Doubts About the Devil’s Existence—Are They Sound?
FOR the first seventeen hundred years of the Common Era there was little doubt among professing Christians as to the existence of the Devil. People understood this term to refer to a wicked spirit person bearing the name “Satan,” the principal enemy of God and man. But absurd and conflicting teachings that developed about the Devil eventually caused much confusion and disbelief.
Popular notions about the Devil today, for example, are often related to superstitions that developed in the “dark ages.” Artwork of that period depicted this archenemy of God and man as a grotesque winged creature with a tail, horns protruding from his head and a pitchfork in his hand. All manner of ills were attributed directly to the Devil, who was also believed to be the keeper of a fiery-hot hell.
Effects of the “Age of Reason”
Then came the eighteenth century, called the period of “enlightenment” or the “age of reason.” Thinkers of that time lashed out at the superstitions that had held masses of people in ignorance. Increased emphasis on scientific, “rational” thinking brought with it a contempt for the supernatural.
Subsequently, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud associated belief in the Devil with evils that individuals suffered at the hands of a harsh male parent in early life. It became popular to look upon Biblical references to Satan the Devil as referring merely to a personification of evil.
Many Bible scholars even claimed that Bible writers borrowed from pagan beliefs in painting their picture of the “Evil One.” One source of such beliefs is supposed to be the religion of ancient Iran (Persia) founded by Zoroaster in the sixth century B.C.E. Zoroastrianism teaches a “dualism” in which the supreme God, Ahura-mazda, has a foe, Ahriman, whom Ahura-mazda is to vanquish at the end of time.
Other scholars say that the Scriptures, when speaking of Satan the Devil, do not require actual belief in such a one, but merely reflect sentiments that were popular in ancient Israel.
Modern Views Add to Confusion
Further confusion has resulted from modern teachings about the Devil. While many persons still feel that Satan is a wicked spirit person, others say that the Devil can be of genuine benefit to mankind. Members of the religious group called “The Process,” for example, say that Satan “has been forgiven, and is now working with Christ in unity.”
There is disagreement even among those who hold that the Devil is a personification of something. While many feel that Satan personifies evil forces, others believe that they can use Satanic power to their advantage. A “priestess” of the “Church of Satan” stated: “For us Satan is only a symbol of a life force that we can use to help us get what we want.”
Thus many people believe that the Devil is a person; others, a force. Some look upon Satan as an inveterate enemy of God and man, while others view the same one as a benefactor.
Sound Reasons for Doubts?
Are these conflicting theories sound reasons for doubting the reality of the Devil? Let us take a closer look at them.
The Bible, though it mentions Satan the Devil scores of times, never describes the Devil’s appearance. The popular idea that a winged Devil, with pointed tail and pitchfork, is the keeper of a fiery hell is largely due to the imagination of artists, many of whom were influenced by the Inferno of the Italian Catholic poet Dante Alighieri.
People who find that conception repugnant will be happy to know that the Bible does not teach such absurd things about the Devil; nor does it teach the existence of a fiery hell. On the contrary, the Scriptures plainly state that ‘the dead are conscious of nothing at all’; they are completely unconscious. (Eccl. 9:5, 10) Thus popular notions about the Devil often have no foundation in the Bible.
What about the so-called “enlightened” rejection of the supernatural? Has this really improved mankind’s lot? Has unaided human reason led to a safer, more moral world in which man’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and a meaningful way of life are adequately cared for? No. And it should be obvious to any reasonable person that simply denying the reality of something does not disprove its existence.
Evidence is lacking, too, with regard to the assumption that the Bible got its doctrine about the Devil from Zoroastrianism. According to Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin, a professor of Indo-Iranian studies, both Ahura-mazda (the supreme god of the Zoroastrians) and his enemy Ahriman “seem to have existed from all eternity.” The Bible does not say this about the Devil. Rather, it teaches that the Devil had a beginning and that he “did not stand fast in the truth.”—John 8:44.
Thus many of the doubts that people have about the existence of the Devil have no basis beyond popular superstitions and arbitrary reasoning. These things do not constitute a valid basis for denying the reality of the Devil or for refusing to consider reliable evidence on the matter. But where can such evidence be found? How can one know for sure whether there really is a Devil?