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March 5, 2006
Is There Really a Devil?The image of the devil in a red suit with a pitchfork in his hand has long been a popular image in our culture. You don’t need to be Catholic to recognize this image. We see it on cartoons and we hear the reference in many jokes. The image always brings to mind the notion of hell and brimstone, one we don’t very much appreciate. Even if we have outgrown the belief in such a fearful little red creature we tend to revert to it on occasion when we want to incur a sense of consequence in our children. The question is however, is there really a devil?
The history of Satan is long and old. He comes to us through the writings of Hebrew Scripture or the Old Testament. Among the books of the Hebrew Scriptures written before 300 BC the term Satan appears many times. It seems as the original Hebrew verb “Satan” meant one who opposes. When we read the Old Testament we see the term Satan used with the following meanings:
l. Any person acting as an accuser or enemy.
e.g. l Samuel 29:4 The Philistines were distrustful of David, fearing that he would be Satan. (this is translated “adversary” or “someone who will turn against us.”)
2. A divine messenger sent by God as an adversary
e.g. Numbers 22:32 The angel appears and explains that he has come as a Satan to kill him. (Translated as”one who opposes, “withstand,” “adversary”)
This week’s gospel speaks of the devil appearing to Jesus in the desert. The gospel refers to the devil as Satan. The work of Satan is to tempt Jesus after he has been in the desert for forty days and nights. Looking at this gospel story a bit more closely may give us a better idea of who or what Satan really is.
The gospel tells us that Jesus went out into the desert for forty days. The term forty is used often in scripture. It is used to symbolize the idea of a long period of time. This in itself tells us that we must not take the entire story literally. We know from previous readings that Jesus went into the desert following his Baptism by John the Baptist. He went to the desert to pray and to be alone with God. There he fasted. (Fasting is a practice that one uses to turn oneself over to the will of God. There is the notion of complete Trust that God will provide.) After Jesus had been in the desert for a long period of time he began to experience temptations. Satan, or the “enemy” of God, came to Jesus and attempted to lure him away from his relationship with God. We can also see Satan as Jesus’ “enemy.”
Who was this “enemy”? Do we have such an enemy? It would be difficult to reject the notion that we do not. We all have an inner enemy, that part of us that seems to rebel against the God that dwells within us. There is no doubt that we all experience a constant struggle within ourselves. We live with the good and the bad within. Some people do not resist the evil while others cooperate whole heartedly with God’s gift of Himself through grace. It is clear in the gospel that Jesus cooperated fully. Where do we stand in respect to God’s work within us?
Lorette P. Nault