The Evangelical Universalist Forum

One reason Satan as a being doesn't make sense to me


The Bible says that life on earth was originally good. Then an evil being, Satan, tempted mankind and curses followed. Satan has tremendous explanatory power for our capacity to do evil. But who first tempted Satan? If one level of creation (earth) was originally good, and it’s present evil is explained by a fall initiated by a being who came from another level of creation (heaven), it seems reasonable to assume that that level of creation (heaven) was originally good, and the evil that eventually occurred in it was the result of a being from another, older level of creation tempting one of heaven’s inhabitants. In which case we need an infinite regression of falls.


I don’t think we can presume that it is necessary to be tempted in order to become evil. All of us (as well as all angelic beings) have free will. This means that each one has the ability within himself to choose evil.


Satan was created by the overflow of God’s grace. We know it was grace because you cannot deserve to be created. It was grace that sustained the heart of Satan. For justifiable reasons only known to God He removed His special grace away from Satan’s heart. As a result corrupt desires developed in Satan’s heart. Satan rebellion was an action based on these corrupt desires of the heart. That is to say, Satan rebelled because He wanted to. God removed the restraints or influence from Satan’s heart. Satan Rebelled because He wanted to and is therefore responsible for His rebellion. Motives of the heart count to not just a raw action of the will without any motive or desire. Without any motives an act cannot be judged good or evil. Any judge in a court of law takes motives into account as well.


Peter Enns’ unorthodox view in “How the Bible Actually Works,” is that in early OT writings, Yahweh is seen as the highest among a panoply of other gods, and that there is no equivalent of a singular competing evil personage, only a court of angelic powers around God that do his bidding, with 'the satan" being an example, as in Job, of one who proposes what is agreeable to God. For in such a polytheistic world, evil can be easily explained by rival gods.

Yet by the end of the OT genuine monotheism was developing among Jews, as in Isaiah’s view that all other gods are not real. But a growing problem with such a singular divine power becomes how to explain evils being so persistent in the story and the lack of closure concerning God’s promises.

Enns’ theory is that then, reinterpreting Satan as a separate power and personage that explains why a singular omnipotent one is not responsible for causing evil was a brilliant example of how Bible authors continually adapt the old tradition to address new situations and questions.

My own two cents is that this now traditional conception of Satan still leaves challenging questions about whether the problem of evil is remedied. Is it a return to a form of dualism, or does Satan still only do, as in Job, what God determines is a good idea?


This type of thing by Enns depresses me more than atheistic attacks on the bible; I mean, it really depresses me. To think that all the things that have made life worth living - the actual true Love of the real and living God - not a symbol or a literary affectation but the actual reality of that Creator - or the bright announcement of the physical resurrection of Christ - a real one, not a vision or an invention of the church, but the actual real thing, the earth-shaking thing - or the reality of an actual Holy Spirit, interfering in a good way with the humdrum lives of people with no hope - not a literary fabrication or the projection of some mute yearning - without those things, we have nothing but a world-weary wisdom that we might feel personally edified by; but with no touchstone in reality other than our feelings or our exalted wisdom- gads, I’d shoot myself if those biblical things were found not to be real, as in actual reality - but only the novelistic expressions of disillusioned church people trying to make sense of a failed Messiah.
If I cannot share a living, Real God, then I’ve got nothing to offer anyone, and nothing to live for other than pleasures and the certainty of going meekly into that eternal night. If hope is something that has to be ‘ginned up’ on the basis of a false ontology, a false soteriology, or anything less than the brightly colored, vibrant, exciting reality of the new life in Christ, then I want no part of it.
I’m sure I’ve caricatured what Enns would say, but his downward descent imo from his earlier days is a fountain of hopelessness.

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Wow Dave, this is a big turnaround for you, though not totally unfamiliar in reaction. Whenever we open ourselves up to having our traditional paradigms (sacred cows) challenged AND we start to grasp the rationale in focus THEN such cows refuse to lie down and just die… the die-hard die hard, and in the process can leave us feeling bereft of reality or reason. But once, generally speaking, you’ve had a taste it’s hard not to be drawn to that table again.


Dave, I don’t find Enns or qaz denying the love of God. Even if untraditional, their focus was on trying to make sense of the antithesis of God and of love (Satan).


davo - I’m pretty sure that each one of us - including you - have our sacred cows. Agreed?

I guess I don’t understand what you were saying - please elucidate. What was my turnaround, and what is familiar reaction?

Bob - I’m not sure what Enns believes, and I’ve read a number of his books and articles. His writing has gotten more elusive, somewhat like the Borg I’ve reading. And YOU brought up Enns and his ‘rationale’; I was reacting to THAT, not to Qaz.


All I meant was… knowing how you’ve been extremely favourably inclined towards Enns’ excursions into biblical matters this your most recent response is totally different. And you’re right, we all do have our sacred cows… I’ve had a few slain over the years, a good many of which I’ve had to put down myself when the cognitive dissonance demanded it.


Well, Qaz poses something I sympathize with, that “Satan as a being doesn’t make sense to me.” Enns doesn’t assert that (though he too may wonder if its the case). He is doing what strikes me as the natural extension of everything else I’ve read of his. He is seeking to understand how the progressive understanding seen among the Biblical writers developed. I’m not sure how one can avoid thinking about how such developing views took place. But it doesn’t stop you from continuing to affirm the view that Satan is literally a malevolent angel is correct if that appears true to you.

You often react strongly to differing views. But I’m struck by how you say this speculation about developing understandings of Satan by Enns depresses you to the max, and leaves you thinking “all the things that have made life worth living” are destroyed, the love of God, the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of the Spirit, etc.

That would be a non-sequitur if you assumed Enns’ view is not true. And even if the reason it is so troubling is that you fear he is onto something, it implies that you think everything in life and faith hangs on one’s assured understanding of the devil. That seems quite all or nothing to me.

And in any event, I don’t get the sense that that is the kind of hopeless conclusion that Enns draws from seeing the developments he observes in the Bible. But of course, challenging issues of epistemology and Bibliology may be the root of our distress here.

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Yeah I agree with what you’ve both said, at least up to a point. I am not unaware that many of my posts appear to be knee-jerk ‘strong reactions’, nor am I unaware that one of you said that I post the most substantial subject matter here on the forum, as well. Just parts of the fascinating creature called ‘Me’. Haha
To be fair, though, I said ‘these types of things’, not this particular item re: satan. And what prompted my spirited ‘strong reaction’ was the slow drip of erosion I detect in Enns’ constant reductionism, based on a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’, the result of which, it appears to me, causes the bright light of Transcendence to slowly dim, to be replaced by a somewhat empty ‘wisdom’ thing. Those are my opinions, naturally.
It’s much the same feeling I get from reading Borg right after reading Wright on the same subjects. I don’t question either man’s motives or beliefs. But the striking difference between the humanistic and reductive presentation of Borg, and the ‘critical’ and scholarly opening of the scriptures, their Truth and Hope, by Wright, speaks to me personally.
I’ve spent many years reading atheists and find them more refreshing overall than weak transcendency. I want doubts to be full-bodied and reasoned all the way down to bedrock; I want hopes to be maximally radiant and full of glory. No weak tea but rather fresh ice-cold water on the face waking us up.
So yeah, I have a sacred cow. Maybe more than one. But my ultimate concern is set very very high both because my personality (or neuroses if it makes you happy :-)) thrives on it, and because I have so much invested in it, as indeed it is also - to me - the hope of the Cosmos.
You both must be aware of your own sacred cows - I mean, even I see them - and as for strong reactions, well good god, I’ve seen them from every one of us when a criticism gets too close to undermining OUR ultimate concerns (= sacred cows).
As for satan - if the Jewish redactors made him up to try and explain evil in a good world, then fine, we’re reading fiction; OTOH, we are urged in the NT to resist him, to armor ourselves against him, etc etc - not at ALL like resisting a fiction.

P.S. - ‘shooting myself’ is hyperbole. :slight_smile:


Dave, I’m glad you can appreciate atheists “full-bodied” denials of spiritual realities. I can admire their refreshing skepticism also. But I can also appreciate those who in grappling with some of the perplexities of faith, strive to hold on to what they perceive as vital spiritual realties and hope. I resist the all or nothing approach to faith.

FWIW I’m not sure even those skeptical of interpreting the power of evil as personified in a particular angelic creature like Satan think that evil is a fiction, or that it’s a fiction that we profoundly need to resist the power of evil (whatever we think its’ ontology is). Personally, the Bible’s sober view of human nature and of evil seems one of its’ most empirically and historically attested truths.


I’d be the last person to say that Evil is a fiction, Bob.
And as all or nothing - okay. Commitment does not have to be complete, neither does disbelief have to be complete. But really, I’d rather err, if err it be, on the side of the greatest truth and the most glorious hope, casting my life on those things as I understand them, rather than having doubt and suspicion reduce those things to mere fiction or the kind of wisdom I could get from any number of other religions. I’m not necessarily reading YOU that way, but I do get that from reading widely in the liberal arm of Christendom. My $.02.
If the BIG biblical story is true, we would be great losers by NOT going all-out for it. If we don’t think it’s true, well of course we need to hedge our bets…


Do you think Adam and Eve would have ever eaten from the tree OTKOGAE had Satan not tempted them?


No question as Eve was lusting before Satan talked to her! Additionally Satan may have always been Satan and never had been Lucifer. He may have always been a tester,tempter for certain reasons beyond our pay grade.


Dave, right, my point was that we agree that anyone who thinks evil is a fiction is bonkers.

And I empathize with your instinct to embrace what you see as the fullest or “greatest” version of our tradition. Of course, that’s how fundamentalists in every tradition reason about not doubting any elements of their own religious tradition. It’s even part of what long kept me from doubting that God’s greatest glory would be in condemning most people to hell.

Questioning assumptions we’ve held can be distressing. But I do think the hermeneutic of charity is to assume that those who don’t accept everything in their religious tradition are not desiring to water down the truth, but to preserve what they are able to perceive as the greatest truths in their religion. But we of course can still make our own determination as to what we affirm, based on the merits we are able to recognize.


You know for a fact that I have doubted - or at least claimed to have - EVERYTHING in the tradition - not in MY tradition ‘cause I’ve never had one. But like Chesterton (though I’m not in his class by a country mile) I went away to question everything, and came back to acknowledge some of those elements as being absolutely true. I don’t know many fundies that have done that.
There is a big difference between acknowledging evil, and acknowledging satan. Just sayin’.
Thanks for your friendly opposition! That’s the big reason I emailed you a couple of years ago and asked you to please take a more active part in the Forum, if you had the time and inclination.


Dave, I appreciate how much you add to this forum, and particularly your ability to digest good scholarship and sharing that with us. How do you find the time?

I’m curious, what is your background that prevented you from being influenced by any traditions?

And from your vantage point, what have you seen as the crucial difference in acknowledging an awful power of evil in our lives vs. acknowledging satan?


I’m not too keen on boring everyone here Bob, so why don’t we continue with our regular broadcast? :wink: Each of us has an interesting story I’m sure. Yours, for instance. :slight_smile:


Yes, I grew up amid Christian tradition which no doubt affects my outlook on many issues. I probably can’t imagine what it’d be like to have never been shaped in any tradition. And I’m probably unconscious to where I’m reacting to the painful parts of that milleu, or where I’m holding onto conceptions because I associate them with the upsides of being part of that conservative tradition.

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