A quick word on pronouns, and my usage of them from here out: I believe God transcends/is all inclusive of gender. I was raised, as many Christians were, referring to God using male pronouns. I’ll admit it is what is most comfortable for me, but I’m committed to recognizing not only the divine female within God but also the overall inclusivity of God, and am making it a practice to now refer to God (and any angels, spirits, etc discussed in the Bible) with the gender neutral pronouns xe, xem, xyr, xemself. I realize this may be awkward for some readers, but the more we practice the better we get! I will continue to refer to Jesus using masculine pronouns as he came to Earth as male.
6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
A little personal theological background
Today I’m going to discuss a new understanding of Satan that I reached after reading this chapter. But first, I feel it’s necessary to explain where I come from, theologically, when discussing Heaven and Hell and the Devil. I don’t have a fully formed notion of “heaven” and “hell,” if they exist at all, and who is going to end up in which place. I came of age during the release of the “Left Behind” series, and for most of my teen years was terrified of the Rapture and what came afterwards and if I would be one of those left behind or not, and firmly believed there were those who were “saved” and those who were not.
Then, after sophomore year of college, a friend committed suicide. He was open about his struggles with mental health, and I never knew him as anything but bright, kind, generous and loving. Seriously, everyone loved him. And I just couldn’t imagine that God would condemn him to eternal hell for his brain being sick. If you think about the brain being an organ (which it is), condemning someone to hell for acting out of a mental illness is like condemning someone to hell for Chrons disease, or endometriosis. I simply could not accept this hard and fast saved-not saved, heaven-hell duality.
Also, after having kids, and knowing how much I love them even when they are driving me insane-I mean literally have to put them in their beds and walk out of the house to cool down before I go back in – I can’t imagine a loving God rejecting any of us for forever. Yes, that includes people as terrible as Stalin and Hitler. Sure, God might be angry at us, and might punish us, but condemn us to hell forever? I just don’t see how a parent could do that. I pray I never get tested in this, but I can’t think of one thing that my daughters could do that would make me stop loving them. I might be deeply wounded, horribly shamed, or incredibly angry, but those feelings would still be rooted in a place of love. And if God is much more perfect than I, wouldn’t Xe love all Xyr children, too?
Finally, the idea that hell and the devil even exist seems counter-intuitive to the idea that there even is a omnipotent, loving, good and just God. No one can deny there is suffering in this world, and I don’t believe all suffering is part of “God’s plan,” so does that mean I have to believe that God isn’t omnipotent, loving, good and just? Does that mean I have to believe in hell and the devil? It’s something I’ve wrestled with, and this chapter gave me another option, which I’m excited to share with you now.
Etymology of “Satan”
Briefly, let’s take a look at a few ways the Bible designates Satan, starting with…well, Satan. “Satan” is not a name, or at least, it didn’t start out that way. “Satan” is a title, it means “accuser.” The story of Job is an old one, possibly as old as 2000 BC, and in it, the Hebrew word for Satan is always preceded by the definite article. In other words, it reads “The Accuser,” so xe is kind of like a prosecuting attorney, presenting all the facts against us. By 600 or 500 BC the article is dropped, and “Satan” becomes an actual name, but it started as a title. Second, we’ve already seen “serpent,” in the story of Adam and Eve. Related to this description is “dragon,” which is used in Revelations. Both are often symbols and bringers of knowledge and wisdom, if not in Western cultures certainly so in other cultures. Additionally, Lucifer literally means “morning star.” So, it is a harbinger of the light of day, which, to me, sounds pretty positive. Could it be another allusion to Satan being the bringer of knowledge, or of bringing things to light?
So, with this in mind, what if we’ve been viewing Satan the wrong way? Not as an adversary to be overthrown, but more of a combined undercover cop-moral auditor? Still not exactly someone you want to come up against, but also not an eternal tormentor. My new thought, after reading this chapter, is that God created Satan as an impartial witness, one who can bring the truth to light, like the morning star, one who seeks knowledge over everything else. When viewed this way, we can see why the serpent would encourage Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge – lacking more nuanced views of God’s design (including empathy and patience) the serpent saw a direct line to knowledge and wanted to go for it, and didn’t understand why it could possibly be off limits to anyone. Seeing Satan as an impartial truth seeker also helps to reconcile how a God who is beneficent and loving and the source of all creation can exist side by side, indeed, create-a being like Satan who is not beneficent and loving. I’m not saying that Satan is an extension or part of God like Jesus or the Holy Spirit is, but perhaps xe is, still, an agent of God: something God created to be apart from Xyr love of mankind and creation through which Xe could judge them fairly.
Would God have tested Job without Satan’s recommendation? I don’t know. Xe tested Abraham’s faith asking him to kill Isaac, so maybe it’s not outside the realm of possibility. But seeing Satan as an agent of God, instead of an adversary of God, makes the stories more similar. In both, the faith of man is being tested through great hardship. Why does our faith need to be tested in the first place? I honestly don’t know, but perhaps it has something to do with growth. All good parents want to see their kids grow, and God is nothing if not a good parent. These aren’t perfect correlations, but I think the following examples still fit: I make my kids do hard things on a regular basis. Climbing up the ladder to the big girl slide all by themselves, sitting on the toilet, and, as babies, letting them cry it out to get back to sleep were all controlled situations where I stepped back and essentially asked more of them. Sure, I could have helped them, but they wouldn’t have grown. Job’s test is far harder than most of us will be asked to pass, but God was watching over him the whole time. Perhaps, when being tested by the devil, or Satan, or whatever you want to call xem, we are not being tormented by a demon but instead being encouraged to grow, to achieve new knowledge, and new spiritual insight, just as Job did.
This new view of Satan also makes failure a little easier to accept. It took Marienne months to build up her confidence to go all the way up the ladder at the playground all by herself. Potty-training is still a work in progress. Do I condemn my daughters because they haven’t learned certain skills yet? Of course not. Do I continue to get them to try? Of course I do, that’s the only way they’ll learn. So perhaps we need to cut ourselves, and everyone around us, a little slack. We’re all trying, let’s keep encouraging each other. Satan may be setting up sting operations for us and pointing out our failures, and possibly we’re even punished for those failures (like when I put one of the girls in time out for scratching her sister-a favorite form of combat in our house). But even then, God is there rooting us on, watching us with pride as we learn and grow.
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