still active on earth, of course, and the challenge of Christianity is to recognize and resist satanic desires.

When Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus spoke as if Satan were part of Peter’s personality, not a separate person or god. Who or what, then, is Satan? Girardian mimetic theory suggests that all people, in our fallen state, have satanic desires.

We will explore this further next week.

Go on to: Part 89: Who or What Is Satan?
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