The devil that isn’t
I spent a lot of my childhood in Plattsburgh, New York. My parents were stationed at the now defunct Air Force base back in the 80s. Anyone that spent time there was exposed to some of the most impressive supernatural stories on earth. This place was a melting pot for evil. If you were super lucky - and I’m being sarcastic - you found yourself on the receiving end of some really terrifying events. Some of the stories about the airbase - and Plattsburgh in general - were pretty far-fetched even for kids. I remember one of the first stories I learned was about a man named Farmer Brown. Apparently Farmer Brown lived in what was called the North Side woods which extended onto the northern side of the base. Kids warned each other not to walk home through the woods because you could end up missing - taken by Brown - never to be seen again. Yeah, none of us really believed it either. But we also stayed out of those woods unless we traveled in packs.
Plattsburgh also has its own Loch Ness monster. A giant, prehistoric creature that is rumored to live in the waters of Lake Champlain. Everyone calls the monster Champy. He’s practically a mascot. When I was a kid, no one really believed this folklore either. In fact, during summer camp I spent a lot of time swimming in this lake. However, when the lake’s current would randomly pick up with no ships in sight to explain it, us kids would hightail it out of the water like a scene from the movie Jaws. This is the true definition of being scared of nothing.
But then there were more realistic and scary stories that were the opposite of nothing burgers. For example, the ghost that roamed the gym on the old side of the base. Which freaked a lot of people out because there were countless stories of people actually seeing this ghost. I also had my fair share of creepy. One night around 3 a.m. a shadowy force started tapping on my second-story, bedroom window like it was trying to get in. I was beyond terrified, refusing to go to the window. The next morning at school I bumped into a kid who lived a few doors down. He begins to tell me there was something tapping on his bedroom window like it wanted to get in. It happened around 3 a.m. He was curious to know if I also heard it. He said it scared him to death. My heart hit my feet. I could fill a chill running up my spine in an attempt to replace the warm blood that was now leaving my body. This kid, out of nowhere, confirmed what I was hoping to be an overactive imagination, to instead be something much more terrifying than that. By the way, he didn’t go to the window either.
There’s a lot I could share with you that would completely freak you out regardless of your beliefs. I even wrote a book on supernatural evils and my experiences in Plattsburgh. Hopefully, when the time is right I’ll release it. But the chief reason I sent you down memory lane with me is because I want you to know that I unequivocally believe in the existence of evil. Not because I read about it in the Bible. Not because I heard about it in church. Not because I watched a scary movie. It’s because I experienced some crazy mess that you don’t share with a lot of people for fear of them thinking you’re a wack job. Even other Christians.
What I did read about in the Bible, hear about in church, and see in movies concerning evil had everything to do with Satan. He was synonymous with evil. So as a kid I learned that evil meant Satan and vice versa. He was the originator of all things evil. As I grew up this narrative was reinforced by what I was learning in church and common media such as television and film. But throughout all my years, something about this narrative just didn’t add up to me. This God vs. Satan, evil vs. good arc never sat right with me. It’s not that it didn’t logically make sense. It just didn’t make sense from a rational perspective.
For years I had wondered, why did God allow Satan - pure evil - into the Garden to tempt Adam and Eve? Now, this is a very important question. And if you don’t stop and think about this question you’ll find yourself like many, mindlessly regurgitating narratives that make God seem irrational. In fact, I believe so many people blame God for evil because not enough people have thought through this one question. If God created Eden for Adam and Eve and also walked with them, how on earth did Satan just slip into this place of perfection unnoticed? And if Satan was so evil, why did Eve pick up a conversation with Satan like they knew each other? Why would Adam and Eve trust anything Satan said if He was pure evil?
See, the traditional Christian narrative goes like this: there was a war in heaven, Satan was kicked out with one-third of the angels who landed on earth. Satan, now on earth, makes his way into Eden where he then tempts Adam and Eve. They disobey God. The earth is now cursed along with humanity and Eden is essentially put out of operation. Huh?
If you follow this narrative this means the earth was cursed after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, not when Satan - the greatest evil - was sent to it after being banished from Heaven. So in short, sin didn’t enter the world when Satan showed up. In this narrative sin entered the world when Adam and Eve rebelled which was after demonic forces were already present in the world. That just never made much sense to me. Scripture - Romans 5:12 - tells us sin entered the world through one man, which was Adam. So if this is the case, how do we explain a sinful, rebellious Satan who was already in the Garden, yet sin hadn't entered the world? It’s this narrative that can cause utter confusion concerning the topic of God and evil. It assumes that God was playing kind of fast and loose with evil, allowing it into the world, knowing full well it was going to lead to Adam’s fall. It assumes that God was in on some cosmic joke, essentially tipping the scales of temptation so Adam would rebel. But I believe there’s a better explanation to Satan’s presence found in scripture. A narrative that makes more sense.
Remember in my previous edition, “Father of divine beings”, I made the case that other divine creatures were present when Adam arrived on scene. We looked at a couple verses; Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 3:22. What we didn’t look at too deeply was the presence of Satan and his role in the Garden. The question we need to ask ourselves is why was Satan there to begin with? The answer born out of tradition states Satan was in the Garden to tempt Adam and Eve. But contrary to popular belief, that is incorrect. Well, I’ll be lenient here and state that this answer is only partially correct. We know Satan tempted Adam and Eve while in the Garden, but it doesn’t fully explain why he was there to begin with. The answer to this question lies in the book of Ezekiel. This book - which delivers a dual prophecy concerning the king of Tyre - provides much needed context and detail concerning what happened in Eden.
Ancient Tyre was an extremely wealthy city built on the eastern Mediterranean coastline. It consisted of two parts. One part existed on the mainland while the second was on an island. Tyre was a friendly neighbor to Israel and Judah. In fact we see Hiram, the king of Tyre, graciously delivering all the cedar King Solomon requested in 1 Kings 5:10. This relationship eventually went downhill much later after Israel split into two kingdoms. Tyre - an immoral city - had starting exploiting their neighbors and gloating about it.
- Ezekiel 26:1–2 (ESV)
Tyre’s behavior elicited rebuke from God’s prophets; Joel 3:4–8, Amos 1:9, Isaiah 23:1–18. One of the strongest rebukes comes from Ezekiel, where we find the dual prophecy. In this prophecy God draws a parallel between what could only be a divine creature - Satan - and the King of Tyre.
11 Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD:
Ezekiel 28:11–19 (ESV)
In this prophecy we see some very interesting language that could only be assigned to a supernatural, divine being. No human can be described as being covered in every precious stone, set upon the holy mountain, walking in the midst of stones of fire. No human can be described as a cherub with its own sanctuaries. And this creature was cast down in front of its peers with the final act of it being consumed by fire. This description is not fit for a human. It is perfect for Satan. We see in Ezekiel’s prophecy that God is drawing a parallel between the King of Tyre’s pride and Satan’s pride which led to their downfall.
In this prophecy we learn some key things about Satan. For one, God placed him in Eden. Satan didn’t somehow sneak in. God created him as a guardian cherub, which means part of his job was to guard Eden. We also learn of Satan’s nature and that God didn’t create Satan as unrighteous. He was considered blameless until it was found in him. His unrighteousness was found after he exposed his own sinful pride. God didn’t create Satan as evil as many think. We see in the aforementioned verses, just the opposite happened. Satan was a beautiful creature with a very important role. But like Adam and Eve, he felt what God had created wasn’t enough for him. So he reached for more.
What we can deduce from all of this, is God placed Satan in the Garden to guard Eden. He had a job there. Satan was not a stranger or an enemy to Adam and Eve which is why it was so easy for them to not only converse, but also trust him. And if you look closely, Adam, Eve and Satan all acted like squabbling siblings when God confronted them. Adam and Eve start pointing fingers at each other to pass blame. However, Satan sits quietly. He doesn’t even try to defend himself. It was clear he had a problem with God and he was now sitting back to see how God was going to deal with His special creation.
Another important thing to note is that many - if not most - traditional retellings of the Fall paint Satan as a snake, slithering his way through the Garden. However, Ezekiel plainly gives us Satan’s original description as a guardian cherub within Eden. Now, there is also an idea that Satan ended up as a snake after God cursed him which is where we get the traditional imagery. But God never stated Satan was to be turned into a snake. God only described the nature of his curse. In fact, I believe the curse was less about Satan’s physical appearance and more about his position of authority. Ezekiel tells us Satan was essentially taken from high as one of God’s beloved creatures and cast to the ground, to be fully exposed by everyone. Ezekiel was retelling the curse that led to Satan being stripped of rank and position. In fact, if you’re still not convinced, realize Satan is also called the great dragon in Revelation 12:9. So is Satan a snake, or a dragon? The answer is neither. What we see in scripture are metaphors used to describe Satan’s character, not his physical appearance.
You’re most likely starting to see the importance of rightly understanding this story. God didn’t place some evil creature in the Garden nor did He fall asleep at the wheel. In fact, what we see is God placing a guardian over Eden to actually protect His creation. From what? I have no idea. Possibly from other divine beings that have autonomy. Scripture doesn’t give us this information. But God cared about Adam and Eve and showed genuine concern from the very beginning. God has always been concerned. God has always been active within His creation. I want to drive this point home because it’s important. God didn’t wait until Adam sinned to actively participate in creation. He was involved from the moment He created Adam and Eve, establishing a hedge to protect them. Unfortunately, the divine being that was to stand guard did not want to obey God either.
As we press towards God in an effort to fully meet Him it’s important for us to really think about the origin of our ideas. By now you’ve probably noticed that Genesis is an incredibly important book and one that is often misunderstood. You don’t need a degree in theology to make sense of scripture or to understand God. I hope you’re seeing that when we read scripture as it is, not through the lens of tradition, the Bible becomes a much more intriguing and exciting book. In these last few weeks we’ve covered some amazing material that is sitting in plain sight. Yet, this information isn’t typically taught to children during Sunday school service, or from the pulpit. I think it is unfortunate. Because the more we rightly understand the beginning or our story, it helps us to better understand the One responsible for making it all begin.