It is difficult for me to know what to say or how to say it, with regards to this topic – Satan. I want to be very careful here for obvious reasons. So, I think the best way to say it is this: Satan is not the dominant picture of Evil in the bible. Evil is the dominant picture of Evil, and sometimes it is convenient for the writers to personify Evil as Satan. But Satan has a specific function with Evil – Satan is Accusation personified.
The book of Job has been a real source of struggle for me – as, I think, it was intended to be. I am not quite sure what all is happening in the opening scenes of the book. I am sure, however, that the Satan character in that narrative is functioning (whether metaphorically or literally) as the source of accusation. The picture is an epic one, Satan is free to roam both the courts of YHWH and earth. He is free, within this narrative, to bring his accusations before YHWH and YHWH hears them. We know what insues. Job has a titanic human struggle to make sense of suffering and God. It is the oldest manuscript on Theodicy we have today.
But something has happened in the created order of things with regards to this Accuser. There has been a theological turn in Christian thinking about Evil – and the turn begins with Jesus himself. (What follows is a lengthy statement from Jacques Ellul’s “Subversion of Christianity” – as we make our way through his “six evils.” This is the 4th evil “Satan/Accusation”).
‘I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning,’ Jesus tells us. This is basic. Let us recall again that Satan is not a person. He is not Satan but the accuser, or even the accusation. We have to say that wherever in any form or for any motive an accusation is made (including true and justified accusations), there is satan. Satan is then at work, is present, and becomes a person. The process is clear-cut. The accusation crystallizes in some way, and it results in the development of a personalized accusing presence. We are familiar with the process in the development of accusations, for example, collective accusations. Jesus tells us that satan is no longer in heaven. What he means is clear. There is no longer any personified accusation before God (as in Job) now that Jesus the Son of God has come to pardon us. To use the patristic image, an advocate, not an accuser, now stands at the side of God.
God does not hear, does not want to hear, will not listen to the accusations that assail him from every side. but if the accusations are not longer in heaven, if they no longer emanate from heaven, if God is not himself an accuser in any matter, then not only is the accusation still on earth but it is also flourishing there. It is developing to the same degree as it is banished from heaven. That which no longer explodes as hatred and accusation in heaven is condensed on earth. This is one reason why Jesus does not foresee for the future an idyllic progression toward a progressively organized paradise but instead sees a terrible growth of individual or collective conflicts. There is full agreement between proclamation and this historical perspective.
Thus satan, accusation, proliferates in our world. But here again the drama is that the accuser first uses the church. The church becomes the origin, the perfecting, and finally the model of all accusations and all systems of inquisition. It has brought the mechanisms of accusation out of the individual and private domain and into the collective and institutionalized domain. I do not want to overemphasize the Inquisition but it is still true that this was a prodigious perversion of revelation. A totality based on pardon became a totality based on inquisition. The drama did not consist of the mere existence of a tribunal. It began much earlier with the development of the practice of individual auricular confession of sin. Instead of letting grace and pardon rule, and admitting that the worst sinner who repents before God receives pardon from God, the church interposed confession to a priest, who because he is a priest is no less a man on the one side and a representative of the institution on the other. The astonishing situation developed in which, to pardon, the priest had to know the sin (although in fact only God really knows it). Searching out the sin thus became the main thing, the dominant and constant thing, the thing on which the church insisted. The subsequent pardon became a kind of formality.
Nor is this just a matter of external guilt, of actual faults. A phychoethical investigation develops. We have a surgery of movements of the soul, of desires, tendencies, dreams, even the unconcious. The fault has become spiritual. It must be tracked down in what is not said, in the merest impulse, in the spiritual sphere. Everything becomes suspect. Everything can be interpreted as a fault. This has been the great mistake of the church as it has obeyed satan and perverted revealed truth. The law had really become spiritual and inward in order that God might be immediately present to the heart and pardon might abound. But because satan come to lodge in the church’s heart, the church itself became the great mistress of accusation and transformed itself into an invading cancer, crushing us without end.
Alas this development of accusation characterizes Christendom and then moves into secular movements. If our actual world is a world of insatiable accusation – political, social, intellectual, and moral – it is because of this mistaken switch on the church’s part, under satan’s influence. Satan made the church his special prey so that by means of it as his intermediary he might make the world truly mad.’