Can we talk about Satan for a minute?
I know - awkward. The whole notion, the whole idea of Satan is a difficult one, even for Christians. It seems that we either forget or neglect him altogether or else give him more credit than he is due. It's difficult to know exactly where we're supposed to come down on Satan. Is he real? Is he powerful? Is he a shadow? Is he defeated? Is he in charge?
Let's be clear: the popular theology of Satan, where it exists, gives him far too much credit. There are persons, even persons of faith, all over this world who claim Satan's interference when they are really just suffering the consequences of their own stupid or faithless actions. Overwhelmingly, what we blame Satan for is really our own fault and could be absolutely predicted by the way that we've chosen to act. In these times, it is not great faith that recognizes a spiritual enemy but rather haughty arrogance, an unwillingness to truly examine our own sin.
But so, too, is there a danger in neglecting the idea of a spiritual enemy at all.
Despite the fact that the book of Job begins with a conversation between God and Satan, and despite the fact that we see clearly how much influence Satan has over what happens to this faithful man, once the stage is set, Satan is not a name we see again. He doesn't show up any more.
Job and his friends don't even consider the possibility that there is a spiritual enemy out there.
Throughout the entire book, they banter back and forth about man's fallenness, even Job's fallenness, and about God's perfect righteousness that is clearly beyond our understanding, for God obviously knows something about Job that neither he nor his friends have figured out yet. It's Job's foolishness and God's vindictiveness all the way. Righteous vindictiveness, of course, but you get the point.
And so they spend all their time talking about how and why God does what He does, how He's justified to do it, what it means to the men who suffer from it, and how it is that we're supposed to live through it. Read it and watch them; they are doing some fantastic pontificating about God in the midst of suffering, but let's not fail to notice what they fail to notice - there might be another factor at play.
I don't know if Job and his friends even had a theology of Satan, if they had conceptualized a spiritual enemy at all. It's hard to imagine how they couldn't have heard the story of the snake in the garden, but maybe they hadn't. Or maybe they thought, like so many of us do, that the snake was already crushed under their heel, that his whisper was no longer effective, that he could no longer tempt us to sin...and perhaps didn't even need to; we do that very well on our own.
I confess that I don't always remember that I'm locked in a spiritual battle. I don't. Maybe it's because I am so keenly aware of my own shortcomings and fallen shorts; I, like Job's friends, am more prone to blame myself than to think that spiritual forces are at war over my righteousness. And maybe some of that, too, is knowing how cheap we've made Satan in our society, how we use him as a scapegoat for everything and give him too much power and credit in doing so. So I'm reluctant.
But let me, let us, not be blind.
If Satan were not a real force, God wouldn't be talking with him. And we see plainly this conversation taking place at the beginning of Job. We see it playing out, even if Job and his friends never once consider the possibility.
Let us never fail to consider the possibility. For we do have a spiritual enemy, and while he's not all that we make him out to be, he's real nonetheless. And it matters. It matters for more reasons than meet the eye.
(To be continued)