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Scene of Adam, Eve and the serpent on tree life. Medieval gravestone fragment. / Photo by WHPics (Depositphoto)

The Evil in this World: Who Is Satan?

The Evil in this World: Who Is Satan?

Satan is the source of all evil and the enemy of all our lives.

Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on The Evil in this World. We see it every day in the murder and mayhem that trouble our lives. The world’s great religions have an explanation for this and different ways to describe the battle between good and evil. Those who do not subscribe to a religious tradition have their own perceptions of evil and good. How does your belief system describe both forces and how does it help you cope with the notion that evil exists in this world? Has your faith ever been shaken by the evil around you?

Commentary by Cassy Benefield

evil in this world FAVS series

Perhaps the surest sign evil exists in the world lies in the reality that all living things die. Humans intuitively understand this is not how it was meant to be, as we grieve losses of our loved ones, our pets and even our plants that don’t make it in the garden a particular season.

One reason we tend to reject death through our emotions could be explained by our creator putting “eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Another reason may be because we were created for eternal fellowship with God, which is written of throughout the Bible.

But where did evil come from?

The true source of evil and how it grows is not so easily defined. We tend to experience evil in its outcomes, extreme results being genocide, war, government corruption, abuse, death, etc. Still, many of us have a hard time nailing down the source as to why these evil consequences happen at all.

Every faith tradition, even non-faith traditions, have theories as to the unseen nature of evil, but we can’t really know from whence it began or how it will one day end — or even if it ever will end. This answer tends to lie in the domains of belief and philosophy and not through the scientific method.

As a practicing Christian, I think the Bible, where the teachings of my faith reside, defines the unseen reality behind evil as Satan along with the demons (or “angels” in some translations) who follow him.

I know this sounds like the stuff of fairy tales, but I think a case can be made that the Bible’s teaching about Satan and the creation account of humankind’s fall in Genesis 3 is as viable an option as any that defines the source of evil in this world.

‘I will be like the Most High’

It all began with Lucifer (translated “son of the morning” in several translations), God’s created and anointed guardian cherub, who at one point in eternity said in his heart, I will be “like the Most High.”

In so doing, he became known in Scripture as Satan, the “father of lies,” the devil, the accuser of Christians and all of humanity’s spiritual enemy. 

Through the symbolic accounts of Lucifer found in Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-18, we learn that one day in eternity Satan used his God-given freewill to think more highly of himself than he ought to have. Because of that, wickedness was found in him.

Satan exhibited pride, wanting to do things his own way, saying in effect to God, “You can’t tell me what to do.”

The consequences: evil was born, Satan was cast out of heaven and hell was created for him and his angels as their place of final judgement.

Death hadn’t come upon the living just yet. That was coming.

‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’

The Bible is not clear as to when angelic beings, such as Satan, were created. Genesis 1, however, records that humans were created on the sixth day.

That day, God, using Trinitarian pronouns “us” and “our,” is said to have created man in his image “to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it” (Genesis 1:26).

In a notable irony that was not lost on Satan, God made humans from the humble dust of earth to be “like God” not only in image, but also in position as rulers on earth.

And Satan was having none of it.

The devil made me do it, or did he?

Satan, in the form of a serpent, came into this idyllic Garden of Eden to tempt this new human race, in order to gain the influence and power he coveted.

We might be asking here, “Why would a good God allow Satan to come into this precious garden?”

The most convincing argument for me is that God gave freewill to humans. He wanted to see if Adam and Eve would choose to follow him of their own volition — to give them a choice to trust and obey him, just as he gave to Satan and the fallen angels before them.

Satan used the notorious “Did God really say?” question to cast doubt in Eve’s heart as to the exact instructions given by God about what trees they could eat from and why. Because of this doubt, she chose to trust herself and her and Satan’s own interpretation of God’s word, in turn influencing Adam to distrust and disobey God’s instructions, as well.

Both sinned in this choice, and Adam, Eve and the serpent were judged. Just as Satan was cast out of Heaven, Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

As a result, death came upon all people and corrupted all of creation in Heaven and on earth.

The future of evil and death

Thankfully, every beginning has an ending, and so it is with the story of evil and death in the Bible.

It calls death “the last enemy” that God will defeat. And in the second to last chapter of the Bible, we are told Satan will be banished into the “lake of fire” where he “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

In other words, evil and death, while ruinous here on earth, will one day have no more influence upon God’s creation. 

They will be finished and all of creation will be truly free from death and the ravages of evil.

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Walter A Hesford

Thanks, Cassy, for your exploration of evil from a biblical perspective. You will not be surprised to learn, however, that I read the Bible differently. I see the snake in Genesis as just that, a snake and Satan as a later mythical invention to help us see what is in us all. And while we mourn death, I see it not as as an evil but as natural and necessary…”dust to dust.” I look forward to further discussion, Walter

Cassandra Benefield

Thank you for reading it and commenting Walter! We definitely could have further discussions for sure. I think it is important for people to understand that even Christians approach the Bible and its interpretations differently. … I mean how many different varieties of churches are there!

For full disclosure, I really don’t know what to make of the literal snake in the garden. I mean, was it possessed by Satan? Could animals talk before the fall? Could mankind hear what animals said? Did the snake actual have legs before God cursed him? For all that, I do believe the story is more than myth, as well as Satan, the devil, our enemy, etc. In my reading of scripture, language of Satan and demons is peppered throughout the Bible in both Old and New testaments, so much so, I’m not certain man was smart enough to coordinate all that in creating a myth.

I see your point about death and I think it’s a totally fair one. But I see your POV more in Eastern-type/Pagan religions and philosophies than in Christianity personally. That’s not to diminish those points of view, but to perhaps point out that I think that belief may come more from syncretism with other world faiths than from the Bible’s overall narrative itself. Which is fine, but definitely different.

All that to say, I totally respect your thoughts Walter and appreciate you sharing them and am always ever so grateful for SpokaneFAVS for how it allows for us to have these open, honest and respectful conversations!

I hope you can make it to the Coffee Talk next Saturday. Would love to meet you and think your thoughts on the topic would be valuable to share!

Last edited 1 month ago by Cassandra Benefield

[…] ·       Cassandra Benefield, journalism major from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a Bible nerd who is prone to buy more theology books than she is ever able to read. She is managing editor of FāVS. She will discuss her column on the topic, “Who Is Satan?“ […]

[…] Cassandra Benefield, journalism major from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds great comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a Bible nerd who tends to buy more theology books than she can ever read. . She is editor-in-chief of FāVS. She will address her column on the subject, “Who is Satan?“ […]

Phil Faris

Thanks, Cassy, for the succinct overview of biblical teaching about “the enemy”, Satan, and his influence over human history and his ultimate destiny in the Lake of Fire. For believers in the Bible, these points are clear and not subject to very much quibbling. On the other hand, for those who think the Bible is a collection of somewhat figurative stories or myths written to help societies understand and respond to evil events and people in the world, the discussion and analysis might continue a long time over drinks in dimly lit corners.

Sociopaths of a Darwinian bent seem to abound online, and I don’t think they contribute much to the discussion–nor is it very helpful to respond to their taunting. Such people like to trap people in their own words and shout, “Gotcha!” Persons like Socrates come to mind. And Satan. This is why this statement is so profound: “He is a liar and the Father of lies.” People who try to confuse others are taking sides in the debate; and their side is with the enemy! In many ways, the seemingly innocuous question, “Why does God allow evil things to happen to good people?”, is so, uh, evil. 

Ironically, innocent people who become confused are the ones who spread this and other such “questions” most often. It’s like a tiny seed of doubt has been planted somewhere in the past and it’s legacy keeps sprouting wherever and whenever it gets a chance. Heirloom lies, we should call them. What I think is funny is the idea that Satan has to be some kind of a genius to come up with these kinds of attacks on truth. The first example of this kind of lie came in the form of a question, “Did God say that you mustn’t eat from the fruit of this tree?” How brilliant does one have to be to just change the verb tense and mood in an otherwise true statement? This is almost plagiarism!

But today, when naive young teachers’ assistants in colleges try to confuse their innocent students by repeating such questions, they are in some ways being more evil than Satan was. They know that they are deceiving another person for an evil purpose. They know that they are implying that THEY are so smart that they’ve come up with an unanswerable question and stumped God. The young and inexperienced are intrigued and fascinated and become a bit enthralled by these enchanters. “I’ve never thought of that before,” they say. 

So, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be like Satan. But those seeds Satan planted have spread faster than GMO products from Monsanto! (See what I’ve done there?) 

While the Bible does suggest that it was pride that started this line of deceptive reasoning, as you said Cassy, I think Romans 1 shows that anyone could easily get derailed in the same way. While no human may actually be as beautiful and intelligent as Lucifer is described, the reasoning or thought processes that turn innocence into evil can emerge spontaneously. Again, it’s funny, but humans don’t even need a Satan to blame for their own bad decisions. In Romans one a three-step descent into self-deception is described. 

The starting point is the nearly universally acknowledged idea that a pretty awesome Creator made the universe. This is probably the most widely accepted “truth” in history, being the foundation for nearly every religion. But, as the story goes in Romans, people exchanged this truth for a lie. 

The first step was to try to make an image of God; that is, to make God look like something less awesome and more “like us”. 

They still worshipped God, but became confused about who or what God was. The second step, therefore, was to elevate mundane things and worship them as if they were God.

The third step happens when people realize how absurd this is—worshipping anything that just happens to be nearby. So they just drop the whole concept of God; they “don’t retain the knowledge of God” in their minds, as it says in Romans.

So, the path towards evil—rebellion against everything that is good in creation—doesn’t start with a brilliant leader fabricating a convincing lie. It starts with someone, anyone, being stupid enough to make a clay model of God. The rest is just logic, as Spock might say. 

Since that first lie, however, both men and angels (it is said) have been using whatever brilliance and creativity they can muster to release sequels. And when those versions become trite and predicable, they reboot the series and start over. I don’t think Satan has to work very hard. In fact, I bet he’s still just collecting royalties on the first few franchises he launched. 

Interestingly, Romans 2 continues this explanation with a remark about how even Gentiles—people who haven’t read the Bible and don’t know anything about such things—have a “conscience” within them that detects the difference between right and wrong. The real problem of “evil” isn’t about whether or not Satan exists or if we can blame him for all the world’s problems, the problem is within ourselves! And, once again, almost everyone throughout history has recognized this fact; they keep getting a guilty conscience when they do something “wrong”.

All this, of course, is just things that we might muse on while trying to answer the question, “Who is Satan?” Since the biblical name Satan is just the word “Enemy”, and the word for “Devil” is just the word “blasphemer” (or critic), and the name “Lucifer” is just the word for “light bearer”, we can see that it didn’t take angelic powers (whatever they might be) or miraculous signs and wonders for Satan to become Satan. All of us have the ability to become enemies, critics, or charlatans striving for personal gain at the expense of truth.

We have met the enemy, and he is us!

So, if we are all able to be (and sometimes have been) Satans, what’s to become of us? You mentioned, Cassy, that the last enemy to be defeated is death and that the enemy, “the” Satan, will be cast into a Lake of Fire prepared for him and his angels. As you know, the word “angels” is just Greek for “messengers”. That reminds me of all the people who have been repeating the original lie in various forms and carrying that “message” to others. Linguistically, that’s just saying that humans who plagiarize the enemy are that enemy’s angels. Ephesians 2 refers to us in an interesting way: 

“And you, although you were dead in your sins, those things you did following the course of this world, mimicking the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all formerly lived in the desires of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and of the mind, and we were children of wrath by nature, as also the rest of them were.”

The rest of that chapter in Ephesians is very clear and explicit about this topic. Those of us who are musing about “Who is Satan?” should probably also muse about our similarity to him and our final destiny. Do we want to follow him into that lake? Thankfully, our own somewhat lame sequel to the story of Satan, in which he is just the first example of a stupid mind thinking that God isn’t so great after all, that sequel has a truly brilliant plot-twist as it nears the end. The rest of Ephesians 2 can’t be misunderstood; it isn’t in figurative language subject to interpretation. Our story can end with all of us angels of Satan seeing the light at the last minute! We can grasp the truth and decide to follow Jesus who, “while we were dead in those sins, he made us alive with him!!” It goes on to say that “we are his creation, created in him to do good works, works for which God—the real God, the awesome one–has beforehand made all the preparations, so that we can actually do them.”

This is good news! And it’s good news that we stumbled into just by thinking about the question, “Who is Satan?”

Cassandra Benefield

Hi Phil! Gosh what a great and thoughtful comment! I am not going to be able to respond to it all, but I agree with you that evil exists in our own hearts … and we don’t need Satan to cause us to sin. For brevity and focus in my piece, however, I was led to highlight what the Scripture teaches is the “first source” of evil, and in a way this was so meaningful to me personally because in God’s intended purpose in creating us, we were not “evil” … we, too, were perfect.

So my identity at the heart of reality is based on that image, not on the image that I’m a sinner. Of course, I understand that I am a sinner, and that, too, is important for my identity (but not the core), at the very least to understand from what I am saved … but knowing that all humans have this core identity of what God’s first intention was in our creation makes me see the world differently. With a bit more joy and hope.

Because Satan is the first source of evil, and because Adam through his disobedience to God brought sin and death as part of the creation he was tasked to “rule” over and “subdue,” the world is a mess! But God! The law came in so that the trespass would increase, but where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

And, as Christians, Jesus spreads His righteousness and His eternal life into the world through us, even within this world’s mess! This is our joy and duty to yield to! And this is could be one of the things God meant when He said the Kingdom of God will grow as mustard seed and will not stop. Even now, while there is so much evil, my faith and this understanding of evil as sourced through Satan, brings me so much hope! Because, “because greater is he that is in [me], than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

On that note, I hope you will make it to our Coffee Talk next Saturday at 10 a.m. at the central library. I would love to meet you finally in person and I bet you’d have some wonderful insight to share with the gathering.

Last edited 1 month ago by Cassandra Benefield
Phil Faris

Yes, I’ll see you next Saturday at the Coffee Talk about Evil.

“Discussion” about such topics is both needed and never-ending, I think. Your article, as you said, was indeed about the “source” of evil being found in the person of Satan. My thinking is about the opposite end of the spectrum, the “destiny” of evil being found in each of us as a freewill decision. In that light we can all decide to turn from being evil ourselves (following the enemy by simply acting like him) towards receiving the hope of righteousness by following Truth. That last sentence was intended to imply that deception, which is the opposite of Truth, is to root of evil.

I suggest we only know Satan’s evil today through his children, through people spreading deception and denying Truth. It’s this “fresh” crop of evil that is our problem, not the rotting leftovers of Satan’s first lies.

As an aside, sort of, I think the insidiousness and almost irresistibleness of evil becomes obvious when we try to respond to evil with a powerful counterargument. Our minds spontaneously craft linguistically powerful slam-dunk statements that emerge from our mouths for the purpose of destroying the enemy. Truth is not part of that mental chain-reaction. Our brains are bombarded by hostile neutrons and explode with beautiful (in our eyes) fireworks, all sound and fury but signifying nothing.

So, our sweet little innocent inner selves become, in that instant, deceptive agents of our Liar in Chief. We become evil ourselves. Yet if “feels” so good, so righteous! We probably even quote that verse, “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world, but we have divine power to demolish strongholds!” We watch this process happen among our friends and allies and are sickened by it–and then go out and do it ourselves.

Yet, shouldn’t we DO something when attacked? We shouldn’t let evil roam around unchecked!

Interestingly, that’s why I became an intelligence analyst 40 years ago; I felt that an objective Bible teacher working inside the military and the government might help our country’s decision-makers resist deception and be exposed to a bit more truth than otherwise. (I’ll end this comment instead of becoming satirical in reporting how well this worked out…)

Cassandra Benefield

“Discussion” about such topics is both needed and never-ending, I think …” So, so true! Thank you for your thoughtful second reply. You pack a punch in your sentences so there is a lot of “chewing” and reflecting to do with it all. See you next Saturday! Lord willing. 😉

[…] ·       Cassandra Benefield, journalism major from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a Bible nerd who is prone to buy more theology books than she is ever able to read. She is managing editor of FāVS. She will discuss her column on the topic, “Who Is Satan?“ […]

Walter A Hesford

Hello Again Cassy….I did find your response and also Phil’s great discussion. I just wanted to add about how I see that guileful snake in Genesis. I think it is figure from a very ancient myth. In the ancient world, snakes were associated with wisdom, as they came out of holes in the earth, the source of wisdom. Snakes were also seen as potentially dangerous and of course poisonous. Thus the snake tempts Eve with poisonous wisdom to attract humans down into the knowledge of good and evil. Walter

Cassandra Benefield

Thank you for this background, Walter. That is definitely something to ponder and consider.

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