By Ben Swift
‘When evil justifies itself by posturing as morality, God becomes the devil and the devil, God. That exchange makes one impervious to reason.’ (Ravi Zacharias)
Several years ago I was driving in my car with a work colleague who had been convinced by a documentary screened at her church that certain rock bands prominent at the time were under satanic influence and that their music should not be listened to under any circumstances. Bon Jovi was a band that made the list. I found this amusing as while she was sharing her views on the subject, we were enjoying listening to one of my most played cassettes on the car stereo, ‘Slippery When Wet’ by Bon Jovi.
The obscure but interesting topic of the work of the devil is one that seems to draw attention, raising its head from time to time when used by the media to create controversy. The question to be asked then is, “How much of Satan’s work lies in media manipulation and sensationalism, and how much of it lies in truth?
In the 70’s Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin spent much of his time answering questions about the inspiration behind the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven, the bands most famous song. Plant had eluded to some supernatural moving of his pencil whilst writing the lyrics which led to speculation that Satan was dictating the words. The legend grew, following a few more media speculations about Satan’s involvement with the band, that Led Zeppelin had sold their souls to the devil and if you played their songs backwards you would hear satanic messages.
The craziness goes even further when people start to associate specific notes in music with Satan. A rich mythology has grown around this concept for many years. It has been suggested that a musical interval that spans three whole tones, like a diminished fifth chord, causes sounds that invoke feelings of sensuality that are the work of the devil.
While we can hopefully see the ridiculous side to what has been attributed to Satan, it should be kept in mind that he is real and has real influence. But who is Satan really and what does he desire?
Firstly, the Bible teaches us that Satan, like other fallen angels, is not like God. According to Louis Berkhof in his book, ‘Systematic Theology’, there are evil angels who delight in opposing the work of God and antagonizing His work. Satan appears in scripture to be the head of the fallen angels. That is, those who revolted and fell away from their creator.
In Genesis 3:1 we learn about the cunning and deceitful character of Satan. ‘Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.’ This truth about the nature of his ways explains why he is such an expert in hiding his lies behind the many things that steer humanity away from God’s truth and good intentions for his creation.
Since the fall it has always been Satan’s intention for mankind to take the position of being their own god. This is a historic and present truth that lies at the heart of evil. Take for example the ancient Vedic civilisation as written about by Roberto Calasso in his book, ‘Ardor’, where he writes, ‘We have now drunk soma, we have become immortal, we have attained the light, we have found the gods. What can the hatred and malice of a mortal do to us now? Vedic men wanted nothing more, but also nothing less. They built a huge edifice of rites and formulas to enable them to utter those few words. They were the beginning and the end.’
If Satan’s satisfaction is derived from our delusional desire to usurp God’s position in our lives, could it be that extreme narcissism, possibly fed by atheistic worldviews, is his ultimate hope for humanity?
It has been suggested by authors such as Anne Manne that the rise in narcissism in the modern west is reaching what could be classified as an epidemic. In her book, ‘The Life of I’, she writes: ‘Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen explains that neuroimaging reveals abnormalities in the narcissistic person’s ‘empathy circuit’ – those parts of the brain known to be involved in compassionate understanding and identification of others. The narcissist lacks the double-minded ability to see someone else’s perspective as well as their own. The result is that they are people, ‘imprisoned in their own self-focus’.
The question then arises as to what the devil can be blamed for. How much power does he really have? Is he really behind every evil act or are we giving him too much credit?
David Gillett in ‘The Lion Handbook of Christian Belief’ suggests that although Satan’s influence is considerable, his power is also limited. Jesus clearly showed the difference between Satan’s power and God’s. By using a word of command Jesus was able to overcome the influence of Satan on a person’s life.
The tempter [Satan] came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4)
While it’s easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding the devil, there is much more to gain from focusing on the Word that comes from God. It has been declared in The Word that the Holy Spirit will work to transform us from turning inward and that Satan has already been defeated. God alone is sovereign.
‘For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’ (Colossians 1:13-14)