Sunday, March 12, 2006

I Write About Satan

I mentioned Satan today during my sermon. The lectionary suggests Mark 8:31-38 as the text, so I talked about Satan being a symbol of all that is against God, all that opposes what God wants. Someone got real excited about it: 'I wondered where Satan was. That's the first time you've ever talked about him!' Maybe that's an integral part of her theology and she finally felt affirmed...or she wondered why a Christian preacher doesn't talk about Satan very often. Either way, apparently I satiated something within her.

For me, the jury is still out on whether I would designate Satan as a being, as more than a symbol. Of course, this comes from someone who believes in God and ghosts, so it would be a disconnect for me to simply write Satan off as a superstitious concept constructed by ancient people. In the Bible, Satan evolves from a test administrator on a leash in Job to a tempter and inspiration for betrayal in the Gospels to the unholy enemy of the church in Revelation (an argument could be made that this last one is meant to symbolize Rome). Satan is an adversary in all of these instances, but in the theological contexts of Job and the Gospels, his adversarial deeds serve a greater purpose that God has planned out. In Revelation, God's purpose is to destroy him. Popular Evangelical theology has based its concept of Satan entirely around Revelation's view: an evil conniving 'ruler of this world' who, depending on who you talk to, is responsible for all human suffering in an attempt to destroy faith and send people to hell where, depending on who you talk to, he himself will poke you with his trident.

For the time being, I am satisfied with what I presented this morning: Satan represents all that opposes God's ways. This is why Jesus uses the term to yell at Peter. Peter has set his mind on human things rather than divine things, his own way of thinking rather than God's. That could be labeled Satanic.

I suppose that, if one was so inclined, one could label that tiny voice in one's head egging you on to do what best suits you, reminding you that others will think less of you if you say or act a certain way, pushing you to turn your attention back to hording what you can rather than giving to one with need as the voice of Satan. One could just as easily call it human nature, our 'survival instinct,' some therapeutic speech about 'comfort zones' and 'safe spaces' and 'being in the right mindset.' So, then...could one label that other tiny voice egging you on to look beyond yourself, pushing you to turn your attention to giving to one with need, reassuring you not to care about others' opinions as something other than God, perhaps an innate sense of morality, our 'communal instinct,' some therapeutic speech about 'pushing your comfort zones' and 'doing what's right' and any number of things that Oprah and Doctor Phil talk about every day? With these questions come the concepts of sin, redemption, forgiveness, faith, and the Holy Spirit among others. If one is just a superstition, why might these others be called something else?

Satan has evolved, Biblically speaking. So has God. In the New Testament, Jesus moves from teacher/healer in the Gospels to resurrected Christ in Paul to divine avenger in Revelation. The argument that one isn't real because the Bible can't get its story straight puts others' existence into question as well.

So where's that leave us with Satan? As I mentioned earlier, while I haven't settled on whether he's a real being, there are plenty of agents and actions that could be called Satanic: oppression, selfishness, obsession with status and power, love of money, discrimination, bigotry, false piety, and a host of others. Whatever that voice is telling us to put these things ahead of what God wants, even helping us rationalize that these things ARE what God wants, it exists and it is against God.