Unity views on ... Satan
The popular view of satan is somewhat comical. He is caricatured as being small in stature, red in color, with small horns in his forehead, a pointed tail, and carrying a pitchfork, which is the weapon supposedly used to prod people into sinning. Sometimes he is pictured with a moustache and beard. He is also shown as having cloven hooves and very much resembling the mythical Greek god Pan.
Tremendous cunning and power are attributed to satan by some people. It is said that sometimes a battle rages between satan and God over the custody of a person's soul. The devil supposedly wins an occasional battle. This is a rather frightening consideration, because it accords more power to satan than to God. It would make us wonder if we have a right to call God "Almighty". Perhaps, if this were the case, we would more appropriately call God "part mighty".
In the Old Testament Book of Job there is an interesting story concerning satan. Job is put to many trying tests to see if he will remain loyal to God. Job's virtue prevails. The prominence of satan in this fictional drama, however, seems to have given "him" a powerful place of consideration in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Thus it is that the traditional view of satan is that of a second god, a god of evil who prevails in today's world to influence the evil-doing of humankind.
Where did the belief in satan originate? In the purest Jewish tradition there is only one God. This God created the earth and made it a garden, peopled this earth with all sorts of creatures, warmed it with the sun, enchanted it with the moon, and dazzled it with the stars.
The "satanic" influence came on the scene only when God's people began to get their own ideas, which were not in keeping with the divine intentions of God. In the allegory of creation, there was no devil until Adam and Eve began to think in opposition to divine principles. This is important for us to remember.
We must also remember that the story of creation was not the first part of the Old Testament to be written. During the period in Jewish history known as the Babylonian captivity (nearly 600 years before the time of Jesus Christ) the first of the Jewish scriptures were recorded. Prior to this time, they were handed down from mouth to ear, from generation to generation, in what was called the oral tradition. The first Bible stories began with Abraham. It was later deemed desirable to write the story of creation.
What influenced the introduction of a satanic character into the allegory of creation? The actual origin of he concept of satan is hidden in almost impenetrable mystery. But one tempting trail leads to the religion of the Persians.
The ancient Persians had a two-god religion: One god was Ahriman, the god of darkness and evil; the other was Ormazd, the god of light and goodness. Many religious scholars feel that this Persian philosophy had an influence on Hebrew theology; hence, the character of satan became a part of the Hebrew legends, and these legends, in turn, became the basis of the Hebrew scriptures.
Another promising trail leads to the Babylonian legend of the creation of the world. In this legend there is a fallen angel named Kingu. He is said to have had an army of demons who went around helping people get into trouble. Some people feel that Isaiah's reference to Lucifer relates to this fallen angel; but Isaiah's reference is to Daystar, a name the Babylonian king used for himself.
Greek mythology also comes into the picture here. Hades was the kingdom of the dead, with both Elysian fields for the good and places of torment for the wicked. The mythical Greek gods were in charge of the these places - the good gods were in charge of the good places and the bad ones in charge of the bad places. As already noted, the depiction of satan in our time strongly resembles the Greek god Pan.
Because the Jews were in captivity in Babylon for about seventy years, it is likely that Babylonian legends would have influenced the Hebrew legends. Following the Babylonian captivity, there was the Persian occupation of Palestine, with the likely influence of Ahriman.
This was followed by the Greek occupation and the possible and likely influence of Greek mythology. All this happened from about 600 B.C. to 120 B.C. -a formative period in Jewish religious thought. Satan makes a couple of other brief appearances in the books of Zechariah and Chronicles.
There is not much said about satan in the New Testament. Paul makes one reference to the "devil" in II Corinthians 4:4:"The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God".
It is written that a "tempter" came to Jesus. Though it is not written who this tempter was, Jesus later called "him" satan. Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted to change stones into bread. It is reasonable to assume that the tempter was the voice of human hunger speaking to Him. When He was at the pinnacle of the temple and was tempted to throw Himself off and land safely, it was probably the voice of human desire for quick, sensational recognition.
In the third temptation, He thought about becoming the political and military leader that the Jews expected their Messiah to be - and to worship materiality that would go with filling such a role. This was the voice of worldliness speaking to Him.
There was no being outside Jesus, only the voice of His own human nature. For example, the pinnacle of the temple was a high platform where Roman soldiers had an outpost. If there had been a visible satan there, these soldiers would have encountered "him" and attempted to destroy "him".
Each time Jesus Christ, in His higher nature, rejected the temptation. Had He succumbed, the power of God working through Him would have been nothing more nor less than magic to Him. But because He remained in a high state of spiritual consciousness, He became the ethical Messiah of the world.
Here, then, is the alternative concept of satan: Satan is not an impish being with a pitchfork, prodding people into a sinful life; rather, satan is the lower nature of all people. It is the self of us that can tempt us to do things that we know are not for our highest good. Satan is the selfish, human, cunning, devious ego of limitation that motivates the human personality to turn away from God. It is the part of us that must decrease as our spiritual nature increases.
How do we overrule this part of us? "I, when I am lifted up from this earth, will draw all men to myself". We must elevate our desires of human appetite, raise the standards of our moral passions, bear up our spiritual aspirations, and be receptive to the drawing power of Christ. This is to lift up and spiritualize the human self, thus defeating our "satanic" nature.
When this happens, the kingdom of Christlikeness will be established in our hearts, minds, and worlds. This is the objective of true Christianity. Rather than doing battle with an external force that doesn't exist, the overruling of the lower nature by the higher is the ultimate accomplishment.
This item is an excerpt from the book "Alternatives" by William L. Fisher, and reproduced with the express permission of Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO.