The Horned King, Lord Foul, Sauron, the White Witch. Fantasy literature is ripe with supreme antagonists who fight against good, in the same that Satan fights against God. Unless it’s my imagination, however, we’re seeing less of Satan in Christian speculative fiction. His minions still make frequent appearances, but he’s not as visible as he once was.
As it happens, this trend mirrors society. Fewer and fewer people in the West, including Christians, believe Satan exists. According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Barna group, only 35% of those professing Christ also believe Satan is a real person:
Four out of ten [self-described] Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective. A minority of Christians indicated that they believe Satan is real by disagreeing with the statement: one-quarter (26%) disagreed strongly and about one-tenth (9%) disagreed somewhat. The remaining 8% were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan. (“Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist,” emphasis mine)
How convenient for him. It’s hard to fight an enemy you can’t see and even harder to fight one you think is merely a symbol of the wrongs of the world.
A more recent, 2013 survey shows the number of Americans who believe in Satan to be somewhat higher than the Barna Group’s findings, though what these people mean by “Satan” is not defined.
The survey by YouGov found that 57 percent of respondents believe that the devil exists . . . Sixty-three percent of people with a high school education said they believe in the evil spirit compared to 48 percent of college graduates. (“Majority of Americans believe in the devil – especially Republicans, blacks and women”)
Even those who believe in a real devil may not have an understanding of him that’s consistent with Scripture. Apart from the red tights, horns, and pitchfork, a popular notion of Satan is that he is the ruler of hell. In contrast, the Bible teaches that hell is the place God will send Satan as punishment for his rebellion.
What Satan is up to, what he’s trying to accomplish, remains under a greater cloud of confusion. Culture has him pictured as an evil influencer, the worst side of our nature, the one behind demon possession. These contain some truth but are limited in scope. Satan’s great goal from the beginning has been to overthrow God’s rule. In other words, he’s a rebel who wants to take God’s place.
His first strategy after his removal from heaven along with the angels who followed him remains his greatest ploy—to wrest God’s creation from His control. Hence, his temptation of Eve in the Garden continues to be his greatest temptation of us today. In short, Satan calls into question God’s word. His question to Eve was, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1b). His question to us today is, Does the Bible really mean . . .
In the same way that Satan attacks God by questioning His word, he calls into question who Jesus is, the One who Scripture identifies as God’s Logos or Word (John 1:14). Not a coincidence, I don’t think, that Satan is called the father of lies. His “chief end,” if you will, is to distort God’s truth.
God’s creation, for example, was good, by His own testimony. So Satan perverted it. God says He loves the world so much He gave His only Son. Satan says God actually is an unjust tyrant or an uncaring, distant force or an impotent bystander or irrelevant or nonexistent—certainly not a Lover of the souls He created.
Above all Satan wants people to shrink their view of God. That’s his great lie: God is not so great after all.
The corollary that accompanies that lie suggests God’s creatures are worthy of worship. Satan tried to bargain with Jesus for His worship, which is the epitome of what he wants. But he also suggests humans do the same thing. Hence he told Eve if she ate of the forbidden fruit she would be like God.
That temptation is with us today in the relativistic interpretations of Scripture. By isolating verses from the whole, the Bible can be made to say whatever a person wants it to say—resulting in precisely the kind of “Did God say . . .” questioning Satan introduced to Eve, and the “you are God” control he suggested.
Satan, of course, also stands against the Church of God and particularly against the spread of the gospel. He fights to prevent answers to prayer, puts obstacles in the path of those preaching God’s Word, gives thorns in the flesh, encourages believers to lie to the Holy Spirit, accuses the brethren before God, and is behind false teaching in the Church. He is, after all, prowling like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
It’s a little troubling to me, then, that Satan, who is not equal to God but is surely opposite, has taken a back seat in much of our Christian speculative literature. Yes, demonic forces or their equivalent serve as antagonists, though corrupt or evil humans seem more prevalent. But Satan? Off hand, I can only think of one series that has a credible White Witch to oppose its Aslan. But perhaps I’m forgetting others or have missed reading them. Or perhaps we’re not writing about Satan because we no longer believe in him. What do you think?