Is satan real?

Jason Micheli —  August 13, 2014 — 10 Comments

Untitled10111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts (questions 1-30) here.

I. The Father

32. Is satan real? 

Yes, more real and far scarier than we’d like to admit.

In scripture, satan (שָּׂטָן) is not a personal name or a proper noun; satan is our propensity for blame, accusation and recrimination that so easily leads to violence.

The personification of satan as Satan in scripture reveals the extent to which this spirit of blame and accusation captivate and possess us.

‘Satan’ as a malignant, seraphic rival to God, against whom the Creator struggles for the fate of creation, does not exist, for such a figure reduces God to but another object within the universe.

If ‘God’ by definition is the source of all existence at all moments of their existence, then ‘Satan’ as he’s imagined in popular piety, by definition, does not exist.

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.” 

– Matthew 27.12


Jason Micheli


10 responses to Is satan real?

  1. So in the book of Job God speaks with a humans propensity for blame? This blame then takes away Job’s family and wealth. The blame approaches God again and gets permission to plague Job’s body?

    Satan uses this blame to do evil things but to say he doesn’t exist as a real being is imho not staying true to scriptures.

    • I think my first response would be that to see ha-satan in Job, or Genesis, as anything like the figure in the wilderness in Matthew is not true to the scriptures. Related to that, to insist on a literal reading of either Job or the Fall stories itself goes against the grain of those scriptures’ genres. I take it as a given that neither is meant to be read as a literal or historical account.

  2. I must be reading this incorrectly. The fall story is in Genesis, and you are saying that Genesis isn’t an historical account that is to be read literally? If parts of it are true and to be read literally which parts? Who gets to determine which parts are true. Was Jesus not being truthful when he referred to Genesis and the people on it as real people?
    Scripture interprets scripture. There are parts that are prose like psalms but to say Job and Genesis are included in that list is an interesting and dangerous take again in my humble opinion.

  3. How do you interpret Matthew 4:3 “The tempter came to him and said,”? That sounds like a being is talking and tempting Jesus. Do you see this as an internal dialog between Jesus and his human nature?

  4. I recently read some commentary on Calvin that differentiated between “archetypal” (Gods perfect knowledge of himself) and “ectypal” (our finite knowledge of God) theology. Satan makes sense to me in the latter.

  5. Who was Jesus tempted by in the desert? Jesus was free of sin and there was no one but him and the devil.

    • Wes, I’m okay with saying Jesus was tempted by a figure we can call satan. My point, obscured in such a short Q/A, is that the popular conception of Satan as a divine-like rival to God is neither scriptural nor logical since God must hold even satan in existence at every point of his/her existence. I also do believe everything else not withstanding that satan is seen more clearly in the killing of abel than in the garden. Even Jesus refers to this as the satanic sin at the foundation of the world.

  6. Jason, when you do “sound bite” theology on this topic or any other, you are likely to do more harm than good. All you are doing is either confusing people or denying long held beliefs they’ve held without clarifying or replacing those beliefs with anything solid or meaningful. I don’t see how these types of articles are either edifying, uplifting or pastoral. I trust that you are not simply employing these hyperbolic arguments to impress your readers.

  7. I tend to like this view of “satan”. Theologically, I defer to Jason and so its fine with me if the understanding then is that satan is not an entity per se. I like it most because to think of a Satan in the world going about making us do evil allows us to deny our own responsibility for actions that are counter to God’s will. We need to recognize that our own greed and propensity to violence is a big enough satan to confront and it is one that we have complete power to defeat.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The devil as a mere “propensity for blame”? | Rev. Brent L. White - August 14, 2014

    […] While I believe I emphasize Satan in proportion to the Bible’s emphasis, I probably wouldn’t talk about him as much as I do, except as an antidote to this sort of nonsense, courtesy of my clergy colleague Jason Micheli: […]

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