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F. Earle Fox
One does not want to give Satan any more press time than necessary, but that very necessity does lie in the need for understanding our enemy. Satan is a high creature of God who rebelled at some primordial time and was then thrown down to earth, for reasons that we are not told. He is no match for God, and is vulnerable in the same ways that all other creatures are -- when they separate themselves from God. We would do well to think of him more as the cosmic spoiled brat than the cosmic criminal.
According to the myth of secular modernity, Satan does not exist, and, of course, neither does God. But Christians are obligated to be truth seekers above all else. The evidence all around compels our belief in God, but what about Satan? What possible evidence could there be for such a being? Satan is not a necessary being as is God (on God see Personality, Empiricism, & God). Because Satan is not necessary for the Biblical worldview, there must be some reason, some evidence apart from the general Biblical worldview for our believing that he exists and is the arch-criminal-brat of the universe. There must be some empirical evidence.
Satan is not evident to the five senses, so what evidence could there be for his existence? I would list the following two reasons:
1. Jesus, the Son of God, takes Satan very seriously, not as merely a myth or a figure of speech.
Satan in the Old Testament is not an important figure, which left the Hebrews with the option of attributing all events, even grossly evil events, to God Himself. To do otherwise would be to suggest that God was not in charge of history. So natural calamities are attributed to God, as are invasions. They are punishments from God for the sins of the nation.
In the Book of Job, Satan is not so much the arch-criminal of the universe, but rather more like the heavenly court prosecutor. And even in Genesis 3, the story of the Fall, the serpent, who is generally interpreted to be Satan in disguise, does not appear clearly as the arch-criminal, but almost as a very clever, though badly intentioned, prankster. After Genesis 3, we hear little of him until the book of Job.
It is not until New Testament times that Satan, as it were, comes into his own, that is, Satan is exposed for who he really is.
This is important for the Biblical worldview, because it is only after the identification of Satan is established that the people of God can mount an effective spiritual warfare against him. In the Old Testament, the human enemies of God were directly attacked, often with the command to be annihilated. There does not appear to have been any thought of prayer warfare or evangelism until New Testament times. Once the enemy behind the scenes was identified, Christians could mount a spiritual war against Satan rather than attacking those who were possessed or controlled by Satan. It came to be understood that people could be set free from the control of Satan.
2. The intransigence of evil requires an explanation;
Secular attempts to deal with the pain, brokenness, and criminality of human beings with secularized science have produced some very helpful results, because when one follows the laws of God, things really do work better. That is true of natural law science as well as the moral and spiritual law. Honest science works for anyone, believer or not. But on the whole, things have gotten far worse with secularism, not better. The depersonalization of life, an inherent aspect of a secular cosmos, gave us the terribly brutal 20th century, with no hope of fundamental change for the 21st.
In short, evil continues unabated, despite the very best efforts of the human race to turn the situation around "scientifically". Nothing appears to do the job.
Nothing, that is, excepting any society which turns honestly and fundamentally back to God (see especially the writings of sociologist/apologist, Rodney Stark). The story of Western Civilization tells us that indeed, the law and grace of God can and do produce a civilized people, a people who work together, loving and supporting one another.
Evil will not be banished from the human context until the return of the King, but in the meantime, Godly people can force the evil-minded to retreat under the rocks and into caves, out of the public arena -- simply by being honest truth-seekers and truth-speakers, by forcing open and honest discussion in the public arena as well as in personal lives. Evil cannot survive in the light of honest investigation - so it runs for the bushes (Genesis 3:7 ff., John 3:19).
But that is another story. I want to focus on a particular aspect of the power of Satan, his capacity to affect the lives of the very young.
Having arrived as my 72nd year (2007 A. D.), I am able to survey three generations, that of my parents, my own, and that of my children, with some degree of comprehension. I have spent much time asking the question, both for myself and others, how do we get broken and how do we get well? How do we repair the damage done to ourselves, much of it from our earliest years (see Biblical Inner Healng)? And, indeed, how do we explain that damage, which so often seems to be totally out of proportion to the events surrounding our growing up?
I am reasonably well aware of the kinds of persons who were parents in those three generations, the kinds of persons my grandparents were, and my parents, and myself for my children. I can see the passing down of both good and bad qualities. The sins and the goodness are both passed down several generations. I have also become aware that the cycle can be broken, but only as we are able to undo that inner brokenness fairly early, that is, before we begin our own families. If we do not break that cycle of passing on the inner brokenness and evil intention by a change in our own lives before the early years of our children, we will pass on to our children that which was given to us.
But in all three generations of which I am aware, there is a disconnect between the kinds of persons who were doing the parenting and the devastating results happening in the children. So far as I know, in all cases in my family, the parents were upright, moral persons, with (consciously, at least) good intentions. They wanted to love their children, they were good providers, sometimes under difficult circumstances. There were the kinds of people you might find typically in church on a Sunday. They did not, to my knowledge, have a deep and powerful faith that radiated out, changing the lives of others. But they were honest in their dealings with others, and tried to do the right thing as they saw that. They were in some cases rather stern in appearance, but no one was hateful.
Yet, many of us, including myself, report serious difficulties in growing up and maturing into free-spirited human beings who were able to reach out with intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity to each other. In some cases, there has been serious and visible distress and disablement. Furthermore, the path to recovery of stability has in every case been difficult and costly. I can happily report that much progress is being made by many in my family, in every case so far involving spiritual growth and awakening to the love of God in Jesus.
When I look at the parents of those experiencing those difficulties, I see the disconnect mentioned above. In my own case, the kinds of inhibitions, fears, paranoia, and resentment which mounted up in myself simply cannot be fully explained by how I was parented. My parents would have been appalled at the inner struggles I had in my relation with them. Sadly, we never had (or made) the opportunity to air these matters. And I have been shocked at the reports which my children have sent back, directly or indirectly, to me about what they see as my effect on them.
What is going on? Even though we carry with us the often unresolved results of our own parenting, how can it be that we can have such a devastating effect on our own children -- even with the best of our conscious intentions?
The primary brokenness has been, for all of us, I think, our freedom (or lack of it) to be our real selves in front of each other, and a deeply inhibiting sense of personal self-rejection, a feeling of unworthiness, what one family member referred to as "shame". There were times when it felt like I had broken glass in my gut, a severe self-contradiction.
Some of the power of parental relations on the children is explained by the fact that parents are in the "God" role for the children. The child is at first totally dependent on the good will of the parent -- who defines our being, our identity, "who we are". So the effect of parenting is, as it were, all powerful and all encompassing. But that does not explain the terribly negative effect of what are unintended consequences on a child from a parent who, for example, is reserved, withdrawn, or absent. The child feels a rejection all out of proportion to what was in fact happening.
I recall events in my youth and young adulthood when it seemed as though a voice were whispering to me negative thoughts. At times it was as though I was in the presence of someone who hated me, who was indeed directing a beam of hate at me. This person seemed to be standing behind my right shoulder about ten feet back. I never "saw" such a person, but the sense of presence was unmistakable.
A secular mindset will have to explain this as a psychological manifestation of some sort, a delusion, or whatever. But the Bible offers a quite different explanation.
The word 'devil' means 'slanderer', and the word 'Satan' means 'adversary'. Jesus referred to Satan as the father, not of sexual sin, nor of violence, but of lies. Adding the three together, liar, slanderer, adversary, one gets an accurate picture of the personality in that voice behind me.
We are born into the world without a conscious personal relation to our Creator and Lord. We have no idea of God, or of reality other than that presented by our parents, who are, one and all, fallen human beings, less than perfect parents. When the child meets these disabilities, there is an instinctive reaction to withdraw, to pull back, to set up our first fig leaf defensive walls. We reject our dependency on that parent, and thereby force ourselves into an "I am on my own" mentality.
We are not rejecting merely those human parents, we are, in effect, rejecting being parented at all. We are rejecting the very state of dependency. That early rejection of dependency on our parents, our original God figures, putting us on our own in the cosmos, can open us up to other spiritual forces at work. We lose our natural, God-given dependency on parents, meant to lead and introduce us to our final dependency on God Himself. But we are nevertheless still dependent for our survival, and, despite our attempted rejection of dependency, thus open to other, inadequate, and destructive ways of meeting those needs.
The 5th Commandment, to honor our parents, might be there to keep us in relationship to our parents, even though they may be less than adequate. God may be saying to us, honor your parents, no matter how badly they do their job. That is, stay open to parenting, to mothering and fathering, and I will grow you up beyond your parents to where you can receive your mothering and fathering from Me directly. You will become My child.
But if we raise up defensive walls, if we reject being mothered and fathered, then God cannot draw us to Himself, and we are left to the negative forces at work, such as Satan and his allies. We become sitting ducks for terribly destructive forces, with no help in sight. "On our own" cannot work because we are inherently dependent beings, and then Satan himself can begin to fill that archetypal role as parent -- defining who we are -- inadequate, rejected, unwanted. The whispering voice, the liar, slanderer, and adversary telling me who I am. Not a good bargain.
God, in the Bible, is He who is both Creator and Sovereign, the Lord and Giver of life.
But we are made in that same Image of God, male and female. That means that we represent, bear in our flesh and our souls, the creative, mothering side of God, and the authority of the fathering side. The essence of mothering is spiritual power, the gift of ontological security, the power of being, the ability to be myself. If mother is secure in herself, that gift will flow to the child.
The essence of fathering is spiritual authority, giving meaning and purpose to life, setting appropriate boundaries, limits, and goals. Father affirms the mothering gift of being, and then gives it purpose. Mothering has to do with my being, fathering with my doing. The ultimate fathering gift is the command (purpose) to love God and one's neighbor, an invitation to the Kingdom of God.
But we come into the world in a cloud of unknowing, totally self-centered, totally ignorant -- apart from some basic built-in responses. We know how to recognize mother and then father. We learn quickly about being mothered and fathered -- if we do not cut off the process by defensive maneuvers.
We are born little pagans, all worshipping mom, in whom (the womb) we live and move and have our being. Mom is God and the cosmos all wrapped up in one. Slowly, after birth, we begin to differentiate out from mom and gain our own personhood and personality. But we are dependent on, and obedient to, beings less than God, and thus subject to all those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune noted above. So we need to move on in our spiritual lives to becoming dependent on and obedient to God Himself. We need, as Jesus said, to be born again, to become children of God, mothered and fathered by God.
Godly parenting will, by both word and deed, show the child the direction. Father Terry Fullam, once rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut, said that the earliest memories of his parents were of the two most important people in his life kneeling before Someone who was more important. Their looking up to God directed his own gaze toward that heavenly vision.
As we mature spiritually, we become less and less vulnerable to the forces of rebellion, self-centeredness, and evil in the cosmos. But we must pass through the Journey Perilous, from the place where mother and father are God to the place where God is Mother and Father. That is our spiritual journey, as Christian in Pilgrim's Progress -- through the trials of life forward to Eden.
In the Garden, under the law and grace of God, Adam and Eve were invulnerable to the serpent. The serpent gained power over them only because he was able to persuade them to step out of the Garden (eat the forbidden fruit), out of the ontological security and the direction of God into "on their own".
Children are very vulnerable to the negative forces in the fallen cosmos. It may be that by understanding the power of Satan in this matter, and the power of God to redeem all things, parents will be more successful in avoiding some of the landmines hidden on the paths we walk with our children.
We cannot make that journey to the Kingdom on our own because we are not inherently independent beings, and cannot become so. That is why the Son of God comes to visit us, the face of God turned toward us, to draw us into a dependency relation with Himself, to lead us through the crucifixion of our old pagan selves into the new reality of our selves in Him. The Journey Perilous.
Our new selves, ontologically secure in, and directed by, God Himself are a match for anything Satan can throw at us, including voices of condemnation. So our best bet is to get into that new birth as fast as we can.
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