|(Photo by carulmare/|
Gustave Doré Illustration)
In C. S. Lewis’s letter titled Evil and God he responds to an article published in a British magazine about monotheism, or the belief in a single, all-powerful deity, vs. dualism, which prefigures a dichotomy between two equally powerful and opposite forces.
At one point Lewis asserts, “we all live between the ‘fell, incensed points’ of Michael and Satan.”
That caught me up short. “Doesn’t Lewis mean ‘God and Satan’?” I thought.
No, he didn’t. Lewis intended exactly what he wrote. And I realized that despite more than four decades of being churched and two decades of taking it seriously I’d fallen for some of the very nonsense that Satan’s been promulgating since he fell “like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
Satan is not God’s Equal.
“One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them” (Job 1:6).
Satan is a created being, unlike God who is self-existent. God is the I AM. Satan is the God-made. He was an angel, like Michael, called “Day Star, Son of Dawn” (Isaiah 14:12) and “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12).
However, Satan coveted God’s position. He said, “‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God, I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north … I will make myself like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:13-14, emphasis added). He didn’t want to be merely a created being, responsible to and under the authority of another; he wanted power and praise and sovereignty for himself.
Michael, the Archangel who leads God’s armies in Revelation, is an apt antithesis to Satan, for Michael’s very name means “Who is like God?” to which “No one” is the only truthful answer there can ever be.
Satan is not God’s Contemporary.
Satan is a creature with a fixed beginning, unlike God who has no beginning and no end. “You were in Eden, the garden of God … On the day that you were created” (Ezekiel 28:13). Satan’s end is described in Revelation 20:10: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur … [to] be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
Satan’s knowledge does not compete with God’s. His experience does not meet God’s. His existence does not match God’s. He is lower and lamer and less in every way.
That said, it’s advisable for those of us on earth to remember that Satan is not our contemporary, either. He is far older, far more experienced, and far wiser in the secular sense of the word than the most brilliant, skillful, or Machiavellian of us all. Not one of us will ever take on Satan and emerge the victor by way of our own intelligence, power, or will. Thank God that God offers us access to his.
Satan is the contemporary of the angelic host, those in heaven and those who fell alongside him.
Satan is not God’s Rival.
The Hebrew word satan means “to obstruct or oppose”. As a name it is translated “The Adversary” or “The Accuser”.
Who, then, does the Adversary accuse, obstruct, or oppose?
Us. People. The created.
Satan has no power except that which God permits him:
“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’
“‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’
“The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’” (Job 1:8-12)
Satan can touch nothing to which God does not allow him access.
Bewildered as we may be about why God permits Satan the places of license that he does (and furthermore why we permit Satan the places of license that we do), that it is God who holds authority over the scope of Satan’s activity is clear. God could bind Satan in a divine straightjacket, muzzle, and lockbox this very moment if he so chose. Why he doesn’t leads to questions about free will, choice, sin, love, and eternity.
Yin and Yang
Throughout history philosophers and theologians have explored the dualistic nature of existence: day and night, birth and death, bitter and sweet. Yin and yang, the popular Chinese symbol, appeals to this sense of balance, of a tension between opposites, wherein each contains a bit of the other and together they keep the universe in equilibrium. In Star Wars, George Lucas employs this notion, that the Dark Side of the Force is no longer in balance with the Light Side.
But such an ideology makes no sense when it comes to good and evil. Why would evil ever be necessary at all? Does it perpetuate life? Does it promote health, peace, or wisdom? Is it ever a force for productivity, growth, or value? If so, then it would cease to be called evil and would have to be considered good.
Evil, by definition, is destructive.
Satan happily promotes the misconception that he is the equal and opposite force to God. But he is not. If God were Yin, Satan might something more like Brussels sprouts. (Apologies to those who like Brussels sprouts. They’re the most hateful thing I’ve ever eaten.) If God is light, Satan is better described as a peat bog or a storm cloud. If God is love, Satan is annoyance or jealousy or the flu.
Satan is not God’s counterpart or opposite in any way. He is not the dark half of God. He is not God’s antithesis. He is not even God’s shadow or reflection or inversion.
Because there can be no comparison to that which has no equal.