Just the other day I was window-shopping in furniture store. Not really shopping for anything in specific. I came across a face-paint set and on the cover they had a child immersed in the boxed colors: red, black and gold. He was portraying the Devil. Our affinity for mythology has turned the character of Satan into nothing more than a cartoon character who haplessly arrives on the scene. What if what we know of Satan isn’t even true? What if the person of Satan was borrowed from somewhere else?
The ancient Israeli people were in the middle of a national rift. They couldn’t agree with who should be the rightful heir to the throne in Jerusalem. So, they split up. Jerusalem became known as the Northern Kingdom, and Judah became known as the Southern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom shared life with the surrounding cultures, more specifically the people of Babylon. During their formation as a people group they began taking on the beliefs of those they lived with, those they called neighbours and friends. One of the ancient religions called Zoroastrianism was also in development at the same as Judaism. They believed in many things (follow the above link, to find out more) including some of the following things:
— a place where all good people go when they die called heaven
Note: Scripture never says anything about us going to some place, but about the ‘New Jerusalem’ coming here. God dwelling with his people.
— an adversary who’s sole purpose was to counter God in everything
Note: There are only 19 references of Satan in the Old Testament. And no references for the word ‘Devil’. When it is used it means ‘adversary’. In the mythical book of Job, he is shown as a servant of God.
— a place where all bad people go when they die called hell
Note: Hell in the OT means death. The New Testament means a trash heap or an image for destruction.
The Jewish idea of Satan was that he was never a person. The Book of Job has echoes of the Aggadah, which is a collection of Jewish legends and fables that usually tend to be metaphors for a bigger point. In that story, Satan is portrayed as a servant of God. One who is used by God. In fact, more research shows that Jews believe that we need adversity. The meaning for the word Satan is adversary or opponent. So, when Jesus calls Satan adversary, He is stating that Peter is getting in the way of what Jesus knows He has to do.
- No Running Near the Pool
Yet, having said all that the ancient followers of God believed that we couldn’t find who we were meant to be without adversity. That we need to tension to help form us into the person we could be. Think about this on a personal level, when have you learned the most? Not that we go looking for adversity. But that we do not run from it when it shows up. That we come to understand it helps us. To discover our potential. But we couldn’t do it without Satan in our lives. Most reading this might have just read that and thought about the person running around who’s purpose is to be everything anti-God. See when Jesus was calling Peter ‘Satan’, He was also saying to the rest of us that we have the ability to be a road-block to one another. That we have it in us to be evil. See our westernized beliefs tell us that God can’t encompass evil and good. He is only one.
Living Together: Hope and Despair
Yet the Jewish idea tell us that hope and despair can live in the same house. We tend to think of hope being something that occurs post-despair. The same with peace and conflict, they both arrive out of the same place. Isaiah quotes God in Chapter 45:7 that God creates evil (depending on the version you use). See the belief is that God allows evil to happen to help form us into who He sees that we could be. That we learn from our loss, pain, frustration and tension. That without it, we couldn’t become the potential that is within us.
There is the belief in demons. And I like the idea of demons running amuck without a leader. It makes it seem more anarchic and not as clean or ordered as some of our beliefs appear.
It makes more sense to know that we too have it in us to support the ways of evil. So, then we all have a responsibility to be aware of our decisions.
- Everything Has Value
It also allows us to see that what we go through has value. That life isn't just some test we travel. That when we lose or gain, that we are meant to learn. That we are meant to grow. That God is romantically aware and involved in our becoming the best 'us' He has in mind… that God believes that we can go through anything with Him right there beside us (Paul said it this way: God won't give you trials you can't handle)…