The Disappearance of Satan

When I was a child, I was given a Bible filled with the most detailed and elaborate illustrations.

The one that most fascinated me was the drawing of Lucifer. His darkened wings spanning wide to display his might and power. He was beautiful, captivating really. Other angels cowered before him in the picture, yet the background showed darkness drawing near.

The illustration had such a mesmerizing and yet ominous feeling and even then, at the age of perhaps 6, I knew he was real. I had no doubt, some 10 years before accepting Jesus, that this Satan fellow was a real person. So why can a 6 year old believe and yet many in the church refuse to acknowledge Satan’s existence and power?

The disappearance of Satan has been a long and slow process within the church. According to the Barna Group “four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.”

Strangely, however, a “majority of Christians believe that a person can be under the influence of spiritual forces, such as demons or evil spirits. Two out of three Christians agreed that such influence is real.”

These statistics beg the question too: Why do the majority of Christians believe that spiritual forces, demonic and otherwise are real, but the same people are quick to dismiss Satan as real?

I blame Hollywood, in part.

In Christianity Today, George Barna, founder of the Barna Group explains it this way,

“Hollywood has made evil accessible and tame, making Satan and demons less worrisome than the Bible suggests they really are,” he said. “It’s hard for achievement-driven, self-reliant, independent people to believe that their lives can be impacted by unseen forces.”

It seems that on the one hand, most Christians are willing to acknowledge some type of spiritual influence, but they are not willing to put a name to the face and call it “Satan.” They fear naming their enemy because it gives him control and makes the abstract become tangible.

As Barna points out, the concept of evil, due in part thanks to Hollywood, has become a less-threatening idea. Satan has become a punch-line–Elizabeth Hurley in a leather bodysuit granting three wishes.

At the same time, while Satan is seen as a myth or the boogie man, Christians do cite spiritual influences to explain that which we can’t explain. We feel more comfortable calling the series of unexplained negative events in our life “spiritual influence” than “Satan.”

Of course, I would argue that Hollywood alone is not responsible for the disappearance of Satan. The church is also to blame. Sadly, the concept of our adversary whom seeks to devour us, is a long lost concept, rarely preached form the pulpit or taught to new believers.

Instead of being reminded that Satan is seeking to “steal, kill and destroy,” we hear very little about the person who tempted Jesus in the desert.

I’m of course not advocating a bunch of scared Christians running for the hills, hiding from the devil. He has already been defeated, but his influence and power is still upon the earth now. The Bible calls him “the ruler of this world.” We cannot read those words and then casually dismiss him as a fable or imaginary friend.

He’s counting on that. That makes him smile. To quote a great movie, The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

What do you think about Satan? Do you believe in him and his influence on the earth? Why or why not? Why do you think the majority of Christians no longer believe in Satan?

Bonus Question: Who has played the best Satan?

33 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Satan”

  1. Yes, I believe that he’s real. However, at the same time, I don’t believe all the things we attribute to him or say about him are true. I think we have to know he’s there, affirm the truth, but walk a fine line, not talking about things outside of the realm of what we know.

    The ancient Desert Fathers knew Satan was real. They battled with him. Those that have been demon possessed, or know someone who has, know that Satan is real. Priests and rabbis and clergymen around the world know that Satan is real, because they’ve seen him.

    But for me, most importantly, because I’ve seen the evil I alone am capable of, and seen the evil in other people too, can see that Satan is real. He is opposed to the True and Good, the Light of the world. And he guides too many of my actions.

    I don’t NEED Satan to be invented. I’m bad enough myself. It’s not a psychological concept created to help ease my guilt. I know he’s real because I’ve heard him whisper to me, and I fight against him every day.

    Why do others not believe in Satan? For one, it’s a hard concept to grasp, full of ambiguity and strange verses. Secondly, it’s because of John Lovitz. He played such a likable Satan on SNL, who would believe a hard-edged mean old Satan really exists? ;)

    blessings,
    Josh

    1. Josh,
      Wow, what a great comment you’ve just added.

      I think firstly, yes, our experiences as a Christian can very much determine whether or not we believe Satan to be real.

      Pastors in Africa, battling demonic forces on a regular basis, have no doubt about his existence.

      You make an interesting point too though, that you don’t need Satan to be invented. You know the evil within yourself and others.

      I understand your point, I wonder however, if that is part of the reason many Christians don’t believe in Satan.

      They seem to think that the evil they perceive is only in their minds or that if they could just be “godlier” it wouldn’t be an issue.

      There has to be a balance, I think, between personal responsibility for our sin and the acknowledgment of the Father of Lies.

      We are influenced by both–ourselves and our own sin nature and the deceiver.

      P.S. Thanks for making me laugh with the John Lovitz reference. I added another question to the end of the post, inspired by you!

      1. Yeah, what an issue; what a balance, huh?

        I’m reading the Desert Fathers, and there’s SO much about spiritual warfare…yet, some modern psychologists could dismiss all that with a rational explanation of blame-creation, or who knows what else (you can tell I’m not a psychologist). What’s a demon, and what’s just my sin nature? I often get it all mixed up in my mind. Maybe a fault of the modern world? It seems that those in more…dire…circumstances have no vague ideas about it. They know what’s real and what isn’t. Hmm.

        Good bonus question, by the way! While I’ll always like John Lovitz, I also think that Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” was pretty good, too.

        1. It is interesting to think about. I watched a movie last week that had a series of psychologists discussing the human ego. They were referring to the ego as the source of all evil in man.

          One psychologist straight up said “there is no devil, only the ego.”

      2. “They seem to think that the evil they perceive is only in their minds or that if they could just be “godlier” it wouldn’t be an issue.

        There has to be a balance, I think, between personal responsibility for our sin and the acknowledgment of the Father of Lies.

        We are influenced by both–ourselves and our own sin nature and the deceiver.”
        —————

        That will preach. Definitely!

  2. What do you think about Satan? Do you believe in him and his influence on the earth? Why or why not? Why do you think the majority of Christians no longer believe in Satan?
    ——————

    1. Don’t like him, and whenever I sense him or his influence through his foot soldiers, I simply rebuke him as the angels did in Jude. As I have matured as a son of God, I have realized the futility in arguing with him or engaging him in convo. (Not really HIM, him, but his foot soldiers. I have not met Satan face-to-face, to the best of my knowledge, as he is not omnipresent like Jesus is. But I am familiar with his lackeys.)

    2. Yes. Definitely. But I would say that he gets a lot of credit for stuff he really isn’t involved in. I’m not defending him, just pointing this out. Ask the Pentecostals. According to the majority of them, Satan is behind every tree and shrub and TV broadcast and Top 40 radio song and movie and kid’s programs on cable. (Gosh, he’s a busy guy!)

    3. See above

    4. The Bride has been infested and tainted with this warped sense of God’s Love, (which is really God’s love as we translate it according to our emotions), which has decidedly worked against the role and purpose of Satan in The Big Picture. Since God is Love and all lovey-dovey and Oprah-ish, Satan really isn’t a factor anymore, cuz we love him, too. He’s not bad. He’s just misguided. Blech.

    1. Donald,
      Love everything you wrote.

      To point #2, i agree that Satan is blamed for things which he had no involvement. Our own sin is often labeled as the work of the devil.

      Sure, he tempts us, but we are the ones who stumble into sin.

      Although I don’t really like to think about Job and Satan being given free-reign over him. Makes me shudder.

      Great point in #4 as well. Satan has been reduced to a pathetic being who is in need of some love. Ugh. No thanks.

  3. OK, toe stomping time. I think a large reason Christians are not believing in Satan is because they don’t want to be seen as “intolerant” which they will be called if they believe in a literal “devil.” Because if he’s real, then hell’s real and if you tell someone they’re bound for hell rather than heaven you’ll be “intolerant” of the world, etc.

    It’s just a symptom of wanting to please the world rather than God.

    As for playing Satan…does Dave Grohl in “Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny” count? :)

    1. Jason,
      Sadly, I think you are right. In the age of postmodernism, political correctness, and tolerance–many of us fear “condemning” anyone.

      We fail to realize that in not believing in Satan, we are condemning others. We are telling them real evil doesn’t exist and that hell is an imaginary place.

      And yes, David Grohl totally counts!

      1. “Postmodernism is for the unstable and wishy-washy.”

        What parts of postmodernism? Why?

        I think I’m totally shaped by postmodernism. I LOVE postmodern books, movies, music…nearly every day I deal with some aspect of my life that is post modern. It’s made me a better thinker and allowed me to get through the world better. So I’m not quite clear about what you’re referring to.

        Thanks for any explanation you could give! :)

        1. Josh,

          Why, I am more than happy to elaborate on this! Thank you for your kind inquiry.

          I would be a liar if I said I could accurately DEFINE what I mean by “postmodernism”, as opposed to giving examples of it. Kinda like the word “irony”. Hard to define, easy to illustrate.

          So….

          The easiest example would be this Emergent Church mindset I see more and more in The Bride.

          From the crowd it gathers to the theology (or lack thereof) it espouses, it smacks of this “Oprah-Jesus, touchy-feely, poo-poo on any doctrines at all for the sake of being hip and cutting-edge to reach the slackerific generation of lost and confused pseudo-Christians, we all love asking- ‘Did God realllly say…?'” nonsense.

          Postmodernism in and of itself defies conventionality and seeks so desperately to create God in its image, when it should be quite the opposite.

          Some code words of the postmodern movement are:
          incarnational living, catalyst, emergent, progressive, liberal, and new Christianity.

          Josh, having said all this, I am hoping I ma making sense to you. I fear I may be falling short of accurately describing what I mean by postmodern.

          I reckon I will lastly say that postmodern is a reaction instead of a pro-active mindset. Postmodernism needs to have an enemy, an opposite to measure itself against to give it validity and credibility. IN this case, postmodern needs to point its finger at “fundamentalism” (not the bad kind, Josh, like the freaks of Westboro Baptist Church, but the kind rooted in The Scriptures), and “olde white men’s religion”, and “everything your parents taught you about Jesus is wrong”.

          I myself am what would be called a classic fundamentalist, but I also embrace the Spirit with signs and wonders and I refuse to be boxed-in by any denominational familiarity or label. I reckon I am an anomaly, but I also believe there are more people like me than can be counted.

          I do not hate The Church. I do not hate The Scriptures. I do not see the need to whine and complain and play the role of victim when it comes to these two Truths, simply because these two Truths hurt my feelings. Postmodernism says that if it offends you or makes you uncomfortable, then the problem lies within that which offends and not within your own lack of maturity or spiritual knowledge.

          And there it is. Thanks so much for indulging this tirade, Josh. We might disagree, (I don’t know yet), but for you to even ask me to explain myself as politely as you did is refreshing.

          Blessings!

          1. Interesting that you note the emergent church hanging on to questions of “Did God really say…” That’s exactly what Satan started with in the Garden asking Eve if God really said they couldn’t eat the forbidden fruit.

  4. I think you’re right that the Hollywood-ization of Satan has left him less believable. I think another part are those graphic illustrations of Satan, like in your Bible stories. We’ve never come up with such a concrete illustration of God, because we know any depiction would be inaccurate. But we did so with Satan, and much to his delight, we all realized that such a depiction is cartoonish and inaccurate, so people stopped believing in him altogether.

    1. Matt,
      Ooh…smack down. You are so right.

      We see far more images in pop culture of Satan than “God the Father.” He had become a caricature–toothless and ineffective.

      I think people know to fear evil instinctively and even, perhaps, to believe in the devil.

      I think we paint him as a cartoon because it makes his power seem less and his evil seem inconsequential. Too bad it doesn’t really work.

  5. I know longer us Satan. I call him “the enemy” or “my enemy.” It is a not-so-subtle reminder to me of who he is. Nothing or non one to laugh or joke about for sure.

  6. Having spent 14 years in Satanism and the occult I can tell you with all certainty that Satan and his minions/demons are very real. The problem occurs because we have a false understanding of who satan is, as well as his motives and limitations.

    When Christians say: “satan is attacking me” they are totally off base. Unless you are some high ranking political official or some earth moving power broker, satan probably is not that concerned with you. Unlike God, satan is not omniscient, or omnipresent. Satan and his demons can not read your mind. Satan does however have certain demonic entities, ranks, and classes that are working overtime to derail any, or all your Christian efforts.

    Another misconception is that satan and his demons already know they have been defeated. Now while I do believe that satan knows he cannot win this battle (the Bible even states this), you must never underestimate the power of self deception even within the spiritual realms. When I used to summon demonic entities they always told me that they believe that one day they would be restored to their place of honor.

    Satan’s war against God and mankind is really about appealing his sentence. Satan has already been condemned, but he believes that if he can take enough humans/souls down with him- God will see that his (satan’s) sentence was undeserved. In essence he believes he can make a liar of God, and change God’s judgment and plans.

    Christian’s, and the church don’t acknowledge satan as much today because there is a sense of pride and arrogance that satan, and his demons have no sway over Christians at all. There is also this belief that if you don’t talk about something, it doesn’t exist. Now while I have no fear of satan and his cohorts, I’m always on guard against strife and discord among the brethren. Strife, discord, and false doctrine are satan’s main weapons against Christians and the church today. In my opinion our plate is full when it comes to these issues.

    I could say a lot more but I have already said too much:->

    Oh one of my favorite portrayals of satan in movies was Viggo Mortensen in the Prophecy. His statements were very true when it comes to fear and the demonic realms.

    Great post!

    1. Nicole, meet my husband, Mark. :) I thought he would be much more articulate at commenting on this post than I would, so I pointed him in your direction. I will say that after college I had decided that satan did not exist, I then met Mark, and he challenged a lot of my views, I then became intimately acquainted with God’s Word and realized that I had been duped.

      I think Mark summed up a lot of my views on satan and Christianity today (except I was never in the occult)…as far as my favorite satan depictions, I’m afraid I am not quite the movie trivia expert as my husband, and nothing is coming to mind. All I can think of is The Order with Heath Ledger. But there was no satan character, just a sin eater who was more like the anti-christ and I was thoroughly disturbed by that imagery. Excellent Post!

    2. I knew there was a reason I felt familiar with you, Mark. I was an occultist pre-Salvation and New Covenant. I have some stories. Now it makes sense as to why I am drawn to your blog.

      Nice to meet you, (again), here at Nicole’s pad.

      1. Very interesting Donald! I have so many stories they would fill a book (oh yeah I’m writing a book about it:) I would love to hear some of your stories too. Perhaps a future collaboration is in order:->

        Blessings,

    3. Mark,
      Wow, what an amazing testimony you must have to God’s glory.

      I learned a lot form your comment alone. Thank you for sharing and being so willing to do so. I have no doubt that others have read your response and we equipped and exhorted in the process.

      I agree so mush with one of your final observations that we falsely believe that if we ignore something, it will go away (or won’t exist). Sadly, I know that Satan is counting on that kind of thinking.

      Blessings to you Mark and thank you again for sharing.

      P.S. your wife rocks!

    4. I love your point that strife, discord and false doctrine are such huge weapons against the church. One of the primary ways that the Holy Spirit has been working on my behalf is to remind me constantly in the midst of recent tensions and discord with my husband is that our fight is not against flesh and blood but against the dark forces of this world. It’s His way of telling me to stop fighting my husband and brother in Christ and start fending off lies from my enemy.

  7. I have no issue with the concept of a literal Satan.

    What I do take issue with is the extraordinarily unbiblical way Satan is portrayed by Christians.

    We love us some Lucifer myth – that ‘Satan’ was the most powerful angel who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven with 1/3 of the angels (who are now demons). 100% made up. None of that is anywhere in the Bible. (Origen is the one who first crafted the story, weaving together Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 and Revelation 12).

    Satan is Hebrew for ‘Accuser’, and clearly acted as some sort of prosecuting attorney in the divine court (ala Job 1-2, Zechariah 3). At the death and resurrection of Christ, the Accuser was cast out of Heaven once and for all, and now makes war with the Church (according to Rev 12).

    Mark is spot on with his comments about Satan – we in the Church far too often use it as a figurehead for evil (and as you pointed out, Nicole, this is no doubt part of why its presence is felt so much less).

    But as James points out (and Josh echoed), we don’t need Satan to sin. Sin comes from our own evil desires that lived within us long before the Accuser was cast out of heaven.

    Nicole, have you read Greg Boyd’s excellent God at War? It’s a pretty good treatment of a Christian response to Satan (even though he does rely on the Lucifer myth). How do you think the Church should be responding to the reality of Satan?

    1. JR.,

      My understanding of Revelation 12:3-9 is that in fact, 1/3 of the angels did follow (or rather were cast down) Satan. “Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. ” Every commentary I have ever read explains that the “dragon” referenced in Rev. 12 is Satan. Since he is referred to as the “Day Star” in Isaiah, the other “stars” in Rev 12 are other angels. That is my understanding.

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with reading Isiah 14, Ezekiel 28, and Rev 12 together. They all refer to Satan, so why would it be a false story if we use the texts in each to paint a more accurate portrait of the devil? Now, the Bible doesn’t specifically call the angels who followed Satan “demons.” I think that is inferred by most people. Satan is never referred to as the “most-powerful” either, but rather beautiful and ultimately exalting himself above God.

      You may know more about this subject that I do. I’m just expressing my understanding of the scriptures.

      I’d be interested in the book you recommended. You always have book recommendations for me and I love it. Someday I really will have more time to read, I just know it.

      1. Nicole,

        You’re spot on about Rev 12; the only question is WHEN it happened. The casting out of Heaven occurs after the Woman (Israel) bears the Christ-child and he’s caught up to Heaven (the ascension). This is clearly not pre-history; it’s a historical moment (which is backed by the rest of the Revelation – in 5, Jesus is presented as the Lamb-who-was-slain, worthy because of his death to open the Scroll).

        Isaiah 14 is not about Satan; it’s a prophecy to the king of Babylon (v4). God taunts him by calling him the Morning Star (a reference to Venus, the brightest ‘star’ in the sky, and considered in ancient near eastern astrology to represent powerful earthly rulers), which in Latin is ‘Lucifer’ or ‘bright one’.

        Same thing with Ezekiel 28 – God specifically directs the word of prophecy to the king of Tyre (v2). The prophecy goes on to compare the king to Adam in Eden (v12-17).

        Again, I don’t think this is a problem for Christians. Satan is still real. It/He is still the Adversary – even more so now than ever. We just got his origin story a bit wrong.

        The divine prosecutor who was cast out at the resurrection of Jesus makes better theological sense: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. There’s no longer a need for a prosecutor. So he’s ticked. And he’s going to take as many of us down with him as he can by getting us to trust in anything but Christ’s death and resurrection to save us.

        IMO this is a Satan who poses a real threat to the Church not because he is powerful but precisely because he’s not. All he can do is trick and deceive us. Lead us slowly but surely away from truth.

        Also, in answer to your bonus question, my favorite Satan is either Al Pachino in “The Devil’s Adovcate” or the guy who played him in “Constantine” – he was a smarmy used-car-salesman type. Very slimy and crafty and cruel. Gave me chills.

        1. I’m not sure I would agree with your interpretation of when Satan was cast from Heaven. Here are the questions that your interpretation raises for me:

          1) How does the temptation of man fall into this understanding? Especially in regards to the curse God put on the serpent, which is almost universally agreed to be Satan.

          2)I would agree that Satan ultimately has infinitely less power than our God, but even Christ, who has supreme authority over Heaven and earth, calls Satan the “Ruler of this world.” Does that offer a Satan who is not powerful over the world? I think that is something to be taken seriously. While nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8), I don’t think there is biblical evidence of the people being more powerful than Satan. I am open to changing my mind here, so I’d love to hear what scripture influenced your position.

          3)Is it possible that prophecies in passages such as Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to both the kings addressed and the influencer of their deeds (namely Satan himself)? Check out http://modernreject.com/2011/04/go-on-ask-me-anything/ for a discussion on “recycled prophecy.”

          1. Ashleigh –

            1) With regards to Eden, at no point do the scriptures EVER say that the serpent in the garden is Satan. Again, that interpretive tradition dates back to Origen. I would point you back to James again – we don’t need Satan to tempt us. Our own desires (in this case, the man and woman’s desire to be like God) gave rise to their temptation. The serpent certainly tests the man and woman, but given that the text describes the serpent as ‘wise’ (the actual Hebrew translation most English translations render ‘crafty’), it’s worth reexamining our understanding of that story.

            2) Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of this world BEFORE his resurrection. And he certainly still has sway over the kingdoms of this world (as his control of the Beast in Revelation illustrates). But the Scriptures are also clear that the Resurrection was Satan’s final, decisive defeat.

            3) Could you explain why you believe the Isaiah/Ezekiel texts refer to Satan? Again, given the preponderance of Biblical evidence for the Satan-As-Prosecutor origins and the dearth of exegetical evidence supporting the Lucifer myth, there’s simply no good reason to force a secondary reading on the prophecies cited (unlike, for instance, Jesus’ birth, which led us to take a second look at Isaiah’s virgin birth prophecy).

            4) It’s important to note that reexamining Satan’s origins and ensuring that our picture of the Accuser is based more on strong Biblical interpretation than allegorical piecemeal interpretation (ala Origen) in NO WAY diminishes the reality or the significance of Satan in the Christian tradition. All we lose are the bifurcated tail and the pitchfork.

  8. While, yes, I believe in the literal sense that Satan is real, I believe that he has been defeated by Jesus Christ. Therefore I have no real fear of him. I do, however, believe that demonic possession is real, but of unbelievers only. Once a person has become a true Believer, “all things have changed and have become new” and “those who are free in Christ are free indeed” (paraphrased). Humans are sinners by nature, but Believers have been washed clean and set free by Grace. That being said, we have a choice to live by the Law of the Old Testament or the Grace of the New Testament. However, we should not be “lukewarm” and risk being spewed out of the mouth of God and live with one foot in both Testaments. We should choose which Testament we will live our lives by so that we will not be “double-minded”. It is too difficult to live under Law while at the same time living by Grace. God is a forward-moving God only and once we cross over into the life of the New Testament it is expected of us to use the Old Testament as a “guide” only regarding how we will and will not live our lives, but certainly not use it as a ritualistic manual of Laws or else the New Testament, and Christ, would serve no value and purpose; Christ would not have FULFILLED (Websters definition of “fulfilled”: to put an end to) the prophecies told. Since Satan has truly been defeated we have no reason to continue believing that God views us in the same light as He once did in the Old Testament, as ongoing sinners; He now views us as sin-LESS because we have the Spirit of Christ residing within us and nothing but Christ in us can be seen by God. If we believe that Christ’s blood covers All, then all is all and that’s all, all is. To put the blame on Satan for our mischievous ways is truly the root of our most basic sinful nature.

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