I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bahá’í).
Who Is the Devil?
The subject of Satan or the devil has come up quite frequently in my interfaith group. Who is the devil? Did God create a being called Satan that opposes Him at every turn and is a thorn in the flesh of sincere humans who are striving to live a godly life?
As is well known, the concept of Satan or the devil is a major theme of the scriptures of the past—more especially, those of the Abrahamic faiths. Satan is often depicted in these holy books as an evil being that opposes God at every turn and is able to entrap men in his evil devices and turn them away from their Creator.
But is there an actual living creature like that able to defy God and do as he will?
God the Creator of All Things
The logical answer can only be no. There cannot be any creature in the entire universe that can stand up to God, the Creator and Enabler of all things. God, the source of all that is good and holy, can also not be the creator of a being that is the embodiment of all that is evil, that spreads his evil agenda everywhere and gets away with it.
God’s creative power is all too perceptible in the holy scriptures, whether of the former or more recent times.
1. In the Holy Bible
The Bible’s Book of Genesis states that when God wanted to bring the world and everything within it into being, all He needed to do was say: “Let there be,” and there was!
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3)
And thus was set in motion the process of creation of the earth and the visible heaven.
(Note: The King James Bible is the source of all biblical quotations in this article).
2. In the Holy Qur’án
Islamic (and Bahá’í) Writings also affirm that when God wants to accomplish a thing, all He needs to do is say: “Be,” and it is.
Of God’s creative power, the Qur’án says:
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“Be He glorified! Nay, but whatsoever is in the heavens and the earth is His. All are subservient unto Him. The Originator of the heavens and the earth! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.” (Qur’án 2:116-117)
3. In the Bahá’í Writings
And from Bahá’í scriptures can be found the following:
“Hallowed be the Lord in Whose hand is the source of dominion. He createth whatsoever He willeth by His Word of command ‘Be’, and it is.” (Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 171)
What Is Satan?
How then can any creature withstand the might of so powerful and mysterious a Being as God? So, the question then becomes: If there is no such existent being as Satan or the devil, why do the holy books repeatedly call attention to him and his evil machinations? In more general terms, what could the concept of Satan signify?
The Progressive Nature of Religious Truth
One interesting element of religion is its progressive nature. This means that a religion that comes to an advanced society will generally be associated with a revelation imbued with higher knowledge and more profound insights than the religion that appears when the society was at a less advanced stage.
Thus, the language God has chosen to speak to man today through Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, is reflective of our modern-day realities and advanced state of development. This means today, we have a message that has greater clarity and depth than when God spoke to man a thousand or more years ago.
The Language of the Gospel
1. Parables and Proverbs
In the New Testament times, for instance, Jesus often communicated with the masses and shared his spiritual insights with them through parables and proverbs, as his words amply testify:
“These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.” (John 16:25)
There can be no better time to speak plainly of the Father than at the messianic appearance of the last day.
2. The Reason for Parables
We can learn other important lessons about the use of parables from the words of Jesus. When the disciples asked him why he chose to speak to his audience in parables, his answer was:
“Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matthew 13:11)
Explaining further, he continued:
“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” (Matthew 13:12)
He then concludes:
“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matthew 13:13)
The long and short of it all is that when the people lack the capacity to understand deep spiritual truths, the information can only be given to them in the form of metaphors, allegories, similes, symbols, parables, proverbs, and so on.
3. Why Some Spiritual Truths Are Withheld
On another occasion, Jesus admonished his hearers with these blunt words:
“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6)
The message is flavoured with a lot of metaphors— “dogs,” “pearls,” “swine,” and so on—but the point Jesus is essentially making here is that one should not share deeper spiritual truths with those who are not ready for them because they could turn round and cause one harm.
The Definition of Satan
Now coming back to the question of Satan, who exactly is he or what exactly is it? The simple answer is that Satan is just a personification of evil as it exists potentially in man himself, that is, man’s propensity and capacity for evil.
The Two Natures in Man
Man is composed of two distinct natures.
1. The Lower Nature
First is the physical aspect, which is not much different from the animal in terms of its functioning. This side of man conforms to his lower, animal nature. It aspires to bodily pleasures, comforts, and material acquisitions and exhibits the qualities of selfishness, greed, anger, and wickedness in the pursuit of worldly pleasures.
2. The Higher Nature
The second aspect is referred to as his higher, angelic self. It is the soul of man gloriously made in the image of God.
So, for instance, the Book of Genesis says:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
Here, the reference to man being created in God’s image is not to his material form but rather to his soul animated by the spirit. It is man’s spiritual nature that enables him to exhibit the heavenly virtues and godly attributes, which are a reflection of God’s image.
Man as a Moral Being
Between these two opposing natures, the animal and angelic, the lower and higher, is man’s free will, his freedom to choose which direction of life to take. Does he give in to the dictates of his animal side, his lower nature, in pursuit of the pleasures of the senses, or does he instead turn his full attention to the divine guidance received through the Manifestation of God and strive for heavenly virtues and lordly perfections?
Free will is what makes man a moral being, a being able to choose between good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, the divine and the satanic.
Some Characteristics of Satan
As already stated, it is the promptings of man’s lower self, his evil passions and corrupt inclinations, that have been personified in past religious dispensations as Satan or the devil.
1. The Enemy Within
Hence, whereas in past ages the devil was seen as an entity outside of man, we are being taught today that the devil is actually within man himself. This is the essence of the Bahá’í message.
Yet this teaching is not entirely new, it must be said, because the Gospel itself does also acknowledge that the power for evil comes from within man himself, and not from an external agency. For instance, Jesus points out that:
“That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23)
2. The Spoiler Without
The term “Satan” can also be used to denote an individual who becomes an obstruction to the great plan of God. This explains why Peter the Apostle was denounced by his Lord as "Satan" moments after being praised and given primacy among the Apostles. Thus was he rebuked by Jesus:
“Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
The Demonisation of the Holy Ones
In an ironic twist to the saga of life, it so happens that even the Manifestations of God, the holiest of the holy ones, have often been demonised by the unbelieving as the devil incarnate or something similar. After all, was Jesus not called “Beelzebub” by the faithless people of Israel and accused of accomplishing his miraculous deeds through “Beelzebub the prince of the devils”? (Matthew 10:25, 12:24)
The Abode of Satan
So, the lesson of this discussion is that Satan exists potentially in man himself. That said, the satanic presence becomes manifest only to the extent that man allows his lower, animal nature to dominate and overshadow his higher, angelic self.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn