What the Devil?
Why do we do the things we do? Why do we sometimes choose to do the right thing, but other times not? When we do the right thing, we are quick to pat ourselves on the back for being so righteous. When we do not? The comedian Flip Wilson made a lot of money saying, “The devil made me do it.”
Who is the devil? That question is a source of some debate in the theological world. Among the general U.S. population, according to a 2013 survey, 57% of us believe there is a real devil. According to another survey, 71% believe there is a hell, but only 32% believe it is a place of torment and suffering, with most of the remaining believers identifying hell as a condition of separation from God.
In the bible, perhaps the clearest exposition of just who is the devil comes from Revelation 12. We are told there is a dragon in heaven, and this dragon is waiting before the woman who is to give birth to the child who is to rule the world so that the dragon may devour the child. In verses 7-9, Jesus reveals to John and to us:
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
One question I have always had is where in heaven did this source of evil come from? How could this evil exist in paradise and in the very presence of God? I do not presume to know, and neither will I use this space to speculate.
Many people use passages from the prophets to explain who the devil is. Extensive passages from both Ezekiel and Isaiah prophesy regarding the kingdoms surrounding Israel. In the context of these prophecies of the various kings, Ezekiel 28, prophesying about the king of Tyre, and Isaiah 14, regarding the king of Babylon, are used to describe the fall from heaven of a powerful angel and his followers. It is from Isaiah that we arrived at the name Lucifer for this fallen angel. The actual Hebrew word used in this passage is helel, meaning “morning star”. Lucifer is from the Latin Vulgate translation of morning star, and in its Anglicized version in the King James bible became the capitalized proper name of the devil. Careful reading in proper context should indicate to most that neither Ezekiel nor Isaiah were likely writing about the fall of the devil from heaven.
By the way, if you want a biblical reference to the name of the devil, read Revelation 9 and the account of the sounding of the fifth trumpet. In verse 11, speaking of the king of the angels of the bottomless pit, John calls his name Abaddon in Hebrew, and Apollyon in the Greek.
We still have the question of why we do the things we do. Does the devil make us do it? In a way, he does. Orthodox theology tells us the devil’s power is limited, and he is not omnipresent or omnipotent. He likely does not have the power to directly implant an objective into our brains, making us instruments of his evil. The devil’s work is more insidious than that. The devil works by corrupting, distorting, and falsifying God’s truth. He influences us through our fallen nature, confusing our minds as to the foundation of the truth, or the consequences of his falsehood. He persuades us to exchange God’s truth for the devil’s pseudo-truth, which is a lie.
Consider Paul’s words on the subject of why we do what we do. In Romans 7, Paul laments that he does not do those things he wants to do, but does the very things he does not want to do. He concludes:
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (verses 21-23)
God made us to be perfect, and to live in complete harmony with Him. That perfection became corrupted when the devil deceived Adam and Eve in the garden. That corruption lives within us today. The devil plays upon our corruption to manipulate us into voiding God’s will for us. The devil is a formidable foe, and our only defense against him is in Jesus and the power of the cross and His glorious resurrection.
Seeing our world with our corrupted nature is like looking into a funhouse mirror. Nothing appears quite as it should. But, there are corrective lenses available for us to view, and they are from God’s truth found in His scriptures. Do not be fooled, and get your glasses anywhere else.
Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People