There are times I feel like the cartoon character that has the angel sitting on one shoulder and the devil with his pitchfork, horns, and tail sitting on the other. The reality is we do not see the angel on one side and the devil on the other side in life. There are many who would say the devil does not exist at all. However, as Christians we have no choice but to recognize the devil is real.
If we believe in God, then we must believe in the devil. If we believe Christ died for our sins, then we must believe there is an origin of sin. If we believe Christ had to die for our sins because it separates us from God, then we know God is not the author or creator of sin. If God is not the author of sin, then we must believe in Satan. ‘
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, ‘you shall not eat of any tree of the garden’? And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman ‘You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” (Genesis 3:1-7 emphasis mine)
In the account of original sin, we see Satan identified as a ‘serpent’ and described as being “subtle’. That is how Satan works in our life – with subtly. He is not loud, explosive, or obvious. He is the master impersonator, and his downfall was the prideful desire to be God. As a result, he mimics God and, therefore, that “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit is mocked by Satan when he acts subtly to tempt us with sin.
In describing Satan as a serpent, the Bible gives us a picture of him being like a snake. I live in the south and I love the outdoors. Trees, hiking trails, and any stream of water are where I am happiest. However, the south also brings copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. I often picture Satan as a copperhead in the south. They blend in so well with the foliage of leaves and fallen trees on the ground that many times you will not even know they’re there until you almost step on them. That is Satan. Many times, you do not even see him for what he is until it is too late. Satan is real and he is the most dangerous snake you will ever encounter (and you will have many encounters with him).
Throughout Scripture the devil has been portrayed in many ways. The combination of these images tells us that not only is Satan real, but how he operates and his character. A serpent is not the only description of the devil.
“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8)
St. Peter makes sure we know who he is talking about and leaves no question. He identifies Satan as “the devil” and then says he is “like a roaring lion.” I have always been fascinated with the lion and it is my favorite animal. When St. Peter says the devil is “like a roaring lion” the imagery shows us how the devil operates. Lions roar as a way of being territorial. The roar of a lion is an attempt to communicate dominance and guard not only what he perceives as his territory, but it is also to locate pride members who may have wandered away from the pride.
St. Peter also warns that Christians should always be on guard because the intent and purpose of the devil is to “devour.” When a lion kills prey (such as a buffalo) then it will knock the buffalo off balance and use its powerful jaws to bite the back of the neck or throat of the kill. Even after being injured, buffalo have the potential to fend off a lion attack for many hours. It will eventually die from wounds sustained in its battle with the predator. The lion’s kill will not have a quick death. It is a slow and painful death.
Lions are not as fast as, for example, a cheetah but they are not slow. They have often been identified as being among the top 10 fastest land animals on earth. Lions prefer to watch their prey for hours and creep up on them quietly. They get as close to their prey as possible before going in for the kill. This is a clear picture of the devil. He stalks humans and he is patient. He will be happy to wait for us to succumb to the temptation and consequences of sin. He has many ways to get close to us before going in for the final blow. He uses the lure of money and success, false relationships, and addictions (among many others).
The Bible is gives a clear warning to Christians that the devil is real and he is dangerous. If we are to live a life of faith, then we must live on guard against a predator seeking to destroy our soul. He sees us as part of his pride and wants us back under his claw.
The sacraments, prayer, sacred tradition and immersing ourselves in the Word of God and writings of the saints are powerful weapons against the world’s most clever, deceptive, cunning, and dangerous enemy. Satan is real. He is deadly.