The ultimate origin of evil and human sin is indeed a deep question; but only by dealing with that issue are we empowered to handle sin and evil and find a way of victory. To blame it all on a personal devil with horns and tail and pitchfork seems to me to be a form of escapism, a dodging of the question, just quickly going for a simplistic but wrong answer. Especially once it is understood that actually this view of 'the Devil' is one nowhere found in the Bible, but is rather an accretion of centuries of speculation and adaption of pagan myths. In Chapter 1, I seek to demonstrate that this is indeed what's happened. Throughout that chapter and those that follow, I seek to demonstrate how surrounding myths about a Satan figure were not only accepted by God's people; but the Bible writers actively seek to deconstruct them by alluding to them and exposing their fallacy. From the account of the Fall in Genesis 1-3 to the references to Satan in Revelation, this is what's going on. The fact Holy Scripture doesn't use quotation marks and footnote sources may mask this to the uninformed reader; but the allusions and deconstructions going on in the Biblical text are powerful and bitingly relevant to both their day and ours.
But the history of the Devil as a concept doesn't solve the huge problem of sin and evil for us. It's not like a problem in a maths textbook- if it beats you, well you can just go to the back of the textbook and find the answer. It demands far more than that. Ursula LeGuin wrote powerfully of "all the pain and suffering and waste and loss and injustice we will meet all our lives long, and must face and cope with over and over, and admit, and live with, in order to live human lives at all" (1). This is indeed how it is; her cancer, the tragedy of his life, the tsunami here and the repression of human rights there, the deeply hidden regrets and secret sins of every human life... over and over we have to rise each day and live with it all. It seems to me that the burden of it all, the sheer pain and difficulty of the struggle to understand, has led people to simply give up, and blame it all on a personal Satan who fell off the 99th floor and came down here to mess up our nice good little lives. But simplistic one dollar answers to these million dollar questions have floated around for too long. Legitimate responses and understandings are not going to be found in a pagan myth, no matter how respectably it's been developed by bunk theology and enshrined in Christian tradition. Valid answers and true insights are, I submit, to be found in God's word of truth alone. And it's here that I seek to look in detail in Chapter 2, seeking to develop a true framework for understanding what the Bible itself actually says about the devil, sin, evil and the related issue of Angels. Yet as I see it, the whole purpose of true Biblical theology and doctrine is the radical transformation of human life in practice. This is why true understanding is important, because it impacts daily life, leading to what Paul calls "the full assurance of understanding" (Col. 2:2).
It's this "full assurance of understanding" which I try to develop in Chapter 3, taking a break from the theory and seeing how all this impacts human life and experience in practice. Then in Chapter 4 we're back to more theology as it were, investigating the theme of demons, deconstructing the idea that there are actual demons as spirit beings causing sin and evil. We're then in a position to survey most of the Bible verses which speak of the devil or satan, and come to understand them within the framework of understanding we've developed. That's what happens in Chapter 5, leading on finally to the summary conclusions of Chapter 6. Join me in praying that we will understand, that in our understandings we may come to a deeper faith, hope and love. And that through them we may be able to reach out further, more meaningfully and more compellingly, to others- in the days that remain as we await the return of God's son to provide the final answer and resolution to all our struggles with sin and evil.
Whilst this book is a reflection of my own study, reading, research, reflection and experience of sin and evil, it also owes much to two fine friends, Ted & Bev Russell. Their contributions are noted in the text, and in some ways this volume is a tribute to them and to our quite extraordinary meeting of minds and experience in so many ways.
(1) Ursula LeGuin, The Language Of The Night (New York: Putnam's, 1979) p. 69.