When Believers Stumble: Underestimating Satan


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
—1 Peter 5:8 ESV

One of my post from last year that generated considerable buzz in the Godblogosphere was “The Chthonic Unmentionable.” Beyond the unusual word that everyone puzzled over, the gist of the post dealt with the odd lack of discussion of the demonic in many Evangelical circles. Considering Peter’s admonition above—and the prevalence of verses referring to demonic activity in the Scriptures—it’s foolish to be silent on this issue. Yet we play dumb and continue to blame ill on chance/fate, rather than on the Enemy of our souls.

Here’s just a few grenades out of Satan’s arsenal:

  • Causing disease—Job 2:7
  • Counterfeiting miracles—2 Thessalonians 2:9
  • Accusing the Righteous—Zechariah 3:1
  • Snatching away the message of God—Matthew 13:19
  • Tempting men to sin—Ephesians 2:1-2
  • Tormenting the saints—2 Corinthians 12:7
  • Mishandling the word of God—Matthew 4:6
  • Disguising himself as an angel of light—2 Corinthians 11:14
  • Opposing believers—Ephesians 6:12

And the list goes on and on.

One of the sad outcomes of scientific rationalism is that Satan has been transmogrified from a real entity into a myth, a psychological malady, or a pointy-tailed object of mirth. Long before Nietzsche announced the death of God, Satan was well on his way to being mentally expunged from his role as ruler of this world, relegated by sections of American pseudo-Christianity to a box in the far corner of the basement. Keith Green, assuming the voice of the Enemy, once sang:

Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I’m gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one watches for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well I’m gaining power by the hour
They’re falling by the score
You know, it’s getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore

With the inroads that modern psychology made in the 20th century, evil had its persona stripped away. Our culture of victimization effectively eliminated the idea of a personal devil even as we chatted up Jesus as our personal Savior. 21st century devil?The language of psychology routed the hellfire and brimstone language of the 19th century Church and Christians bought the lie. Pay no attention to the devil behind the curtain!

The result is that too many of today’s Christians have a pathetically underdeveloped understanding of the Enemy and the strategies he uses to oppose us.

Now yes, there are some parts of the American Church that have elevated the Enemy to a place of importance he does not deserve. As C.S. Lewis once opined, there are two errors: ignoring the demonic and giving it unnecessary attention. I’ve seen both sides. I once visited a church where people carried around copies of This Present Darkness with their Bibles (no joke) and would try to cast demons out of the metal folding chairs set up for use by congregants for the morning’s church service. Stupidity doesn’t file a flightplan.

Still, for every church that shows an unhealthy obsession with the chthonic, there’s a dozen shrugging it off altogether.

Bitterness has derailed more than one Christian, and when it’s directed at God it’s an especially foul misplacement. Satan long ago threw up his hands and said, “Hey, bub, don’t look at me,” so we did. Instead, we made God the culprit when evil creeps into our lives and the seed of bitterness takes root. We’re told that it’s okay to get mad at God. We forget the words of Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
—John 10:10 ESV

We need to do a better job in the American Church of understanding the opposition of Satan, ascribing the blame to him rather to God. Yes, we know from the Book of Job that Satan has no ability to afflict apart from the sovereignty of God over the affairs of all men, but this does not change the fact that

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
—1 John 3:8b ESV

We don’t take that verse seriously enough. We talk about many reasons for Christ coming, but in too many sectors of the Church today we tend to focus on rainbows and ponies, love and peace, not on the annihilation of the Enemy’s work.

How many instances of what we see every day played out around us are the result of Satan’s handiwork? I would venture to guess a lot more than we usually care to admit.

We all know about the Full Armor of God in Ephesians 6. But do we really believe there’s an enemy to fight, a real “someone” who wants nothing more to crush us out of the sheer joy of seeing us in pain?

When we hear the lion roaring, what do we tell ourselves that sound is?

When I was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s, free-standing arcade video games were in their Golden Age. I dropped a lot of quarters into a few of them to pass the time, but I was the undisputed champ at one game in particular, Atari Tempest. (In fact, I ran across the Guinness Book of World Records officially sanctioned top score and I had once easily surpassed that in a five hour marathon playing session in Pittsburgh in 1982, quitting only to save my bladder from bursting. One quarter, five hours of play. But I digress.)

The one thing I’d mastered about that game was the perfect timing of the ultimate panic button, the “Superzapper.” With one button push, a Tempest player could wipe out every enemy on the screen (and a handful with a reduced-power semi-zap later in the same round.) You get in deep doo-doo in that game and the Superzapper becomes your ultimate weapon.

God has equipped us with a series of Superzappers for overcoming Satan that never fizzle out during a round. We have the Full Armor, and we also have the Blood of Christ and the word of our testimonies (Revelation 12:10-11)—they are the ultimate arsenal against the enemy.

The tendency in Tempest was to forget that the Superzapper was available, and I believe that too many of us forget about the weapons God has made available to overcome the Enemy. We fail to discern demonic activity, too, ascribing it to bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so on. We should not be surprised, then, when some Christians flail uselessly against problems that have their source in forces of darkness, fighting them with earthly weapons. Too often, we’re prescribing an aspirin for a case of flesh-eating bacteria.

Which of us would want to confront Satan and have him say to us:

Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?
—Acts 19:15b ESV