Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Story (such as it is) of Satan

Q&A with Durrell Watkins (from Sunshine Cathedral's weekly newsletter)

Question: God is perfect. The angels are perfect. Satan was perfect. If heaven was perfect along with Satan how did Satan sin? Why did God allow sin to be known in heaven?
Answer: The first time we see “the satan” (i.e., the accuser) is in the Book of Job. In that story, “the satan” has full access to the heavenly council and is apparently simply doing his (or her) job as an accuser (sort of a prosecutor). It isn’t until much later (and probably as a result of Persian influence) “the satan” becomes “Satan”…the cosmic boogie man who is the cause of all mischief, suffering, and evil.
In the first century, it was commonly believed that difficulties and diseases were caused by evil spirits, and so “Satan” not only came to be thought of as the personification of evil, but as a leader or driving force of supernatural evil entities. Satan as a sort of Lord or Potentate of an afterlife prison called “Hell” is an even later development most vividly depicted in the literature and art of the middle ages and the Renaissance (e.g., Michelangelo’s Last Judgment and Dante’s Divine Comedy).
The story of Satan misbehaving in heaven and getting cast out isn’t really told in any one place in scripture. To form that story, one has to piece together unconnected texts: Luke10.18 (quoting Isaiah14.12, with some license…Isaiah is calling a political ruler “Lucifer”/Morning Star, the planet Venus), 2 Peter 2.4 (referring to angels being chained in “Tartarus”…a term borrowed from Greek mythology), Jude 6 (speaking of angels who did not keep to their proper domain, probably referring to the story in Genesis 6 where angels were said to have seduced humans), and Revelation 12.7-12 (a battle between angels and a dragon, the dragon probably representing Roman imperial power). By taking these disconnected texts and combining them together (and assuming that Lucifer, Satan, and the dragon are all the same character), the story of Satan as a fallen angel emerged. It is a story that developed over time, and one that I do not take literally.

Now, “Satan” is a convenient way of blaming the appearance of evil in our world on “someone.” But let’s also look at the rest of the Satan myth… “in the end” we are told, Satan is finally defeated by the forces of righteousness. What the story illustrates is that evil is not ultimately real. Evil is the absence of or the opposition to Good; but God, the Good, is omnipresent and so for God to be omnipresent means that there is nothing “real” that can ultimately oppose God/Good. A Course in Miracles states, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists; herein lies the peace of God.” Nothing can ultimately threaten or oppose what is truly Good. The appearance of evil must eventually give way to the Truth, just as darkness must be expelled the moment a candle is lit. Satan, as a literary figure representing evil, is only a temporary appearance, or illusion, which ultimately  must be banished by the light of Truth, which is that God is omnipresent and God is All Good. Good is what is true, what is real, and what must ultimately be experienced. 
(originally printed in Sunshine Cathedral's The Sun Burst in June 2010)

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