Is There Really a Devil?
Is there basis for believing that a wicked spirit creature exists? Or is this belief unfounded?
THE widely read editorial writer David Lawrence once observed: “‘Peace on earth’—nearly everybody wants it. ‘Good will toward men’—almost all the peoples of the world feel it toward one another. Then what’s wrong? Why is war threatened despite the innate desires of peoples?”
These questions do cause a person to think. When the natural desire of all normal persons is to live at peace, why is it so common for people to hate and make a practice of killing one another? It truly is a paradox, as Dr. Hugh Keenleyside, former Canadian diplomat, noted some years ago: “We can accept without a qualm the idea of incinerating hundreds of thousands or millions of women and children whom under normal conditions we should be glad to cherish and in whom we should find gentleness and delight.”
Conditions are similar today. Victims of war are regularly mangled and maimed. How can civilized people treat one another this way? What forces drive them to such loathsome deeds, or maneuver them into the situation where they feel compelled to commit them? It is certainly not amiss to raise, in all seriousness, the questions: Can some wicked, invisible power be influencing humans to these acts of violence? Is there really a Devil?
Do not dismiss these questions with the reply that this is just the way men are; to the contrary, their normal desire is for peace. This, then, is a matter deserving your careful consideration.
The popularizing, toward the end of the last century, of materialistic ideas has greatly influenced the present-day thinking of many persons regarding the Devil. Under the heading “Materialism,” The Encyclopedia Americana (1955) observes: “Thorough-going materialism asserts that nothing exists but physical bodies and physical processes.”
This materialistic view has gained the ascendency in many circles, and has even affected the beliefs of many religious leaders concerning the Devil. Explains the religious magazine Eternity, in its August 1964 issue: “For over a century now, belief in the devil has seemed to be on the way out. . . . Protestant theologians generally have banished the personal devil of the Bible to the lumberroom reserved for broken-down myths.”
Regarding the modern view of the Devil, the Dictionary of All Scriptures and Myths (1960) by G. A. Gaskell says: “The true devil, against whom we have to be sober and vigilant, is within man; is carried about within the human heart. He is the animal part of human nature.”
Also, The Encyclopœdia Britannica (1966), under the heading “Devil,” observes: “Modern liberal Protestantism tends to deny the necessity of belief in a personal devil, preferring to understand the biblical and other references to him as to personification of the principle of evil.”
So it has become fashionable to believe in an “animal part of human nature,” or a “principle of evil,” rather than in a real Devil. Thus, the once-common understanding that the Devil is a living, unseen person is no longer taken seriously by many. What has caused this change of view? Is it justified?
REASONS WHY HIS EXISTENCE IS DENIED
In his book, Satan, A Portrait, Edward Langton traces the historical belief concerning the Devil. Interestingly, he notes regarding the view of the Devil expressed in the literature of the monks of the Middle Ages: “The religious imagination runs riot, and illusions and hallucinations, the products of diseased or strained minds, are set forth as objective realities.”
Thus, in time, superstitious and ridiculous misconceptions about the Devil came to be accepted by many religious persons. Even today the Devil is traditionally conceived as a creature in a tight-fitting red uniform, having horns, a tail, and a pitchfork in his hand. Doubtless such ridiculous misconceptions are responsible, in part, for many persons’ denying the Devil’s existence.
However, the Bible is not the source of these misconceptions. Nevertheless, an attack was launched against its teachings by men championing materialistic ideas during the latter part of the last century. This, in particular, resulted in denial of the Devil’s existence, as indicated by The Encyclopœdia Britannica, eleventh edition (1910-1911). Under its heading “Devil,” it observes:
“It may be confidently affirmed that belief in Satan is not now generally regarded as an essential article of the Christian faith . . . The modern view of the inspiration of the Scriptures does not necessitate the acceptance of the doctrine of the Scriptures on this subject as finally and absolutely authoritative. The teaching of Jesus even in this matter may be accounted for as either an accommodation to the views of those with whom he was dealing, or more probably as a proof of the limitation of knowledge which was a necessary condition of the Incarnation . . . ”
So the “modern view” that the Bible is not literally true caused many persons to reject what it said about a personal Devil. (Matt. 25:41; Luke 4:1-8; John 8:44) Even religious leaders began to teach that references Jesus made to the Devil were due to his limited knowledge on the subject. Or they claimed that Jesus accommodated himself to the ideas and language that then prevailed in Judea, but did not himself regard the Devil as a real and living person.
But was this idea that a personal Devil does not exist satisfactory? How was man’s horrible mistreatment of his fellow creatures accounted for?
MATERIALISTIC VIEW UNSATISFACTORY
The materialistic theory that man had evolved from lower animals was adopted as the answer, even by many religious leaders. It was claimed that man still retains part of his animal past, and that this is the reason he fights, torments and kills his fellow creatures. It was also reasoned that this viciousness, in time, would be eliminated from man as he continued to evolve upward. In the conclusion of his book on man’s beliefs regarding the Devil, Edward Langton interestingly comments on this:
“Scholars expelled [the Devil] from their system of belief dogmatically and unceremoniously. They shut the door upon him with a bang, and locked and barred it. Satan, they had concluded, was a relic of ancient superstition. He had forever faded out of existence under the strong clear light of reason and commonsense. The simple fact is, they said, that man is born of an animal stock. . . . Nevertheless, the time will come when, under the influence of the forces of civilisation—of education, culture, increasing knowledge—man will gradually leave behind the ape, the tiger and the wolf, and at long last we shall behold the perfect man. In the meantime every generation gets better and better.”
But how unsatisfactory this explanation proved to be! For, rather than getting better, humankind sank to unprecedented depths of depravity. World War I was started, employing fiendish gases to choke and burn humans to death, and other new weapons to mangle and maim. But that conflict was only the beginning of horrors. Consider the cold-blooded reveling in monstrous cruelty that has followed that war. Consider the flame thrower, the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the mass murder of millions of Jews; consider the atomic bombs, the napalm bombs, the hydrogen bombs.
It is indisputable that, instead of each generation’s becoming better, never has there been on so colossal a scale a greater debasement of all standards of morals and conduct. Do you think that all these perpetrated evils simply happened by chance? Do you believe that man, who longs for peace and happiness, is capable, of his own accord, of such gross wickedness against himself? Why, not even animals are guilty of the horrible tortures and deaths that humans have planned and schemed for their fellows.
So do not be duped into accepting a purely materialistic view. For, as one of this century’s foremost scientists, the late Dr. Robert A. Millikan, thoughtfully remarked: “A purely materialistic philosophy is to me the height of unintelligence.”* It is simply unreasonable to believe that material creatures are the highest form of life. Sound reasoning points to the fact that there are unseen, invisible living creatures, and that these exercise a powerful influence upon human affairs.
THE BIBLE’S EXPLANATION
The Bible also points to this fact. It is, therefore, not unscientific or ridiculous when it speaks of invisible spirit persons. “God is a Spirit,” the Bible explains. (John 4:24) It also tells us that God made angels in spirit form. (Heb. 1:7) These are real, living persons. So the Devil, too, is a spirit person.
“But,” someone might ask, “if God made all spirit creatures, why did he create one a Devil?” Actually, God did not do so. He made all spirit creatures perfect. But one of these made a Devil out of himself. He was corrupted by his own improper desires. The Bible explains the process by which even perfect creatures can turn bad: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.”—Jas. 1:14, 15.
The improper desire that this powerful spirit creature entertained was to receive the worship of other creatures, which only the Creator, Jehovah God, deserves. He was able to get the human pair to serve him by misrepresenting to them what God had spoken about eating of a certain tree in the garden of Eden. He thus became a slanderer, or “Devil.” He is also called in the Bible “Satan,” “dragon” and “original serpent.” In time, even other spirit creatures joined Satan in rebellion against God, and also became devils or demons.—Gen. 3:1-6; Rev. 12:9; Mark 3:22.
“But,” someone might inquire further, “why did God not immediately destroy the Devil and the human pair he had induced to break God’s law?” Jehovah God did not choose to do this. An issue had been raised by the rebellion, including the question: Can the Devil succeed in turning all creatures away from God? Adam and Eve were allowed to bring forth offspring so that the integrity-keeping course of faithful ones among their descendants would vindicate their Creator and prove the Devil a liar. So a sufficient length of time was set aside by God to settle this issue.—Job chapters 1 and 2.
In the meantime, Satan the Devil has exercised unseen influence over human affairs. He is the one responsible for the fact that although ‘nearly everybody wants peace on earth,’ they fight and slaughter one another by the millions. Yes, it is because of his evil influence that all efforts to establish lasting peace fail, even though ‘almost all the peoples of the world feel good will toward one another.’
The Bible explains that the Devil is “the ruler of this world.” It also calls him “the god of this system of things.” (John 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4) How clear it is that these Bible statements are true! The record of human history unquestionably indicates that an unholy, wicked force is behind human rulers, driving them to deeds of unspeakable dreadfulness.
However, the question might come into someone’s mind: Why, at this time, when materialistic men predicted that each generation should be getting better, have man’s relations with fellow creatures grown worse than ever before? Why has lawlessness now increased to epidemic proportions, so that in many cities it is no longer safe even to walk the streets after dark. The Bible also gives the explanation for this.
THE DEVIL’S TIME IS SHORT
It reveals that we have reached the time of the end of this system of things. Bible prophecies and the events in fulfillment of them show that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, has assumed power to rule amidst his enemies. (Ps. 110:1, 2) It shows that within this very generation he has administered a smashing defeat upon Satan. How so? The Bible explains:
“Down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth . . . On this account be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them! Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”—Rev. 12:9, 12.
This accounts for the tremendous increase of lawlessness since the first world war. Satan the Devil has been cast out of heaven, and he is out to cause as much ruin among mankind as possible. Yes, we are living right now in the short period of woe of which the Bible speaks. How vital, therefore, to do all we can to avoid being led into destruction by the Devil!
The first essential step is to recognize that the Devil really does exist—that he and his demons are real, unseen enemies. (Eph. 6:12) It is important, too, that we learn of his methods of misleading people. He is cunning. “Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light,” the Bible explains. (2 Cor. 11:14) His devices for misleading people can appear very innocent. As we have seen, he even uses religious leaders as his ministers to deceive people into believing that he does not exist.
Therefore, turn away from the religious clergy, who more and more view the Bible as myth. Be armed with knowledge. Inform yourself. Get help in your Bible study from those who hold to the Bible as true. Jehovah’s witnesses stand willing to help you. And by all means heed the Scriptural warning: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Pet. 5:8.
New York Times, April 30, 1948.