Minor Thoughts from me to you

The Devil in the Details


There's something both precious and painful about evenings out with my fellow teachers at school. All of us so clearly desire, and desire badly, to be friends, because we are all living in a foreign country far from home's shores, and we consequently know that the immediately available pool of English-speaking Christians from which we might draw fellowship is limited to -... uh, well, us.

But, we are a motley crew. Thus we are having some trouble clicking. Our only extrovert finds himself faced with the horrifying understanding (perhaps not yet dawned 'pon him; I am unsure) that these people by whom he is surrounded will likely not kick it with him on the weekends, at least to his standards. His two fellow men are introverted bookworms. They quietly wait on the sidelines of table conversation like players in a game to which they do not know the rules. And beside them sits a beautiful and intelligent young, ethnically Korean woman about their age, who - being a fresh graduate of hallowed Bob Jones University on her way to law school - is probably not up for dating, along with a woman (a) easily old enough to be all of their mothers and (b) way cooler than all of them, being a field-hardened missionary to Uganda.

Summarily, this is not the kind of group for which you want to pick a movie.

And then there are our theological differences, which really the LORD Jesus must be praised for, as they're the only reliable topic of conversation upon which we've yet stumbled.

The very fact that we all work for our school means we're each classifiable as Protestant, of course, but whereas the beliefs of the good Catholic are well-defined, "Protestant" is a widely-cast label - nearly as widely-cast as the word "Christian" itself. We run the gamut. The older woman who serves in Uganda is Charismatic. The gentleman hailing from North Carolina is, needless to say, not. Cue fun discussions of whether the Church is still given the gift of speaking in holy tongues or the gift of prophecy, etcetera.

Wherein I occasionally hear something interesting like this:

"Satan can't understand what you're saying to God when you speak in tongues. That's because tongues are of the Spirit and he (Satan) is darkness."

Now I first heard this tidbit of spiritual strategy, actually, from a Filipino teacher who doesn't usually eat out with us - and to be honest, my snooty reaction was to off-handedly dismiss it as a bit of quaint Third World tradition which had somehow latched itself to Christian doctrine. Y'know: "Oh, those backward Filipinos."

So to hear it from a missionary raised in California quite surprised me (less surprising was to hear within the same conversation her confident assertion that Satan, the Prince of Darkness, is a fallen angel - a plausible possibility, but simply not so settled a fact as most Christians seem to believe). What surprises me leads to research. What I research leads to this blog.


The Devil We Know, The Devil We Don't

To begin with, let's deal with the question of whether the Adversary can understand prayers spoken in tongues: the answer is "Perhaps!", with an understanding that leaning towards "Yes, he can!" is probably the safer bet. No Bible verse concretely addresses the question, which means, to quote my Old Testament professor Dr. Wallace: "We really only know two things: We know I don't know and we know you don't know."

But when "the devil can cite scripture for his purpose," as the Bard once put it (in an allusion to Satan's tempting of Jesus), when he can presumably understand every other language in the world, and when at least one book of the Bible finds him freely conversing with the LORD Himself in Heaven (Job 1-2), it's certainly not unreasonable to suggest he can hear Spirit-breathed language - especially if, as so many would claim, the Devil is a fallen angel, one of a host quite likely knowledgeable concerning any holy tongue. On what Biblical basis are contrary claims made by those who say the holiest of tongues lies on a devil-jamming frequency?

At least the popular concept of Satan as a rebel angel has (ahem) wings. In the Gospel of Luke we are told that our Lord "beheld Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Reference to "angels who sinned" can be found in 2nd Peter 2:4. Jude 1:6, too. And if you Protestants out there are willing to peer outside the canon a bit, you'll find reference to a fallen prince of angels named Satanael in the Slavonic Book of Enoch.

But the most popular passages of Scripture cited as proof of Satan's former archangelic status are useful only when displaced from their contexts. As Wikipedia's entry on "Lucifer" notes:

"Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are directly concerned with the temporal rulers of Babylon and Tyre, rather than a supernatural being; allegorical readings of these and other passages were typical of medieval scholarship but are usually not considered legitimate in modern critical scholarship. Accordingly, in most modern English versions of the Bible (including the NIV, NRSV, NASB and ESV) the proper noun "Lucifer" is not found; the Hebrew word is rendered "day star", "morning star" or something similar."

It's worth noting, too, that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28:11-19 never refer to anyone as an archangel; if the latter passage was for some reason truly talking about Satan, then the Lord of Darkness would be a cherub.

Bereft of those sources, though, we are left without any canonical origin for the Adversary. In fact, all the Bible is willing to tell us is, ironically enough, that Satan definitely was never a good guy. Note 1 John 3:8, in which it is said that "the devil has been sinning from the beginning," and John 8:44, in which it is said that Satan "was a murderer from the beginning."

1 John 3:8: "He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work."

John 8:44: "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

I won't suggest the above verses preclude a fall from Heaven. Revelation 12:9 clearly states otherwise:

"The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."

So possibly Satan was tossed to Earth prior to "the beginning", as the phrase "the beginning" could just as easily refer only to Man's start rather than Satan's. Maybe it's even just a phrase (how often have we heard someone accused of being "against us from the start"?).

Regardless, here we've come to the Bible's last mention of angels in conjunction with "that ancient serpent". The phrasing might understandably get any member of the Satan As Ex-Angel camp excited; after all, there it is, in black and white. Satan has angels. Michael has angels. They're fighting. Even though the text does not clearly stipulate Satan to be an angel, one can put two-and-two together without a long leap, right?

Well, before we get too carried away, let's remind ourselves what the word "angel" means in both Hebrew and Greek: "messenger". The word implies status rather than race, much like the word "god" itself (a general term we Christians use pretty much exclusively for the LORD of Israel because we don't consider any other being truly worthy of the title, but don't forget that even Moses was once described as "god" to Pharoah). If Satan can be described as "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), why might his disciples not be described as his own "messengers"? And if the "messengers" herein are indeed fallen servants of the one, true God, does it still necessarily follow that Satan is an angel?

Logically, the answer is "no" - but, of course, that doesn't mean Satan isn't a fallen angel.

It's frustrating, not knowing the answers to the maddening mysteries the Bible often presents us; as unexpected and seemingly contradictory as his presence is in a universe ruled by our Creator, Satan is one of the most tempting targets for which to contrive an explanation. We should never the less resist the urge. False information represented as true is, after all, a lie - and we can be sure that the father of lies will not hesitate to turn new ones about himself to his advantage.