Without doubt, my most favorite and funniest episode of Saturday Night Live was when comedian John Lovitz portrayed the Devil in a parody of “The People’s Court”. As the defendant in the case, Mephistopheles- one of the many names by which the Devil is known- is being sued by a hairdresser who sought to terminate the contract in which she sold her soul to Satan for an increase in her hair salon business. After much silly banter, Judge Wapner- portrayed by SNL cast member Phil Hartman- rules against the Devil. The contract is void, the plaintiff hairdresser gets her soul back and the Devil must pay her court costs.
As was the practice of the real “People’s Court” television show, participants are interviewed after the verdict. The Devil (Lovitz) sulks about losing the case on a technicality- he was, as the Devil is- deceptive. When the Devil realizes he is on “live TV” he grabs the reporter’s microphone and urges the television audience to, obey him. “You, watching at home- obey me! Become my willing thralls. Serve me eternally.” Using his trademark sinister voice, he continues to urge viewers to become his minions. When the bailiff finally comes forward to grab the microphone, Lovitz as the Devil, turns to him in his wimpy sheepish voice and says, “Wait. Wait. One more second.” Then turning immediately back to the TV camera, again in sinister voice, “Obey me! Obey me!”
The Devil is led away off camera and I laughed for hours.
I shall now however endeavor an examination of Satan and his role and position within the Church and life, all while admittedly not being an expert.
I think one of the best places to begin our look at Satan, is to reference the great work by Dante.
Dante (1265-1321) was an Italian poet and writer, known for his epic poem: The Divine Comedy. In a dream, which takes place during his sleep on Good Friday; Dante visits Heaven (Paradise), Purgatory and Hell (The Inferno). His guide through this dream to Hell, is none other than Virgil (d. 19BC) – the historic Roman poet.
Together they hire a boatman to take them down the River Styx- the ancient border between the land of the living and the dead- the underworld.
Arriving at the gateway to Hell, a sign on the gate warns: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”- “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” They enter.
Once inside Hell they are met with not only the anguished screams of those in residence there, but a foreboding ghostly fog and a perpetual and overwhelming chill (more on this shortly).
In short, Dante categorizes the residents of Hell into three main groups. First, the Opportunists- those he describes are neither good nor truly evil, but simply found there way to Hell by only be concerned with themselves and their own interests. Lacking charity and compassion- their life’s objective- was them.
Next down on the list were the Fallen. Those who indeed found ways to break or disregard the Commandments of God and the teachings of Christ. These were the idolaters, the transgressors and the blasphemers. The thieves and robbers. The adulterers, coveters and every other sort of scoundrel.
Finally, on the bottom of this notorious collection of souls were the Cast Down. Those unfortunate souls who incurred the personal wrath of God by being murderers and those committing acts of horrific violence. Think Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Ted Bundy. Also, in this group were those who denounced God and rejected Christ.
Dante graphically painted these souls are being constantly tormented, chased and stung by swarms of wasps and hornets- all the while trying to maintain their footing on a ground bed of worms, maggots and leeches. Should they stumble and fall, these vermin would cling to them and consume them.
Enduring the frigid chill of Hell- contrary to the belief of fire and brimstone, Dante and his companion finally reach the center of Hell and discover the reason for this unexpected chill.
There in the center of Hell- frozen and forever trapped in a block of ice up to his torso- was Satan. A two-faced dragon (hence the phrase “two faced”) one face being on the back of his head. Satan tries constantly in vain to free himself by flapping his large dragon-like wings. But all this does is circulate the cold air we spoke of, throughout hell. He occasionally eats with his gaping slobbering mouth, when an unfortunate soul runs past him fleeing the tormenting wasps and hornets.
And always heard in continuous persecution, a disembodied voice echoes: “O cursed are you, one who was once the splendor of God.” At these words, Satan laments an anguished howl.
This might be a good time for a coffee break, as I really need to distract myself from the worms, maggots and leeches.
Scripturally- though not officially identified as same, Satan makes his first appearance in Genesis and the tempting snake to Eve in the Garden of Eden.
“15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
In the Third Chapter of Genesis, it all unravels. Satan- in the guise of the serpent succeeds in tempting Eve to eat the prohibited fruit of the tree- telling her that the only reason God has for them not to eat the apple, is that they will become like God. Gaining the knowledge of what is good and what is evil. Eve then has Adam taste the apple and they both come to the realization of their nakedness. They have gained knowledge and lost their innocence. When God learns they have hidden themselves because of this fact, the deception of the serpent is revealed. God curses the serpent to be lowest of all creatures and to “…crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:15)
Satan becomes the infamous manipulator, deceiver and adversary of God and his creation throughout Scripture. Most notable of Satan’s torments is his temptations of Christ in His forty days in the desert.
In His isolation and hunger, Christ is tempted: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this and more, I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:3-11)
In each of these instances, Christ rebukes Satan with the simplest of words- “It is written…” The astonishment in this is, Satan does not respond. Satan does not argue the point or disagree. For in Satan’s weakness, he knows Christ speaks the truth and is powerless to rebut.
In our weakness, we too can often not distinguish the truth. Especially if we let ourselves drift from God or our faith in Him. As with Christ above, in His three temptations- Satan can use against us the same “three weapons” he uses most often to deceive us and derail us.
These can be found in Scripture in the First Book of John: “15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-16)
To better understand these in our contemporary times and terms, let us equate “lust” with things that are “obsessions”.
First the Obsessions of the Flesh. We are not solely talking about sex with this one- though it is a big part- encompassing: adultery, pornography and self-satisfaction. But we must also include in this group anything that can become an addiction for us or a compulsion. Drugs, alcohol, gambling and gluttony to name just a few. Anything that we tend to do to excess- without really the need to, outside of the simple fact- we want to. Satan manipulates our mind to put our personal “feel good” desires first, before God.
The Lust or Obsessions of the Eyes, is second in Satan’s arsenal against us. Everything else just looks better- especially when someone else has it. Money, cars, beautiful homes and stylish clothes. “Why can’t I have that?” “Why isn’t that mine?” “I want more. More. More!” “That should be mine. Mine. Mine!” So again, Satan has distracted us from what is truly important and made us desire and envy those worldly things that are temporary and transient. “I show you all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. All this and more I will give to you, if you bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)
Satan’s final weapon- our Pride of Life. More simply, our ego. Conceit. “There is no way, I am wrong. I am right!” “How can they say things like that, about me?” “I am much better then they are.” Our thirst for self-importance, power and/or authority.
In all three of the attacks, Satan plays always unto our fears. “I won’t have enough.” “I won’t prosper.” “I won’t belong.” “I won’t be good enough.” “I won’t be loved.” We are afraid- of life and its uncertainties, and Satan plays upon our fears.
God understands this well. God tells us often, in Scripture: “Do not be afraid.” In fact, that phrase or the words of that thought- appear more than any other in The Bible- 366 times! I recall, we would laugh as this thought in Seminary- God has every day of the year covered and even through in an extra for Leap Year. But these are God’s words that- he understands.
“Do not be afraid.” Moses hears them at the sight of the Burning Bush. Our Beloved Blessed Mother Mary, hears them from Gabriel when he foretells of conception of Christ within her womb. Likewise, the Angelic Hosts proclaim these words to the shepherds at the birth of the Christ child. John the Baptist hears them in prison, Saint Joseph in his dream and Saint John at the unveiling of the Revelation. God understands our humanity and our fear- and comforts us- “Do not be afraid.”
For as with the Temptations of Christ, God knows our ultimate deceptions will come from the “mind games” Satan will play and prey upon us. We are warned and called to task of this by Saint Paul: “ 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes… so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Satan seeks to trap us in his vicious cycle of self-importance and our obsessions. To keep our minds focused on those things that we foolishly believe are important- and in fact, only for this brief moment in time.
But these “mind games” can be put to bed if we heed two important commands of Christ: “Seek first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things that you need will be given to you.” (Matthew 6:33). And since Satan plays on our fear of being unable to quench our obsessions, Jesus uplifts us in the Gospel of John: “[B]ut whoever drinks of the water I offer, will never thirst. Indeed, the water I offer becomes the wellspring of eternal life.” (John 4:14)
We have seen, based in an examination of Scripture, how Satan works to undermine God and His plan of salvation for us. By manipulating our minds to be more focused on ourselves, than on God. But, what if this too was God’s plan all along?
We must at least briefly examine, what has become known as the Contemporary Compliment of Satan. This is based in part on two notable theologians who have not only researched Scripture and other ancient texts, such as the considered heretical Books of Enoch and the ancient writings of Josephus (b.37-d.100), the Rabbinic Scholar and early authority on Torah interpretation.
These two theologians; Dr. Joseph Lumpkin, Th.D., is author to more than 100 books- including “Fallen Angels-The Watchers of Evil” ( © 2011) and Dr. Henry Kelly, Ph.D., author of “A Biography of Satan.” ( © 2006) and “Satan-God’s Minister of Justice.”( © 2017)
For the sake of brevity of this article, both authors are more or less in agreement that Satan is only playing the role God has chosen him to play. It is Kelly who speculates on what the “job description” of Satan might be, having been given this charge by God:
“While Satan is conceived as a rebel angel and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, in the Bible itself- beginning in the Book of Job and continuing throughout the New Testament, Satan is considered to be a member of the heavenly government- charged with monitoring the human race. In effect, he is God’s Minister of Justice- bent on exposing sin and vice. He fills the role of investigator, tempter, accuser, prosecutor and punisher. Patrol the earth, observe human behavior, test human virtues by various means. Be prepared, upon Divine consultation- to instigate preventive or punitive measures against sinful actions. Prosecute those who have transgressed and carry out the verdict of their guilt.”(Satan-God’s Minister of Justice. Kelly. © 2017).
Reliance on this line of thought is most notable in the Book of Job, where a non-adversarial relationship between God and Satan is highlighted. “One day, the angels came to present themselves before God and Satan with them. “So, where have you come from?” God asks, and Satan replies: ‘From roaming throughout the earth and going back and forth upon it.” “Have you found a righteous one to test? Have you considered my servant Job?” God asks of Satan, “There is no one like him on earth; he is blameless and upright.” (Job 1:6-8)
In this we can see almost a “working relationship” between God and Satan, as God seeks to use Satan to test the devotion and faith of Job. We all know the story- but this is hardly an antagonistic meeting between the two. In reality, Satan seems to be accomplishing that which God has directed him to do.
Then there is the consideration of ancient texts- such as the Books of Enoch and the writings of Josephus, Saint Justin Martyr and Saint Augustine of Hippo- which offer opinion that Satan, of this guise- Lucifer- was one of God’s closest confidants. A beautiful influential charismatic Angel, who God had designated as His “Morning Star”. (Referenced in Scripture by interpretation of Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19). These verses tell of an angelic being “full of wisdom and beauty … in Eden, the garden of God.” Continuing- “anointed as the guardian cherub and ordained so by God. Blameless in your ways until wickedness found you… become filled with sin and violence.” Again- “So in disgrace, God has expelled you. Your heart made proud by your beauty and your wisdom corrupted because of your splendor. So, God has cast you down and made fire come out of you and consume you.” (Ezekiel 28. in ordine)
This is the classic telling of the “fallen angel” who by his own design and ambition, sought to place himself above God and was “cast down”.
Likewise, Dr. Lumpkin hypothesizes in his writings that Lucifer was indeed an angel of some regard who is sent down to earth with a legion of 200 “watchers”—to observe the development of the human race upon the earth. But in their weakness and separation from God, these “sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” Continuing- “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race was upon the earth… and His heart was deeply troubled.” (Genesis 6)
Lumpkin maintains in the Books of Enoch- a Rabbinic and Orthodox text not accepted into western Christianity or the Latin Church (and named for Enoch, grandfather of Noah) that this “legion of angelic watchers” and their supervisor Lucifer- became overwhelmed with the temptations of being amongst human themselves and were subsequently cast out, while God corrected His presumed folly with the Great Flood.
Reflecting on the words chosen in Enoch to call these “watchers”, an “angelic legion”—we can curiously note, Jesus casts a demon and demands to know “it’s” name. The demon replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (Mark 5:9) Many? Were these the 200 “watchers” assigned to Lucifer’s supervision and cast dow?
In conclusion- whether we subscribe to the thought that Satan orchestrates all evil and sin in the world— or is merely doing nothing more than things God has consigned to him to do.
We are after all, human begins given the great gift by God of our freedom of choice. Do we follow Christ and learn from His teachings? Do we balance our lives with compassion and charity toward others, or will our primary objective be our own comfort and passions? Does God allow evil to coexist with good, so that we are tested by our choices and judged?
True demonic possessions believed to be under the horrific influence of Satan are rare. Many speculate of what windows are unintentionally opened in playful and ignorant pursuit of “spirit boards and séance”. But we must pause to wonder of wars and pestilence- of serial killers and terrorists- or the irrational upturn in recent murders of spouses and parents.
Perhaps there is indeed an evil Satanic puppet master lurking in the darkness and moving in shadow. Cast down from heaven and seeking to undermine all goodness God and creation.
Our journey has taken us from the comedic commands of a Devil to “obey him”—to the unconventional cold fog of Dante’s Inferno. From the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden—to the Temptations of Christ in the desert. We have witnessed God talk to Satan of Job—may justifiably pause to wonder if Satan is indeed God’s Minister of Justice or merely an angel who “got to big for his britches” and sought to place himself above God?
In any case—our unexpected journey must end. It must end where our true and necessary journey must begin: “Seek first, the kingdom of God.”
Father Wolf is a retired police officer in New Jersey, the pastor of St. Aelred’s Parish, and an Assisting Priest at Saint Miriam Parish and Friary in the Old Catholic Churches International.