Why Many Doubt Satan’s Existence
In modern books on religion there is a definite trend either to ignore Satan altogether or to throw doubt on his existence as a spirit person. Why?
FROM Genesis to Revelation God’s Word asserts the personality of Satan the Devil. Though referred to as the Serpent in the Genesis account, we need not speculate as to who that serpent is, for that is apparent from Revelation 12:7-9. There we are told that he “who is misleading the entire inhabited earth” is “the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan.” Yes, the Tempter in Eden was not a mere “evil impulse” implanted in Adam by God, as certain Jewish scholars, the Tannaim of the second century A.D., would have us believe. He was none other than Satan the Devil himself.1
Then again, in Job, chapters 1 and 2, Satan is clearly shown to be a spirit person who appeared in God’s presence together with other spirit sons and who engaged God in conversation, challenging Him in regard to Job’s integrity. We also read of his accusing high priest Joshua in the days of Zechariah. Paul calls Satan “the god of this system of things,” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” Peter speaks of Satan as the one who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” And Jude, disciple and half brother of Jesus, tells us that Satan had an argument with Michael regarding the body of Moses. Surely no impersonal principle of evil, as many hold Satan to be, could be said to do such things!—2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Pet. 5:8; Jude 9.
Especially does the Scriptural record regarding Jesus establish Satan’s personality. In the wilderness Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus should “fall down and do an act of worship” to Satan. Could an abstract principle claim all the kingdoms of the world and offer them to Jesus? Could Jesus do an act of worship before it? Could we imagine the faithful, loving and obedient Son of God being tempted by disloyal thoughts originating in his own mind?—Matt. 4:9.
Jesus testified that he had seen “Satan already fallen like lightning from heaven.” Clearly the principle of evil could not have fallen, for from creation it existed as an evil principle, although inactive. Further, Jesus told his enemies that they were of their father the Devil, who “was a manslayer when he began” as Satan, and “a liar and the father of the lie.” When charged with casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus did not deny the existence of Satan but said: “If Satan expels Satan, he has become divided against himself.” Yes, all such references likewise leave no doubt as to the existence, the personality, of Satan.—Luke 10:18; John 8:44; Matt. 12:26.
DOUBTING THE EXISTENCE OF SATAN
Strange as it may seem, in spite of all such unequivocal Scriptural testimony many professed Christians as well as Jews doubt the existence of Satan the Devil. They take the position that no one has ever seen Satan and so he must be a mere figment of the imagination. Or that Satan is merely the principle of evil, or the evil impulses in man personified.
Says an Oxford doctor of divinity: “There may be other spiritual influences beyond the human sphere, such influences as were recognised crudely enough in the ancient belief in demons and in Satan. . . . Whatever we may think of this speculative question,” etc.2 And according to a popular Protestant work: “The whole subject is wrapped in mystery. . . . These passages [referring to Satan] leave much unexplained and conjecture here is useless.”3
Concerning one of the leading theologians in the United States we are told: “But Niebuhr does not accept the Biblical doctrine concerning the Devil, either as a myth or as a dogma, or as an extrinsic principle ‘of evil antecedent to any human action.’ He merely uses Satan as a paradigm, an illustration as to how the rebellious will of man operates.”4 And quoting him directly: “The idea of attributing personality to evil may be scientifically absurd but it rests upon a natural error. When the blind and impersonal forces of nature come to life in man they are given the semblance of personality.”5
WHY THE DOUBT?
Some persons doubt Satan’s existence because he is invisible to human eyes, but does that make sense? No, it does not. The Bible, reason and the physical facts plainly show that God exists, yet no man has ever seen him, nor, in fact, can see him. (Ex. 33:20; John 1:18) God’s Word also tells us about spirit creatures, various kinds of angels that do God’s bidding, all of whom are invisible to human eyes. Since we grant that righteous spirit personalities or entities exist, should it prove difficult to believe that unrighteous, wicked spirit persons also exist?
Doubtless the superstitions and ridiculous misconceptions that many hold or have held regarding Satan account in part for others doubting his existence. In the Dark Ages he was frequently pictured as a goat. In modern times he is usually portrayed as a human in tight-fitting red clothes, having horns, a tail and a pitchfork in his hands. But the mere fact that the Scriptural teaching regarding Satan has been distorted is no valid reason for doubting his existence. Neither does the fact that many non-Christian religions personalize the principle of evil argue against Satan’s existence.
Others are prone to doubt the existence of Satan because of failing to understand Satan’s origin and why God has tolerated Satan for so long. Thus Reinhold Niebuhr further states: “The idea in Hebrew mythology that Satan is both a rebel against God and yet ultimately under his dominion expresses the paradoxical fact that on the one hand evil is something more than absence of order, and on the other hand that it depends upon order.”5
What about these various reasons for doubting the existence of Satan? Do they not in fact have their basis in a failure to accept the Bible as God’s Word? If we have faith that the Bible is inspired, then will we not accept its plain statements as truth regardless of whether we understand all the whys and wherefores or not? Surely! Then we will agree with Jesus, who said of it: “Your word is truth”; and with Paul, who wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching”; and also with Peter, who tells that “men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”—John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21.
GOD’S WORD DOES ANSWER
But God’s Word does give us the whys and wherefores regarding Satan’s existence. It satisfactorily answers any question a sincere, open-minded seeker for truth may have regarding Satan. It assures us that all God’s activity is perfect and that his ways are justice. (Deut. 32:4) Therefore he could not have created any wicked spirit person. The Bible also tells us that God created many righteous spirit creatures, angels, among whom was one that God appointed as covering cherub or guardian angel of the first human pair. This one became ambitious to be worshiped like God himself and so induced Adam and Eve to disobey. He instigated rebellion and thereby challenged the universal sovereignty of Jehovah God.—Gen. 3:1-7; Ezek. 28:12-16, AS.
The Scriptures further indicate that Satan boasted that God could not put creatures on earth whom Satan could not corrupt, thereby raising also the issue, Can man keep integrity? Because of this issue Jehovah God has allowed Satan to exist and permitted Adam and Eve to live for a time and have offspring before they paid sin’s penalty, death. Jehovah had full confidence in his ability to have human creatures on earth who would keep integrity in spite of all that Satan could do, thereby proving Satan a liar. That is why God allowed Job, Jesus and others to suffer at the hands of Satan. When we once appreciate what was at stake, the issues of Jehovah’s supremacy and man’s integrity, we can see good and sufficient reasons why God has permitted Satan to exist down to the present time.—Job, chapters 1 and 2; Prov. 27:11; Heb. 5:8, 9.
Implicit in all this is that Satan’s existence at best is but a temporary one, and this is exactly what the Scriptures show: “God who gives peace will crush Satan.” Jesus Christ will “destroy the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil.” Yes, eventually Satan will be hurled into the lake of fire, the second death, symbol of annihilation.—Rom. 16:20; Heb. 2:14; Rev. 20:10, 14.
Thus the Scriptures, together with reason, make clear the origin of Satan, why God has permitted him to remain until the present time and that his days are numbered. Man is therefore without any grounds for doubting the existence of Satan.
So heed the warning: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone. But take your stand against him, solid in the faith.”—1 Pet. 5:8, 9.
1 Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, by Geo. F. Moore.
2 Redemption and Revelation, by H. Wheeler Robinson, D.D.
3 555 Difficult Bible Questions Answered, by The Christian Herald.
4 Reinhold Niebuhr—His Religious, Social and Political Thought, by Kegley and Bretall.
5 The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, by Hans Hofman.